Interview on Hardball

(Extract, Howard Dean only)

June 29, 2004

To see the complete program, with Dan Senor, Chuck Hagel, and John McCain also, go to whole program transcript.

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ANDREA MITCHELL, GUEST HOST: ... Tonight... former presidential candidate Howard Dean on the heated battle for the White House.

I'm Andrea Mitchell, and this is HARDBALL.

Good evening. I‘m Andrea Mitchell, in for Chris Matthews.

MITCHELL: Coming up, President Bush‘s job approval rating slips in a new poll. Former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean will be here when HARDBALL returns.


MITCHELL: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean ran for the Democratic nomination for president, now heads

Governor Dean, recent polls suggest that public opinion is turning against U.S. involvement in Iraq. Your candidacy was largely based on opposing the war. So, was John Kerry right to have voted to authorize the war?

HOWARD DEAN (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, my candidacy was not based on opposing the war. My candidacy was based on having a president that tells the truth. And I think John Kerry has done that.

I, along with the majority of Americans, now would prefer to trust John Kerry with administering Iraq than George Bush, because George Bush simply did not tell the truth about why we were going to Iraq. And it is not surprising that it is falling apart as a result.

MITCHELL: But according to the latest "New York Times"/CBS News poll, which is out today, 52 percent of Americans now do not have confidence in John Kerry's ability to handle an international crisis.

So why isn't John Kerry benefiting from voter disapproval of the war and voter opposition to the American -- to the administration's policies?

DEAN: He actually -- he is benefiting enormously. That number has come down dramatically.

When I was running and I was in the lead, the president had a 40-point gap. John Kerry was nominated, I think, principally because people thought that his military background would make him -- give him the credibility to run the military in a situation where we were at war. And I think that's true. The gap is now down to nine points. We knew that, if we got that gap under 10, that we were going to beat George Bush. And I think John Kerry is going to beat George Bush as a result.

Look what's going on. The president of the United States is now calling up the last group of people, Reserves who were on their way to retirement, who haven't trained for three years, to go to Iraq. This is last step before a draft is necessary. The president did not plan. He didn't know what was going on when he got into this war. And now we're calling up 40-year-old people who are on their way out of the Reserves and asking the Internal Revenue Service to find their addresses because we've lost touch with them. This is not a commander in chief who is in control of what's going on in the American military.

MITCHELL: Well, to take another look it, George Bush is now at the United Nations. He's gotten a resolution of authority. He went to NATO, asked for their help. He didn't get quite as much help as he would have wanted, but he is at least asking for their help.

He has turned over sovereignty to a new Iraqi government. Isn't he doing everything that John Kerry has demanded?

DEAN: Well, actually, he's done some of the things that John Kerry has demanded. And I think that's good. I think when the president starts following the Democratic lead, that's usually a good thing. It also shows that the president is in a lot of trouble.

I do think it's a good thing that sovereignty was turned over. I think that's a step in the right direction. However, the U.N. and the NATO agreements were essentially papered-over smiley photo-ops. The truth is that we continue to use -- lose brave American soldiers on a regular basis. The president has no plan for how to stop that. The president had no idea that we were going to have resistance.

Remember Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld telling everybody how the Iraqi people were going to welcome us with arms raised as the great liberators of Iraq? Eight hundred and fifty Americans have died because of what this president has done. And we are no safer than we were before we went into Iraq. The majority of people in America think that's also the case.

So I would prefer to have a decorated combat veteran, John Kerry, running this operation, rather than someone who served part time in the National Guard and never took a step abroad to defend the country in its time of need.

MITCHELL: Given the way you feel about the Iraq war, and certainly the way you felt during the primary election campaign, isn't your view about the war closer to Ralph Nader's than to John Kerry's? And why are not you supporting Ralph Nader for president?

DEAN: First of all, Ralph Nader is not going to be the next president of the United States. The choice is between people like John Kerry and George Bush.

MITCHELL: Well, he might be if people like you supported him.

DEAN: Well, that's not true.

MITCHELL: He would have a better shot at it if he had support from more people within the Democratic Party.

DEAN: The truth is, as I said before, the choice is between John Kerry and George Bush.

John Kerry has a strong environmental record. George Bush's legacy is to call a bill Clear Skies and then put 500 percent more mercury emissions into the sky. George Bush's attitude is, let's pass No Child Left Behind, which makes every public school in the country a failing school by the year 2013. John Kerry understands that that is not the way to save American public education.

John Kerry supported without a single Republican vote Bill Clinton's effort, successful effort, to balance the budget. George Bush has never balanced the budget in his life. Even as governor in Texas, the lieutenant governor runs the budget in Texas, not the governor. I prefer a balanced budget. I prefer strong environmental protection. I prefer jobs in this country again.

And we are not going to get that out of a Republican and this kind of right-wing Republican leadership. You're having two people I think on the show later on, two Republicans who are widely admired. They're widely admired because they speak the truth. The president has not shared the truth with us. I think it's time we had a president who did.

MITCHELL: Do you think that Ralph Nader should get out of the race?

DEAN: I think nobody should ever be told to get out of a race. I think that's up to Ralph Nader to make that decision for himself. And I think in general third parties are helpful because they bring new ideas into the mainstream of American political thinking.

I believe that this president is in such grave danger because of the half-trillion-dollar chronic deficits the president has left us, because of a foreign policy which has run amuck, where he's privatized a good many of the military functions. We have a mercenary army of 20,000 people in Iraq. I think that's not widely known. I think the scandals of Abu Ghraib were largely a result of the president's obsession with privatizing American military functions and the chain of command was messed up.

I don't think you can blame our military entirely for that. We need a president who knows how to lead. John Kerry knows how to lead. George Bush does not. I don't think Ralph Nader enters into this equation, except that he will take some small percentage of votes that otherwise would have gone to John Kerry. And he may have the effect again of reelecting George Bush. And I think that would be a tragedy for America.

MITCHELL: So, if he could have that impact, even drawing 2 or 3 percent of the vote in the key battleground states, does that mean that you would call on him or prefer that he get out of the race, so that there is that clear choice?

DEAN: I would prefer that, of course. But I don't believe that anybody should be in the business of telling other people they cannot run for president. This is a free, democratic government. And one of the great things about this country is that, if you want to run for higher office or for any office, you are free to do so.

I don't happen to think that Ralph Nader, who has served this country admirably over a 40-year career of consumerist and environmentalist leadership, I don't think that he's serving this country well by making this race. I have to say that.

MITCHELL: OK. Coming up, more with Howard Dean on the presidential race.

MITCHELL: We‘re back with former Vermont Governor Howard Dean.

Governor Dean, I want to show you a Web ad which is appearing right now on the Bush-Cheney Web site and talk to you on the other side.


AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: How dare they drag the good name of the United States of America through the mud of Saddam Hussein‘s torture prison?

DEAN: I want my country back.

MICHAEL MOORE, FILMMAKER: We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons.

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D), MISSOURI: This president is a miserable failure.

GORE: He betrayed this country!


MITCHELL: Now, you‘re in good Democratic liberal company, except for, of course, Adolf Hitler.

DEAN: Right.

MITCHELL: What is Adolf Hitler doing in there? The Republicans say that it all started with a ad competition, so that once the Democrats started it, they‘re just retaliating. What do you think about this ad?

DEAN: I think it is pretty indicative of the moral bankruptcy of the Bush campaign, to be comparing his political opposition to Hitler.

I‘m sure if we compared George Bush to Hitler, which would be totally uncalled for, we would be roundly criticized and rightly so. And I think they should be as well. These people are not people who we want leading America. We want people leading America who will bring us together. And I don‘t think we want the Bush-Cheney campaign to run this country anymore.

MITCHELL: But didn‘t the Democrats actually start this with the online ad competition? And isn‘t the heated nature of the campaign really coming as much from the liberal left as from the right? You‘ve got so much anger out there, with “Fahrenheit 9/11” and everything else. There is the most intense campaign in recent memory.

DEAN: I think, first of all, is a private organization. I think, secondly, the president of the United States


MITCHELL: But it is highly associated with your campaign and with Democratic politics, liberal politics.

DEAN: I think for the Bush-Cheney campaign to put their opponents in the same breath with Adolf Hitler is pretty bad. And it is not very American. And it is one of the reasons I think George Bush is going back to Crawford, Texas, for a very lengthy vacation as of November 3.

MITCHELL: Well, one of the things that will help determine whether or not that happens is who John Kerry picks for a running mate. Who do you think he should pick for a running mate?

DEAN: Well, I‘m in that position of actually being asked for some help with that, for some advice and so forth. And I generally take the position that, if I give advice privately, I don‘t give it publicly.

So I‘m not going to be able to say much about that and I don‘t plan to say much about that. I find that, if you give advice publicly, you‘re not likely to be able to give it privately much longer, as it should be.

MITCHELL: Well, just looking at the kinds of things that would help him determine it, should he choose someone with whose he‘s comfortable? Should he choose someone with who is obviously experienced and prepared to lead the country, should that become necessary?


MITCHELL: Or does he need more fire in his campaign? Does he need a John Edwards? Does he need someone who can turn on the voters and get out the base?

DEAN: Well, I think that one criteria that he has publicly talked about and I agree with him on totally is that you have got to pick somebody who could step in at a moment‘s notice and become president of the United States, if necessary. That‘s something everybody ought to agree to. And, certainly, that‘s his major criteria.

After that, he gets to choose. He is the nominee of the party. And he is going to make that decision. And the criteria that he uses are going to be his own and not mine or anybody else‘s.

MITCHELL: Well, since you‘re advising Kerry, does that mean that you think that clearly you‘re not going to be part of this competition? Can we pretty well assume that it is going to be someone like Gephardt, Edwards, Vilsack, somebody who has been named? Or do you think there is some sort of surprise afoot here?

DEAN: There‘s only one person who knows the answer to that. And I don‘t think he knows it yet. And that's John Kerry.

MITCHELL: And when will he announce it, do you think?

DEAN: That, I don‘t know.

MITCHELL: Do you think he needs to announce somebody soon in order to try to regain some attention here? The spotlight so far has been on “Fahrenheit 9/11,” Bill Clinton‘s book, the Iraq handover, Ronald Reagan‘s funeral services. There hasn‘t been very much attention paid to the Democratic nominee.

DEAN: I think I need to make a point about that. I appreciate you brought it up. That‘s a national media perspective.

The truth is that I‘ve been on the road with John, and he‘s doing very well. He‘s turning out crowds. He‘s getting people really excited. He‘s getting extraordinary coverage in local press wherever he goes. The national press is not going to write the same jobs, education and health care story 30 days in a row. They can‘t.

But he‘s got to give that speech 30 days in a row because people who he‘s talking to haven‘t seen him before. So throughout Ohio and West Virginia and Oregon and Pennsylvania, he‘s getting good crowds, great press, and he‘s getting his message across. The national press is not going to cover that, of course, understandably so. But I don‘t think John Kerry has been eclipsed at all, not in the battleground states, where he needs to be and where this election is going to be won or lost.

MITCHELL: All right, thank you very much, Howard Dean. Good to see you again.

DEAN: Thanks, Andrea.

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