Interview with Wolf Blitzer

April 23, 2003

BYLINE: Wolf Blitzer, John King, Nic Robertson, Jim Clancy, Kelli Arena, Jane Arraf, David Ensor
[Transcript Excerpt]

…BLITZER: Last month he called it the wrong war at wrong time. The former Vermont governor, the current Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean has been an outspoken critic of the Bush administration's policies as far as Iraq is concerned. With the conflict pretty much over does he feel differently now?

Howard Dean is joining us from Burlington, Vermont. Governor, do you feel differently?

HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Not really. I don't think anybody could reasonably suspect we weren't going to win. The problem now is how to govern, and that's where the real rubber is underneath the road. The hardest part is still ahead of us, and I think the events that we were watching on CNN showed that. The Shi'a in the south would like in some cases fundamentalist religious state or province, that would be much worse than Saddam Hussein in terms of a threat to the United States it would allow al Qaeda to move in. We seen chaos in Baghdad with the proclamation of somebody claims he's the mayor. And this is going to go on and on. So we've really got to now build a Democratic society out of a...

BLITZER: But governor, nobody -- nobody disagrees there are going to be problems. But aren't the people of Iraq so much better off now without Saddam Hussein on their back?

DEAN: We don't know that yet. We don't know that yet, Wolf. We still have a country whose city is mostly without electricity. We have tumultuous occasions in the south where there is no clear governance. We have a major city without clear governance. We don't know yet, and until we do...

BLITZER: You think it's possible -- excuse me for interrupting that whatever emerges in Iraq could be worse than what they have for decades under Saddam Hussein?

DEAN: I do, I do. We have to think of this from an American perspective not an Iraqi perspective. The reason the president gave for going into Iraq which I disagree with is Iraq was a security threat to the United States. I don't believe Saddam was. But I believe a fundamentalist Islamic regime would be. That we have to guard against, that may be very, very difficult. I think the jury is out in terms of what we've created. The other thing is, you have to remember that this president has now created a new American foreign policy a preemptive doctrine. And I think that's going to cause America some serious trouble down the line, too. I don't regret my opposition to the war, I think in the long term interest of the United States, we have yet to see whether the war is going to be successful or not.

BLITZER: Does it bother you, governor, that most of the country approved of the way the president handled the situation? His job approval rating has gone way up into the 70s from the 50s, and including most Democrats approve of the way he's handling the job.

DEAN: If I changed my position every time there is a new poll, I would be like an awful lot of politicians, that's what's wrong with the Democratic party is willing to change positions every time the polls come out. I'm not going to do that. I chose my position on Iraq, because I think in the long-term future of the United States it would have been better had we used other means to get rid of Saddam's and his arms.

Well, that's not where we are now, the president has chosen to go war. But now we have to deal with a chaotic situation on the ground. I hope that we succeed. I'm very proud of our armed forces, I'm delighted Saddam is gone. We have a long way to go, and I think it's going to be a long time before we can prove this is the right thing to do.

BLITZER: Let's move to another subject that you raised earlier today, you called on Republican Senator Santorum, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania to step down because the comments he made about gays. Tell our viewers precisely what your position is?

DEAN: The Republican party is dividing us by race or income or gender or religion, in this case sexual orientation. Gay people are people first and gay second. And most people's fears about gays is not understanding anything about gays. Gay people are people. There are gay people in Iraq now fighting for the United States of America, they deserve to be treated with the same respect that every other American deserves to be treated with. And I'm tired of having the right wing Republican party make hay by beating up on various minority groups so they can feed their right wing base.

BLITZER: Well, listen to how he responded, he basicly said if you have a problem with him, you have a problem with U.S. Supreme Court, listen to this.


SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R), PENNSYLVANIA: To suggest that my comments which are the law of the land and were the reason the Supreme Court decided in 1986 is somehow intolerant, I just would argue that it is not. It is simply a reflection of the law. Obviously, I can't represent everybody's viewpoint. I mean, there are a variety of different viewpoints in the room. My job is to respect everybody's viewpoint, and I do. I respect your point of view.


BLITZER: He was speak directly to a gay person in the audience who complained about his comments. Go ahead, governor.

DEAN: I don't think this has to do with point of view. I think it has to do with basic respect. Until every single American is equal under the law in this country, then I don't think the country is as great as it could be. Just ask people, you know, almost everybody in America knows someone in someone's family who is gay. And all appeal for is a little bit respect and tolerance in understanding. When you come to know people they're people first and whatever category they might fit into later on.

I think Senator Santorum and the administration have done this country a disservice by, again, dividing us, whether it's by race, as the president did by using the word, quota, which wasn't true or whether it's by sexual orientation or gender or whatever it is, they got to stop that. We have got to bring the country together as a community, and you don't get there by making intolerant comments that single out particular minorities.

BLITZER: All right. Governor, unfortunately, we have to leave it right there. We'll have a longer conversation on another occasion. Thank so much for joining us.

DEAN: Thanks, Wolf.

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