Interview on "The Situation Room"

August 23, 2006

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Joining us now in Burlington, Vermont, is the Democratic National Committee chairman, Howard Dean.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN: Thanks for having me on, Wolf.

BLITZER: We know that since 9/11, in 2002, in the elections, 2004, in the elections, the Republicans did very well with the issue of the war on terrorism. And in our latest CNN poll that's out this week, we asked, "Which party is doing a better job dealing with terrorism?" Forty-eight percent of the American people said Republicans, 38 percent said Democrats.

You've still got a 10-point spread here. You've got a major problem.

DEAN: I don't think so. It's essentially even. The poll numbers jumped after the British caught the potential bombers in the airlines.

But the fact is, for the last year and a half, the president hasn't had anything like the numbers that he had during the 2004 election. Fifty-four percent, same poll, don't believe the president is telling the truth. Sixty-one percent think the war is a mistake and we shouldn't be there.

So, I think this president is in deep trouble. Although, I have to say that the Iraq war is an issue that's getting him into deep trouble, but the issue that really got him into deep trouble, the anniversary is at the end of this week, and that's Hurricane Katrina.

BLITZER: You think that was a bigger problem for the president...

DEAN: I think the president...

BLITZER: ... the way his administration dealt with Katrina...

DEAN: Yes.

BLITZER: ... as opposed to the way the administration has dealt with the war in Iraq? DEAN: I do. I think Katrina -- the response to Katrina was effectively the end to the president's presidency in the sense that people all of a sudden saw the small man behind the curtain.

People in America and throughout the rest of the world for a long time have believed that Americans can fix anything, that we're better organized and better managed -- managed better than anybody, and that if something really awful happens, call on the Americans. And for the first time in our lifetime and in the world's lifetime, since World War II -- since before World War II -- we suddenly saw an American president just descend into failure. And I don't think he's ever recovered from that.

BLITZER: Here is what the president said earlier this week when it comes to the difference between what he said were Democrats' views on Iraq and what his position is.

Listen to what he said.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's a fundamental difference between many of the Democrats and my party. And that is they want to leave before the job is completed in Iraq.

And again, I repeat, these are decent people. You know, they're just as American as I am. I just happen to strongly disagree with them. And it's very important for the American people to understand the consequences of leaving Iraq before the job is done.


BLITZER: Now, that's translated by a lot of Republican politicians into charges of cut and run, that that's what you want to do and basically give up any hope for trying to deal with the situation in Iraq.

DEAN: This is exactly what was going on in Vietnam. And the president and the vice president are saying exactly what Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew said again and again and again. It resulted in 25,000 more Americans being killed in Vietnam, and the result was the same as it would have been had we left earlier.

This is wishful thinking on the part of the president. They never thought this out.

I can remember the secretary of defense saying the whole war would be paid for by Iraqi oil. The vice president was saying we'd be greeted as liberators.

These folks are fundamentally out of touch with what's going on in Iraq and they're fundamentally out of touch with the needs of the American people. And we need a new direction in this country, Wolf, and we're going to have a new direction after November.

BLITZER: But as you know, a lot of Democrats, especially Democratic senators, are also saying the U.S. should try to finish the job and not set an artificial deadline for getting out.

DEAN: Finishing the -- the job was finished. We went in there to get rid of Saddam Hussein. We got rid of him. Then we decided we were going to occupy the country, and then we decided that we would try to mitigate a civil war, which we're now in.

The problem is, the job, as far as the president keeps defining it, is a moving target. He doesn't know what the job is. He doesn't know what the end point is.

The idea that we're going to have a democracy that looks like America was a ridiculous right wing intellectual idea from the beginning, and, you know, the neoconservatives. They're out of touch. Most of them have never served in the army and the ones that have rarely served abroad defending the country.

What they should have done is listened to the people that actually served abroad, listened to the military people, do what the military suggested. The difference between the Democrats and the Republicans is not that we're not both tough. We are. But the Democrats will be tough and smart, and that means we're going to listen to people who know what we're talking about before we commit troops.

BLITZER: When it comes to this issue, Senator Joe Lieberman clearly disagrees with you. And in part, that helped explain why he lost the Democratic primary in his home state of Connecticut.

I interviewed him here in THE SITUATION ROOM yesterday. Listen to this exchange I had with Senator Lieberman.


BLITZER: Are you telling us -- can you look into the camera and tell the people of Connecticut once and for all you would not then join the Republican caucus?

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: That's absolutely what I've said. Are you representing the Republicans here?

BLITZER: I'm asking the questions.

LIEBERMAN: No. The answer is I have made that clear. I...

BLITZER: So there's no chance you would side with the Republicans...


BLITZER: ... even though you become a chairman potentially of a committee?

LIEBERMAN: No. I'm a Democrat, and I will remain a Democrat.


BLITZER: Now, you're a democrat, too, Governor Dean. It looks like there's a win-win potentially for the Democrats. If Ned Lamont wins, he's a Democrat. If Joe Lieberman wins, he says he's a Democrat.

DEAN: Look, I'm chairman of the Democratic Party. The Democratic voters in Connecticut chose Ned Lamont, who is a very capable, very smart guy who is moving forward and looking for a new direction in America. And I'm 100 percent supporting Ned Lamont and I'm going to campaign with him, we're going to help him in every way possible.

We believe that the voters have spoken. When the voters speak, you have to honor that in politics.

BLITZER: If he's elected, the senator, if he's reelected, would you like him to remain in the Democratic caucus in the U.S. Senate?

DEAN: Sure. We want to be a big tent. And Joe has served the country honorably.

But Joe is the past and Ned Lamont is the future. And we need a new direction in this country, and the voters in Connecticut have indicated that.

BLITZER: In this most recent "USA Today"-Gallup poll, the generic question among registered voters, your choice for Congress, it looks neck and neck, 47 percent Democrat, 45 percent Republican.

We had a poll earlier which did show a significant Democrat preference, 52-43 percent. But what do you make of this more recent "USA Today"-Gallup poll?

DEAN: Well, there was a "New York Times" poll that also showed that the gap was much wider than that. But, you know, in the end, as you very well know, the polls right now are relatively -- relatively unimportant.

And there's only one poll that really matters, and that's the one on November 7th. So, we'll see what the polls show then.

But I think if the election were held today the Democrats would win. But the election is not going to be held today and we've got a lot of work to do.

BLITZER: Governor Howard...

DEAN: Look, Wolf...

BLITZER: Yes, go ahead.

DEAN: ... the country fundamentally wants a different direction. The Republicans are just going to give us more of the same.

We want a new direction in the economy, we want a new direction in health care, we want a new direction in foreign policy, we want a new direction in Iraq, we want a new direction for gas prices. We need a new direction. You can't get that by voting for Republicans.

BLITZER: We'll have you back soon, Governor. Thanks very much.

DEAN: Thanks, Wolf. Thank you.

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Originally from CNN Transcripts.



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