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Former Gov. Howard Dean Interview at Democratic National Convention

July 28, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT
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TRANSCRIPT

JIM LEHRER: Thank you, Gwen. Joining us now is the former governor of Vermont Howard Dean. Welcome.

HOWARD DEAN: Thanks for having me on.

JIM LEHRER: Do you really believe that John Kerry is going to do the right thing in Iraq if he is elected president?

HOWARD DEAN: I have no doubt that he will. John Kerry is essentially an internationalist. He’s the son of a diplomat. He spent time in Europe.

He understands how important relationships with allies are, something this president had no understanding of whatsoever.

JIM LEHRER: He voted for the war, John Kerry did at a time when you said that shouldn’t be done.

In fact your whole campaign was based on not doing that.

HOWARD DEAN: Well, actually my whole campaign originally was based on balancing the budget and having health insurance for every American.

Little did I know the president was going to send us to war without telling us why. I think we have to understand that whatever differences I had with John Kerry and Dick Gephardt and John Edwards and so forth during the campaign are very small relative to the differences between all of us and George Bush.

You were talking earlier about General McPeak who had supported me and now is supporting John Kerry. Well, one thing about Gen. McPeak, he is a gentleman of incredible integrity.

There’s no way that he would switch candidates simply because this was something he wanted to do, get something out of this. He switched candidates because he thought that John Kerry would be a much better president than George Bush.

JIM LEHRER: How we got there aside, we are there now.

HOWARD DEAN: Right.

JIM LEHRER: We’ve got 135,000 young Americans there. We’ve got a commitment to the people of Iraq.

HOWARD DEAN: Right.

JIM LEHRER: What is it that you’ve heard John Kerry say that he would do as president about the situation that makes you hopeful that he will do the right thing?

HOWARD DEAN: John Kerry’s position and my position are not very different about what we would do. Interestingly enough, neither is George Bush’s position because George Bush adopted John Kerry’s position after John Kerry won the primaries.

Our position is we ought to bring in the United Nations, that we ought to bring in NATO troops, that we ought to turn this into an international reconstruction not an American occupation.

The difference between John Kerry and George Bush on Iraq at this point is that John Kerry is capable of carrying out this agenda and George Bush is incapable of carrying out this agenda because he managed to alienate virtually every ally that we’ve had over the last 60 years on our way into Iraq.

The people of this country… of the world want a decent relationship with the United States, I believe. And I think that a new president will be able to have those kinds of relationships and will be able to get the kind of foreign relief that we need in Iraq so we can bring at least our reservists home.

JIM LEHRER: What would you say to Democrats including a lot here on this floor at this convention and many that supported you who say forget all of that, let’s just get out of Iraq?

HOWARD DEAN: I think everybody understands that you can’t do that. That’s not a responsible thing to do. I did not advocate for that during the campaign.

What I advocated is bringing home our guard and reserves as soon as possible after we were able to replace that fire power and that policing ability either with Iraqi police trained by us or NATO, or with United Nations or NATO troops.

JIM LEHRER: What about — David has said on this… in our coverage continually here that he’s yet to hear a Democrat really lay out… you can use your own words. Say it yourself — what the real enemy is.

DAVID BROOKS: Who is the insurgency? What are the four or five steps we need to take to defeat them?

HOWARD DEAN: I believe the insurgency is made up principally of al-Qaida leadership — so-called foreign fighters.

Al-Qaida was not present in Iraq before contrary to the president’s assertion but they are now and insurgents that are loyal to Saddam principally not so much to Saddam but the idea of Saddam.

These are Sunnis who fear the Shiite takeover under democracy which will allow the plurality to go to the people with the most votes, which will be the Shiite. Now how do you do that? It’s a pacification effort. We can use our firepower to a certain extent.

We cannot root out Iraqi terrorists and foreign fighter but the Iraqis can, I think, if they’re properly trained.

DAVID BROOKS: I’d like to ask you — there’s something about — you said in your speech yesterday which I found very interesting and applied sort of a history of the party which I just was hoping you could flesh out.

You said toward the end of your speech that never, never again we will be ashamed to call ourselves Democrats. What did you mean by that? When were people ashamed and what happened?

HOWARD DEAN: I think the Democrats in this country… many of them – the Washington establishment– misunderstood the lessons of Bill Clinton’s presidency.

They thought that Bill Clinton won the presidency because he moved to the middle and became an accommodationist. Bill Clinton became president because he was the most talented, politically talented person that we have seen in the White House since Franklin Roosevelt.

A group of Democrats sprang up thinking that the way to win elections and be Democrats was to be like Republicans. People became ashamed to be Democrats in places like Utah and Mississippi and Idaho.

I think the way to win is the kind of thing that George Lakoff talks about it in "Moral Politics." More importantly the kind of thing that Karl Rove and Ralph Reed discovered long before we did that the way to win elections is to energize the daylights out of your base.

That’s what attracts swing voters is the parties with energy and ideas. We’ve been bankrupt for good ideas for quite a while because we’ve been so busy trying to behave like Republican light.

JIM LEHRER: But to play devil’s advocate with you, Governor, are you talking about making just stating right at the top that the Democratic Party is a liberal party, a party of liberals?

HOWARD DEAN: You know, had I become president I probably would have tried to rehabilitate the word liberal but that was not high on my agenda.

But let me just say this, Jim: Not one Republican president has balanced the budget in 34 years in this country. The only person who balanced the budget in the last 34 years was Bill Clinton. Now people have called me a liberal. Maybe I am. Maybe I’m not.

But I balanced the budgets with iron fiscal discipline for 12 years. My attitude is if it takes a liberal to balance the budget, then Lordy we need one in the White House.

JIM LEHRER: Does the word liberal bother you?

HOWARD DEAN: No.

JIM LEHRER: It doesn’t?

HOWARD DEAN: It doesn’t bother me at all.

JIM LEHRER: Why not?

HOWARD DEAN: It means different things to different people. I think the Republicans have successfully turned the word liberal into a dirty word; I don’t think it is.

Look, I think I’m a centrist but let’s just suppose I, people want to — call me a liberal. I balance budgets. I’m pro death penalty in some instances and I got AA ratings with the National Rife Association. I also have universal health insurance for every single child, virtually every single child in my state.

We’ve dropped child abuse by 43 percent because we invest in early childhood. And we were the first state in the country to give equal rights to gay and lesbian Vermonters.

Does that make me a liberal? I don’t care. People can decide for themselves, but I am as fiscally conservative and socially progressive and if you want to call that liberal, be my guest. I’m running and I’m running for John Kerry.

MARK SHIELDS: Governor, it’s Howard Dean’s convention. It may be John Kerry’s nomination. There’s a lot of antiwar feeling.

There’s a lot of people who were energized, galvanized by your candidacy. You called Dick Gephardt, John Kerry, Joe Lieberman and John Edwards Bush-light for their support of the war.

Now why should those people who supported you, who believed in fervently and passionately as so many did – some who didn’t support you — that the war was wrong, that the Democrats had caved, why should they believe John Kerry really means it, that he’s just not going to do this to win the White House?

HOWARD DEAN: Well, I don’t believe that about John Kerry. I think John Kerry does mean it. I’ve gotten to know John Kerry since the primaries.

The reason I’m going out and working my you know what off for John Kerry is because I believe him. I believe he’ll be a good president and a much better president than George Bush.

Otherwise it would completely wreck my credibility with all the people who supported me if I just became another politician and endorsed the top of the ticket. That’s not why I’m endorsing the top of the ticket.

I think the difference between John Kerry and George Bush is enormous. And I think that it is true that a lot of folks down here are sympathizers with my point of view. Many of them are delegates.

We happen to have slated our delegates all the way through New York and Pennsylvania and Illinois. Many of the Kerry and Edwards folks were down to their last nickel and didn’t do that.

So a lot of these folks are my delegates and they went as Kerry and Edwards delegates; my point in this convention is we’re all Kerry and Edwards delegates.

I’m a Kerry and Edwards vote, and I want my people to be Kerry and Edwards votes because it’s the only chance America has to make progress.

JIM LEHRER: Well, have you had serious conversations with John Kerry about what he believes about Iraq and what he will do and other things that really both bother you?

HOWARD DEAN: I have. I’ve had a lot of very serious conversations with John Kerry. I don’t make them public because I’ve learned in politics and as a rule I enforce myself that if somebody gives you advice publicly, they’re not going to be doing it privately.

First of all I like John Kerry. I think he’s intellectually curious and very thoughtful. I think he’s deeply committed on issues like the environment. I think he’s an internationalist, which I am.

JIM LEHRER: What’s that mean? An internationalist is what?

HOWARD DEAN: That means we believe that nations are interdependent, that the go it alone philosophy of the Bush administration is a throwback not only to the 20th century but the 19th century.

We have got to in an extraordinary world that we’re in, in order to maintain the influence of the United States, we need to be interdependent. We have lost influence, Kyoto, for example, is about to be agreed to by the Russians.

No one when Kyoto was signed ever thought that Kyoto could go into effect without the United States’ signature. That’s about to happen. Why? Because George Bush has alienated so many people.

Among other things they’ve decided to go on about the world’s business without us. That is a very dangerous thing for the long-term power of the United States.

JIM LEHRER: What would you say to, say, Vice President Cheney or somebody who would say, wait a minute, Governor, there may be times that come when the United States… we, in other words the president, the vice president– the government of the United States decides the interests of the United States are in such jeopardy and we can’t get the rest of the world to go with us we must act alone –

HOWARD DEAN: Well, first of all of course we’re going to defend ourselves.

Second of all, those times have come. Oddly enough although I’m known as the antiwar candidate, I supported the first Gulf War; I supported Afghanistan under this president. I supported Clinton’s intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo. The interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo –

JIM LEHRER: Those were not unilateral, though.

HOWARD DEAN: The intervention in Bosnia was, as you remember. The Europeans did not act — shamefully so – as in their backyard a genocide was being committed and the president of the United States sent American troops.

Finally the Europeans followed. I’m not saying that the United States ought not to be the leader. We have lost our moral leadership in the world because of George Bush’s unilateral action.

It is not bad to act unilaterally certainly not in the defense of America but it is much better to begin as Clinton did in the case of Bosnia and Kosovo the dialogue with Europeans so that they understand in a cooperative way that we believe action is essential and that in a crisis such as the genocidal crisis in Kosovo or in a situation like Afghanistan where a government is harboring people who murdered 3,000 Americans that we will in fact go in.

JIM LEHRER: And you’ve talked to Kerry about… Sen. Kerry about this?

HOWARD DEAN: I’m not going to say what I’ve talked to….

JIM LEHRER: I mean general subjects.

HOWARD DEAN: Yes, yes, I have.

JIM LEHRER: Mark.

MARK SHIELDS: You took a lot of heat last December for saying as it turns out rather accurately that the capture of Saddam Hussein did not make Americans safer.

I mean, any regrets? Is that the biggest regret? You were attacked by Lieberman, by Kerry, by others, the Democrats, by the White House for saying that.

HOWARD DEAN: I don’t regret ever telling the truth but I have to say that Barry Goldwater once said I’d rather be right than president. He had no idea what he was talking about.

JIM LEHRER: We’ll leave it there. Thank you very much, Governor, for joining us tonight. And our best to you.

HOWARD DEAN: Thank you, thanks very much.