Real Time with Bill Maher

March 19, 2004

This page extracts the Howard Dean portion of the interview. For the full Bill Maher episode, complete with witty skewerings of the Shrubya Administration, go to the transcript on Bill Maher's site. For that matter, check out all his other shows, Main Maher transcript page.

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MAHER: But first up tonight is the man who re-energized the Democratic Party. From Burlington, Vermont, please welcome the former governor of that state, Howard Dean! [applause] [cheers]

Wow! You hear that ovation, governor? That's got to make you feel good.

HOWARD DEAN [via satellite]: I should have come on the show before the Iowa Primary. [laughter]

MAHER: Right. I mean, that's got to make you feel good. But on the other hand, where were they when they needed you, huh?

DEAN: That's right. If I had a vote for everybody who came up and congratulated me in the airport, I'd be the nominee, not John Kerry.

MAHER: Right. [laughter] You know, it does seem to me that every election, every election cycle, there is one candidate who makes me and a lot of people in this country go, you know what, there's a guy who's keeping it real. And that guy never wins, whether it's John McCain, whether it's John Anderson. You remember Paul Tsongas from your neck of the woods. People say they want straight talk, but that's not really straight talk itself, is it?

DEAN: You know something? I saw a survey – I'm not making this up – that showed characteristics that people want in presidents. And, you know, they have to be tall, good looking and all that stuff. One other thing is – one of the things on this list, in third place, is they cannot be straightforward. They've got to lie a little in order for the people to think they ought to be a good president. It's pretty appalling, isn't it?

MAHER: So was that your big mistake? You didn't lie enough?

DEAN: No, I'm going to take lying lessons, and this administration I know I can learn that from. [laughter] [applause] [cheers] This is a great audience, Bill! This is a great show! [laughter] Maybe I'll put cable in my house after this. [laughter]

MAHER: But you must feel a little like Moses, because, you know, Moses, he led the people to the Promised Land, but he never saw it himself. [laughter] And maybe that's not a bad thing. I mean, it's 3,000 years later, Moses is still very well spoken of. [laughter]

All right, I want to ask you a little bit about what's going on with terrorism, because you famously said when we got Saddam Hussein it did not make us any safer. Now we look like we're closing in on al-Zawahri, which means, I think, we're probably close to Bin Laden. If we get to one or both of them, would you say the same thing? Not safer?

DEAN: No, that I do think will help. Osama bin Laden and al-Zawahri really are terrorists. Saddam Hussein was a horrible person, but he had nothing to do with Osama bin Laden. It's one of the great falsehoods this administration has spread—[applause]—along with the nuclear weapons are around and weapons of mass destruction are right nearby, and we're buying uranium from Iraq and all that kind of stuff.

But, you know, our real enemy is Osama, and that's where we should have been concentrating our money and our troops in the first place. And if we had, maybe we wouldn't have lost 200 Spaniards' lives last week. [applause]

MAHER: I know you said that, but doesn't the beef that the Islamists have with Spain go way back before George Bush? I mean, they were mad at them from 1492 when they got kicked out of Grenada.

DEAN: Yeah, but you know, who's to blame for that? They got into Grenada, too. They weren't born there. So, you know, if you start going back to 1492, about who conquered who, we can get in a lot of trouble in this world. I think we ought to just see where we are today and try to do the right thing by each other.

And, you know, you can't blame George Bush for losing 200 lives in Spain, because the terrorists did that. But you can blame George Bush for telling that we needed to go to Iraq to save our own country, when it just plainly wasn't true. And we should have been spending that money trying to get Osama bin Laden. [applause]

MAHER: Okay, but it is the one-year anniversary here, and progress has been made in Iraq. Let me ask you this: if – I mean, history – you're a student of history – history looks in the long range. Okay, say this experiment, this big experiment of turning Iraq into a democracy, say it works, and in 10, 15, 20, 50 years, Iraq is a democracy; it has influenced other countries in the region to be democracies, and because of that, we truly are safer. And it has doused the flames of terrorism. Won't all the lies that brought us into the war will just be forgotten, and George Bush might even be seen as a visionary?

DEAN: That is true, Bill, but it doesn't make it right. I think, you know, there was another president in my lifetime who decided that the ends always justified the means, and told a lot of lies. His name was Richard Nixon. I don't – you know, it is true, if you – if the neo-conservative theory about what this war is supposed to bring to the Middle East is a success – succeeds, which I think is unlikely – but if it does, George Bush will go down in history as a visionary. The problem is, the means doesn't justify the ends, and if you start to believe that in a democracy, you start to unwind the democracy, which is exactly what George Bush did.

We have a Supreme Court that's results-oriented, not law-oriented. We have the guy who makes voting machines saying he's going to do everything he can to get George Bush elected. I think our democracy is in a lot of trouble, and it's because this president believes the means is justified by the ends. And I think you cannot go down that road. [applause]

MAHER: Okay, speaking of democracy, you had an organization called DFA, which was "Dean For America." Now I understand it's called "Democracy For America," that's what it stands for. Reminds me of "KFC." [laughter] Now it's "Kitchen Fresh Chicken." [laughter]

DEAN: [laughs]

MAHER: But seriously, I mean, you have a database from when you ran for president which has to be the most coveted list in America. It's like the "letters of transit" in "Casablanca." What are you doing with that database now?

DEAN: We've got a great grassroots organization, and we're going to continue to keep that community together. A lot of the politicians in Washington are envious of our database because they want to raise money off it. But you can't raise money if you just think the Internet is a tool. If you don't have a message, if you don't have anything to say, then people aren't going to send you money on the Internet.

What you have to understand is that the Internet is really a community. It's a community of people who don't happen to share the same geographic location. And what we built was a community in this country who really wanted some politicians who would tell the truth.

Even though the press said, oh, I was very left-wing and all that kind of stuff, the truth is I actually consider myself a centrist. It's just that I go about being a centrist a little differently than most folks because I'm not afraid to say what I think. And there's a lot of people in this country who are both conservative, liberal, Republican and Democrat and mostly independent, who just want somebody to tell them what they think is the truth, instead of being on every side of the issue.

And so what we're going to do with this community is to get people like members of your audience – and there's a scary thought – to run for office. [laughter] Really! [applause] We want people in your audience tonight to go out and start to decide to run for the school board. Because not only is that going to change America, I think, in a very positive way, but it's also going to underline that if we want democracy to work, we can't sit back and let somebody else make it work. Because Enron and Halliburton and Dick Cheney have shown us exactly how democracy works when we don't get involved.

We want ordinary Americans to use our method of raising money so they don't have to beg the special interests to finance their campaigns, and run for school boards, run for county commissioner, run for state representative just the way Ralph Reed did with the Christian Coalition, except this time we're going to do it from the "sanity" side instead of the extremist side.

MAHER: All right, but you're only 55 years old, okay. And as they say, 60 is the new 40. I believe it. [laughter] So – and I think the way you got out of the race, just like the way Al Gore got out in 2000, earned a lot of high marks from people. People thought you did it gracefully. You got a lot of good will from that. I think people can relate to you. We've all had an ice cream cone and dropped it on the sidewalk.

DEAN: [laughs] Wasn't Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream.

MAHER: Couldn't you – I mean, I'm saying, you know, you're only 55. You could run in two, three, four more election cycles. I mean, is that in your thought, that you would come back and say, "Look, I got a little excited the first time, but you knew—[laughter]—but I was a good candidate." And you certainly could do that. No?

DEAN: The first thing on my list is sending George Bush back to Crawford, Texas, permanently, because we can't afford another four years. [applause] [cheers]

MAHER: All right.

DEAN: And I would be – I would be delighted – we cannot afford presidents who run half-trillion-dollar deficits. You know, we haven't had a Republican president balance the budget in this country in 34 years. You can't trust Republicans with your money, Bill, anymore. [laughter]

MAHER: All right. Thank you.

DEAN: [overlapping] And so the first thing we ought to do is—

MAHER: [overlapping] Howard Dean, the Democratic who made the party turn and cough! [applause] [cheers] Thank you, Howard.

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