Hardball with Chris Matthews

August 18, 2004

MATTHEWS: Former Vermont governor Howard Dean ran for president as a Democrat and is now supporting John Kerry.   Why is your candidate playing defense when challengers for the presidency always play offense, Governor?

HOWARD DEAN (D-VT), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:   I don't know that he really is playing defense.   I think he put a pretty good lick on the president today over the president's hastily conceived plan to withdraw troops from all over the world except Iraq.

It seems to me that the president's in trouble.   Would you trust a president who sent reservists and National Guard to Iraq a year-and-a-half ago, and lo and behold, 76 days before the elections, suddenly comes up with a new benefit the day that John Kerry is addressing veterans?   Very similar to what went on two weeks ago, when the president suddenly had a terror alert based on information that was three years old because it was two days after the Democratic convention.

George Bush is a politician.   Unfortunately, he's not a leader, and that's why he needs to be replaced.

MATTHEWS:   But the first part of that is OK.   Isn't it normal for presidents to play their incumbency and to play the cards they have?

DEAN:   You know, I think if you want to be a strong leader and a good president, you probably ought to do what you think is right and not just make promises during election years that you can't keep.   I think he shouldn't have sent the National Guard and reserve to Iraq in the first place, but he did, and then he didn't tell them the truth about how long they were staying.   They were ill-equipped.   There weren't enough of them.  And now, all of a sudden, 76 days before the election, he's promising the veterans all the things that he's denied them for the last year-and-a-half.   That is not a leader.

MATTHEWS:   Governor, the tide has turned in terms of your campaign because now 80 percent of the Democratic Party believes it was wrong to go to Iraq.   Why is John Kerry still insisting that he was right to vote for the war resolution?

DEAN:   Well, first of all, I think it's a little late for the tide to turn on my campaign.   But I appreciate the sentiments, Chris.

MATTHEWS:   Well, they're true because-- I'm not kissing you.   I'm telling you the fact that 80 percent of the Democratic Party agrees with you, not with Kerry.

DEAN:   Well, more importantly...

MATTHEWS:   Kerry is still resisting an easy opportunity to say, They gave me bad intel.   I was confused by bad intel.   It's not my fault.   I did the right thing.   Now that I know there was no WMD, no connection to 9/11, it wasn't going to be the happy Iraqi scenario, we're going to get a thousand guys killed, I think I made a mistake.   What's wrong with saying that?

DEAN:   I actually think Kerry shows a lot of guts here.   I wouldn't have voted for the resolution.   John Kerry voted for the resolution not because he was in favor of going to war with Iraq but because he is a creature of Washington, he's been there 20 years.   John Kerry thinks that the president of the United States ought to be the one who exercises foreign policy in this country.


MATTHEWS:   Governor, is that your endorsement of Kerry, that he's a prisoner of Washington?

DEAN:   No.   My endorsement of Kerry is he has the guts now not to say the easy thing.   He gave the president authority to go to war because he thinks the president ought to be running foreign policy.   In olden times, i.e., before this president, we used to have a bipartisan foreign policy.  

We now have the radical right controlling the White House and the Congress,

and you don't get bipartisan anything.   John Kerry did what was the right-- what he thought was the right thing, and I commend him for sticking to list guns, even though I don't personally agree with him.

MATTHEWS:   If a criminal is charged with having a gun, and some cop shoots him and it turned out he didn't have the gun, can't the jury say, Well, wait a minute.   I thought he had a gun.   What's wrong with acting on new evidence?   Why do you say it's gutsy to stick to the fact you had the wrong evidence before you, and that's why you voted the way you did?

DEAN:   Chris, you got to understand why John did what he did.   John Kerry believes what most Americans believed until this president came into office, that foreign policy and presidential leadership in a military situation...

MATTHEWS:   Right.

DEAN:   ... ought to be left to the president.   This president didn't do what he said he was going to do.   He did not keep his word, which is a chronic pattern with this president.   Think of all the promises he made during the election: there'd be more jobs, balanced budget.   We have a half-a-trillion-dollar deficit under a supposedly conservative...


DEAN:   ... president.   There's nothing conservative about this president.   He's radical and inept.   And I am cheerfully supporting John Kerry.   Whatever differences John Kerry and I have, I want a competent, qualified person to lead this country, and that's going to be John Kerry.

MATTHEWS:   John Edwards went out after the vice president today.   He said that Halliburton just got a new $4.5 billion from the federal government because a phone call made.   Are you as tough as John Edwards on that front, blaming insiders in the vice president's office, perhaps, for getting money for the old company?

DEAN:   Well, I don't know if a phone call was made or not, and so I can't comment on the phone call.   I do know, though, that this administration has had a lot of trouble with an appearance of impropriety: the close relationship between Ken Lay, the former chairman of Enron, and the president, the fact that Ken Lay was a big backer of the president's when he was in Texas, the fact that Dick Cheney continues to take money from Halliburton under deferred compensation, which is a violation of the federal ethics code.   I can't understand why Dick Cheney's not being investigated by the Congress, other than for partisan reasons.

So I think John was right to take a shot at Dick Cheney, and he is-- he sets a terrible example...

MATTHEWS:   Right.

DEAN:   ... in terms of morality in government.

MATTHEWS:   You know, back after 9/11, we were all warmed by the fact that the world cared about us when we were hit.   Latest polling shows that two thirds of the American people believe we're not respected in the world, we don't have the reputation we once had.   Do you fear-- I do-- that the next time we're hit, the world won't care?

DEAN:   I think we are rapidly losing our influence under a president that has no idea, in terms of what the biggest-- the big context, the big picture.   I thought it was very interesting that Kerry said that he disagreed with the president's withdrawal.   On the surface, it looks like some withdrawal of troops is not a bad idea.   But Kerry's point, that it's the wrong time to withdraw when we're trying to disarm North Korea, is exactly the right point.   The president, in fact, has ignored North Korea.

I said before, we are no safer since Saddam Hussein has been captured, and that's absolutely true.   I think most Americans now agree with me.   We're certainly no safer with George Bush in the White House, who has essentially allowed the North Korean...

MATTHEWS:   Right.

DEAN:   ... to build a nuclear weapon program while he is diddling around with a third-rate dictator who they found in the bottom of a hole someplace.   We just need a president who's a grown-up.

MATTHEWS:   Well, it's interesting that we targeted Jong Il as part of the "axis of evil," and now we're dropping troops from his front.


DEAN:   That was exactly John Kerry's point.   What are we doing saying that North Korea's the "axis of evil," allowing them to develop nuclear weapons, which is the real threat to the United States, and then sending them a message by withdrawing 12,000 troops?   What are these people thinking in the White House?   We need some adult leadership.   We need to listen to the military.   We need to listen to the secretary of state.   We've got to get this crew out of there.   They're endangering the future of the country and the safety of the country.

MATTHEWS:   OK.   Governor, I hope he's not throwing back those quarts of Jack Daniels up there in Pyongyang right now because he'll be very confused by our move back from the DMZ.   Thank you very much, Governor Howard Dean.

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