Interview on 'Meet The Press'

November 13, 2005

MR. TIM RUSSERT: And we are back.

Governor Dean, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

DR. HOWARD DEAN: Thanks for having me on, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT: On Friday you heard the speech I played for Ken Mehlman. The president of the United States said that Democrats are sending the wrong signal to the enemy with their criticisms of prewar intelligence and his conduct of the war.

DR. DEAN: I think Democrats always have to stand up and tell the truth and that's what we're doing. The truth is that the president misled America when he sent us to war. They did--he even didn't tell the truth in the speech he gave. First of all, think there were a lot of veterans were kind of upset that the president chose their day to make a partisan speech. Secondly, the president didn't even tell the truth in his speech. He said that the Senate had the same intelligence that everybody else did. That was not true. He withheld some intelligence. Then he said the commissions all said that what he had done in the lead-up up to the war was fine.

MR. RUSSERT: What did he withhold?

DR. DEAN: He withheld--he knew, he knew that there was no connection between Saddam and 9/11 and he insisted on trying to make that case to the American people.

MR. RUSSERT: But he never said Saddam was involved in September 11.

DR. DEAN: He never actually came out and said just that. But in every speech he gave during the campaign and afterwards, he left the impression. He left the impression with 65 percent of the American people, who agreed that Saddam had something to do with 9/11. It made that--it was dishonest, what he did.

MR. RUSSERT: Aren't the Democrats, though, trying to have it both ways? They voted for the war-- Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, John Edwards--and now, it's not going well. So they're saying, well, the president misled us. They had access to the National Intelligence Estimate, and in that National Intelligence Estimate, there were caveats from the State Department particularly, about the quality of the intelligence. But they still voted for the war.

DR. DEAN: Tim, first of all, I didn't have--maybe that's why I was against the war, maybe because I didn't have access to the corrupted intelligence. The intelligence was corrupted, not just because of the incompetence of the CIA; it was corrupted because it was being changed around before it was presented to Congress. Stuff was taken out and not presented. All of this business about weapons of mass destruction, there was significant and substantial evidence passed from the CIA and the State Department to, perhaps, the office of the vice president--we don't know just where--in the White House that said, "There is a strong body of opinion that says they don't have a nuclear program, nor do they have weapons of mass destruction." And that intelligence was not given to the Congress of the United States.

MR. RUSSERT: It was in the National Intelligence Estimate, as a caveat by the State Department.

DR. DEAN: It was, a very small one, but the actual caveat that the White House got were much, much greater. And the deputy to Colin Powell, Lawrence Wilkerson, just said so. He just came out and said so.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me...

DR. DEAN: There's ample--now that the cracks are really beginning to appear in this corrupt administration that we have running this country, now they're all running for their own and they're beginning to stand up and say, "This is what really happened." Honest Republicans are coming forward in this administration and saying, "This is what really happened in the lead-up to the war, and the president was not truthful with the American people."

But the president's not just not truthful with the American people. I saw Ken on here talking about the deficit. The truth is, they're concealing the size of the deficit, as well. Iraq is not on the books. The money they take out of Social Security is not on the books. This is an administration that has a fundamental problem telling the truth.

MR. RUSSERT: We'll get to the deficit, but I want to stay on Iraq for a second because, in order to maintain credibility or regain credibility on the war, should Democrats, like John Edwards did this morning, step forward and say, "I was wrong to vote for the war"?

DR. DEAN: I thought what John Edwards did was very courageous. It's always hard to admit that you're wrong.

MR. RUSSERT: Should Hillary Clinton and John Kerry and others say, "Based on what I know today, I would not have voted for the war"?

DR. DEAN: John--my impression was that John Kerry did say that. I think what Senator Clinton had said--that there would have been no vote had the truth been told in the beginning. There would never have been a vote on this war. I can't tell individual Democrats what to do, but I'll tell you one thing we are going to do: We're going to tell the truth. The best thing that the Democratic Party and that America can do is tell the truth to the world. We used to be the most--I saw the figures that you had up during your interview with King Abdullah about what people think of us in Jordan. That didn't used to be the truth, the facts. Six or eight years ago when the Democrats were in control, we made mistakes, but we told the truth about to our allies and we told the truth to the American people about the things that mattered.

MR. RUSSERT: George Bush says, knowing what he knows today, even though we didn't find weapons of mass destruction, even though we weren't greeted as "liberators," he would still have gone forward with the war in Iraq. Do you believe the intellectually honest position for the Democrats is to say, now, "Based on what we know now, we should not have gone to war with Iraq"?

DR. DEAN: All I can tell you is what my position in the campaign was. I believed that what we--that Saddam Hussein was a problem, that he had used in the past weapons of mass destruction. That's indisputable. I also did not believe the White House was telling the truth, and my position was, of course we need to deal with Saddam Hussein, but we don't need to cost ourselves the lives of 2,056 brave American soldiers in order to do it.

MR. RUSSERT: The issue, I think, confronting Democrats is that they're afraid of being perceived as soft on national security and defense issues. I showed you the 16 issues where people agreed with the Democrats. There are still a couple where people overwhelmingly think the Republicans are the better party. Here's two: Strong national defense--look at those numbers: 43 Republican, 22 Democrats. War on terror, 35-26. The Democrats are perceived as the weaker party on those kinds of issues. And that's why they voted for the war when it was popular, it's being suggested. And now, when the war is not popular, they're trying to back off their position.

DR. DEAN: We need to make sure that we can--look, I know what those numbers are, and I think that's a big problem for the Democrats. We need to--we need to make the American people understand that we are strong on defense, and that the strength of our position on defense is not just that we'll support a robust and muscular foreign policy. It's that we'll tell the truth. Telling the truth has a lot to do with defending America. If people don't believe you--if 80 percent of the people in Jordan, which is one of our most important allies, don't believe us, then we've got a bigger defense problem with Zarqawi than we do if people--if we become once again, as we have been in the past, the moral beacon for the rest of the world. And that's what we need to do. So a strong defense policy--we do need a strong defense policy. We need to make it clear that Democrats will stand up for America and pull the trigger in defense of America, but we fundamentally first need to tell the truth so we're believable again.

MR. RUSSERT: The other issue that the Republicans still have the upper hand with Democrats, strong moral values; 35 percent see the Republicans are better on that issue. Only 18 percent of Democrats. And maybe that's why we're hearing radio ads like this that the Tim Kaine, Democratic gubernatorial candidate and governor-elect in Virginia, ran for his campaign. Let's listen.

(Audiotape, Tim Kaine for governor advertisement):

MR. TIM KAINE: The Bible teaches us we can accomplish great things when we work together. I'm Tim Kaine and I've devoted my life to bringing people together to get things done. ... I'm conservative on personal responsibility, character, family and the sanctity of life. These are my values, and that's what I believe.

(End audiotape)

MR. RUSSERT: And then John Kerry, last week, talking about the budget, said it was immoral; "There is not anywhere in the three-year ministry of Jesus Christ, anything that remotely suggests--not one miracle, not one parable, not one utterance--that says you ought to cut children's health care or take money from the poorest people in our nation to give it to the wealthiest people in our nation."

Are the Democrats now trying to embrace Christ, embrace moral values, because they see themselves on the wrong side of that issue?

DR. DEAN: Well, first of all, there's a fair number of Jewish Democrats who I don't think are going to embrace Christ. But I think we all embrace the teachings of morality and of embracing people and of tolerance and of inclusion. And what I encourage people to do, I was--we played a big role in Tim Kaine's campaign. It was a great campaign. He was a wonderful candidate. We funneled a lot of money into the party to try to be helpful and so forth. And he is a great candidate for America in the terms of how he campaigned. He spoke of his faith. I don't think that people who are not comfortable speaking about their faith should speak about their faith.

But I think we all should speak about our values. I think one of the mistakes we've made is to not understand that most Americans believe that moral values include making sure that kids don't go to bed hungry at night. The Republicans are cutting the school lunch program. We want to make sure that everybody in America has health insurance. That's a moral value. The Republicans are kicking people off their health care. So there is a--we win when we debate about moral values. We ought to talk about our values. Tim Kaine did it. I don't think that's the only reason he won, but that's certainly one of them.

MR. RUSSERT: But the Pew Research Foundation found in a poll of your strongest activists, that 59 percent of those strong Dean activists seldom or never went to church. Can the Democratic Party hold on to its secular base and still have its more prominent candidates talking about faith and religion?

DR. DEAN: I am a Democrat because of my moral values, because I believe that we can't leave anybody behind, because I believe that what happened in New Orleans was appalling, because people died based frankly on their gender--excuse me, on their race, their age and their economic status. We need to do a better job, including everybody. Even evangelical Christians, who people associate with the hard right, that's not always true. Evangelical Christians are out there now pushing strong environmental issues. Why? Because it is in their faith that they take care of the resources that God gave them. There is enormous commonality. Democrats should not be afraid to speak about moral values. We are the party of America's values.

MR. RUSSERT: Picking up on what Ken Mehlman said about Michael Steele, the African-American Republican candidate in Maryland, being called an Uncle Tom, the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee seeking his credit report. Should you not...

DR. DEAN: I don't like that stuff, and I--now, look, the Republicans have a long history of saying that those things happened. And they may or may not have. So if that happened, it's not right. But I didn't hear Ken condemning the chairman of the Maryland party when he called me an anti-Semite. So let's try to up--speaking of moral values, let's have a better tone in our political campaigns. Because the truth is, the other thing that Time Kaine's race showed is that the person with the better tone and the more positive agenda won, and I like to see voters exercising their rights in that way.

MR. RUSSERT: But the workers on the campaign committee who sought his credit report have been dismissed.

DR. DEAN: They should have been. Absolutely, they should have been. I don't like that kind of stuff.

MR. RUSSERT: Could on either side?

DR. DEAN: On either side.

MR. RUSSERT: Let's talk about the Democrats and some of the polling data. "Congressional Democrats have the same priorities as you:" yes, 26 percent; no, 54 percent. So the Democrats aren't perceived as the answer. And look at this, Chairman Dean. We asked independent voters: "Do you believe that Democrats have a clear message, a vision for the future?" Fifty-two percent of independent swing voters say no. One in four Democrats say you have no clear vision, no agenda, no clear message. Joe Trippi, your former campaign manager said, "Obviously, the results" from Election Night "are great for us Democrats. But given the GOP's problems, the tightness of the results suggest that people aren't happy with either party right now. Democrats have got to push an alternative agenda."

DR. DEAN: We have an alternative agenda. We made it very clear. We want a strong national security based on telling the truth to our people at home, our soldiers and our allies. We want jobs in America that'll stay in America, and we believe that renewable energy is one of the areas where we can do that. We want a health-care system that covers everybody, just like 36 other countries in the world. We want a strong public education system. And most of all, we want honesty back in government. I think that's a pretty good agenda.

MR. RUSSERT: But those are words that will appeal to people. But when you go behind them, for example, what is the Democratic position on Iraq? Should we withdraw troops now? What do the Democrats stand for?

DR. DEAN: Tim, first of all, we don't control the House, the Senate or the White House. We have plenty of time to show Americans what our agenda is and we will long before the '06 elections.

MR. RUSSERT: But there's no Democratic plan on Social Security. There's no Democratic plan on the deficit problem. There's no specifics. They say, "Well, we want a strong Social Security. We want to reduce the deficit. We want health care for everyone," but there's no plan how to pay for it.

DR. DEAN: Right now it's not our job to give out specifics. We have no control in the House. We have no control in the Senate. It's our job is to stop this administration, this corrupt and incompetent administration, from doing more damage to America. And that's what we're going to do. We're doing our best. Look at the trouble they're having putting together a budget. Why is that? Because there's still a few moderate Republicans left who don't think it's OK to cut school lunch programs, who don't think it's OK to do some of the appalling things that they're doing in their budget. I saw a show last night which showed a young African-American man in California at the UC of Davis who hoped to go to law school. The Republicans want to cut $14 billion out of higher education so this kid can't go to law school. We're going to do better than that, and together, America can do better than that.

MR. RUSSERT: But is it enough for you to say to the country, "Trust us, the other guy's no good. We'll do better, but we're not going to tell you specifically how we're going to deal with Iraq."

DR. DEAN: We will. When the time comes, we will do that.

MR. RUSSERT: When's the time going to come?

DR. DEAN: The time is fast-approaching. And I outlined the broad outlines of our agenda. We're going to have specific plans in all of these areas.

MR. RUSSERT: This year?

DR. DEAN: In 2006.

MR. RUSSERT: The Supreme Court...

DR. DEAN: Yes.

MR. RUSSERT: ...the president has nominated Sam Alito to the Supreme Court. Should the Democrats in the Senate--there's only 45 of them, but if they stayed together as a block...

DR. DEAN: Right.

MR. RUSSERT: ...they could filibuster and prevent Judge Alito from going to the Supreme Court. Should they?

DR. DEAN: I must say I rarely read editorials and I rarely agree with the ones I read. But The New York Times ran an editorial today which I think is very instructive for the Democratic Party. This could be a defining moment. Judge Alito is a hard-working man, a good family man, but his opinions are well outside the mainstream of American public opinion. He condones a strip-search of a 10-year-old when the police had no such warrant or indication to do so. He condoned the crafting of an all-white jury to hear a black defendant's case by a prosecutor. He condoned the states not having to listen to the Family Medical Leave Act. He condoned government interference in private family matters and family decision- making. This is well outside the mainstream of where Americans are. I think the Democrats are going to have to think long and hard as the hearings progress about whether we should support him. There's some grave questions about him, and I do hope that they will stick together.

MR. RUSSERT: If you were a senator, you would vote no?

DR. DEAN: I'm not going to make that--if I were a senator, I would not tell you that now, because I believe in listening to all the evidence first. But I think there's some deeply, deeply concerning things about Judge Alito's views on intrusion into personal family rights. We think those discussions are family matters, not government matters, standing up for working people in terms of Family Leave, allowing the police power to allow 10-year-olds to be strip-searched. These things are deeply, deeply concerning.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe the Democrats should keep on the table the possibility of a filibuster?

DR. DEAN: Absolutely. Of course we should.

MR. RUSSERT: Joe Biden, the Democrat from Delaware, said Judge Alito deserves an up or down vote.

DR. DEAN: I think Joe Biden has his own right to make that opinion. He's an elected senator. All I ask is the Democrats stick together under the leadership of Harry Reid and Pat Leahy, who is the senior man on that committee.

MR. RUSSERT: When Bill Clinton was president, he nominated two people to the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who was general counsel for the ACLU part of her career, and Stephen Breyer, who worked for Ted Kennedy. And look at these votes, Dr. Dean, overwhelmingly approved, 96-to-3 and 87-to-9. Republicans, even though they disagreed philosophically with those two liberal jurists, said the president has nominated them and we'll support them because he won the election and he has a right to put people on the bench who reflect his judicial philosophy. Why shouldn't the Democrats have the same respect for President Bush's outcome?

DR. DEAN: Well, that is, in truth, not what the Republicans did. In those particular cases, they made those votes. They stonewalled hundreds of judicial appointees that Bill Clinton made, hundreds of them that never came up. They wouldn't even take them up. The Republicans wouldn't even give Harriet Miers a right to an up or down vote. How dare they make a case for an up or down vote on Judge Alito?

MR. RUSSERT: But they did support those liberal jurists.

DR. DEAN: I don't care who they supported. They killed hundreds of nominations in the Supreme Court. That is the most hypocritical nonsense. As you know, hypocrisy is a feature of Washington's life daily. That is nonsense. They get no credit for voting for Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Justice Breyer after killing hundreds of Clinton nominations and killing Harriet Miers. How dare they have--I saw an ad the other day. How dare they have an ad saying, "We want an up or down vote on Judge Alito" when they wouldn't give one to Harriet Miers?

MR. RUSSERT: Money, the mother's milk of politics, as it's been referred to, here's The Washington Post article. "The Democratic National Committee under Howard Dean is losing the fund-raising race against the Republicans by nearly 2 to 1 ..." The article goes on to say that "the Republicans have raised $83.5 million, the Democrats just $42 million."

What is wrong with your fund-raising operations?

DR. DEAN: Nothing. It's going great. We just broke the record with six weeks to go for fund-raising during the off year, and we didn't even have the ability to raise soft money to do it. We have paid operatives in 38 out of 50 states. We will be in 50 states by the end of the year. We just won two really important gubernatorial elections and managed to deep-six all of Governor Schwarzenegger's initiatives in California. I'd say we're having a pretty good year.

MR. RUSSERT: But if you're being outgunned 2-to1 in the 2006 elections, how can you possibly succeed?

DR. DEAN: We did last time. We were outgunned 3-to-1.

MR. RUSSERT: And so you don't...

DR. DEAN: This is an improvement in our position. You going to...

MR. RUSSERT: Some Democrats say it's troublesome, that there should be red sirens flashing.

DR. DEAN: Well, yeah, you know, you--I saw that article. I generally don't traffic in gossip and I try not to. The facts are, we've done much better than we have in the past. We're continuing to do better. We're making great progress. Terry pledged $5 million to Tim Kaine's campaign. We were able to deliver that and he was able to win. What counts is the wins and losses. How...

MR. RUSSERT: Can you recapture the--both the U.S. Senate and the House?

DR. DEAN: Yes, we can and we will because I don't--there's a lot of stuff about well, redistricting makes it impossible. The truth is when the American people want real change, they' ll have it and this time they're going to get real change.

MR. RUSSERT: To be continued. Dr. Howard Dean, thank you for your views.

DR. DEAN: Thank you, Tim.

--- End ---

Originally posted on MSNBC.



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