NBC's Today Show

August 5, 2003

HEADLINE: Howard Dean, Democrat, presidential candidate, talks about running against President Bush and what his policies and tactics will be


MATT LAUER, co-host:

On CLOSE UP this morning, Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean. The former governor of Vermont is one of the front-runners in a pack of nine hopefuls vying for the chance to run against President Bush. He's the man of the moment, gracing the covers of this week's Time and Newsweek, and even earning a small picture on the cover of US News and World Report.

Governor Dean, good morning to you.

Governor HOWARD DEAN (Democrat, Presidential Candidate): Thanks for having me on, Matt.

LAUER: Well, listen, here's the good news. You've got the trifecta in terms of magazine exposure this week, Time, Newsweek and US News and World Report. The bad news is you've gotten the full attention of your Democratic competitors. The head of the Kerry campaign said, quote, “It would be absolutely impossible for you to be elected president.” Joe Lieberman said yesterday your candidacy is a ticket to nowhere. How does it feel to be so popular?

Gov. DEAN: Well, I'm sure those guys wish it was a ticket to nowhere. But I think we—we may actually be the only people who can beat George Bush, and I'll tell you why. I opposed the Iraq war very early on, and the reason for that was I simply did not think the president was being candid about the uranium deal with Africa, I didn't think he was being candid about the Iraq link with al-Qaeda, didn't think the vice president was accurate when he told us that they were about to develop a bomb, didn't think the secretary of defense was accurate when he said he knew exactly where the weapons of mass destruction were, although I did think they probably did have mass—weapons of mass destruction. So it turns out that the four Washington candidates all supported a war, which turns out to have been based on things that weren't—weren't so. And...

LAUER: Well, here—here's...

Gov. DEAN: ...I think it's...

LAUER: ...what Senator Lieberman...

Gov. DEAN: ...going to be hard...

LAUER: ...said about you.

Gov. DEAN: ...for them to justify that.

LAUER: He said a candidate who was opposed to the war against Saddam, who's called for the repeal of all the Bush tax cuts, which would result in an increase in taxes on the middle class, 'I believe will not offer the kind of leadership America needs to meet the challenges that we face today.'

Gov. DEAN: Well, the reason for opposing the Bush tax cuts is because I wanted to start to balance the budget again so we can have jobs in this country. So I want—and I want a health insurance program that can't be take—where health insurance can't be taken away, like we have in Vermont. Everybody in my state under 18 has health insurance, and the working poor in my state have health insurance. And I don't believe in hollow promises. You can't tell Americans you're going to have health insurance and jobs and all these tax cut. And I'm tired of politicians that say everything, promising everything, and that's what the president does, and that's what the four Washington Democrats do.

LAUER: The president, as you know, is enjoying about a 58 percent approval rating, according to our latest polling. He's gof—gone off on a—on a working vacation in Texas. And I guess in keeping with your in-your-face style, you've decided to start running campaign ads right in his own backyard. I guess you feel he's going to be watching some local television. Let me show you a clip of one of your ads.

(Clip of Howard Dean presidential commercial)

LAUER: Governor, I don't know what those ads are costing you in Texas, but some people are saying why even bother spending the money? Do you think you can really beat George Bush in Texas?

Gov. DEAN: Probably not, but I think we can win the Texas primary. And there's a lot—there are a lot of supporters in Austin. I was down there about three months ago, we had 3200 people come out and hear what we had to say. So these ads are really aimed at A, the Texas primary, and B, ginning up support. The difference between my campaign and the four Washington campaigns is that we plan to beat the president by bringing enormous numbers of new people into the race. The other guys plan to beat the president by trying to be a little like him. And I think that's impossible. This is the most conservative, really, almost radical, president that we've had. He certainly can't be conservative if he—if he doesn't balance budgets.

LAUER: Well, let me—let me...

Gov. DEAN: And...

LAUER: Let me ask you about Iraq. I want to get back...

Gov. DEAN: And—and I was just going to...

LAUER: Go ahead.

Gov. DEAN: Sure.

LAUER: Let me ask you...

Gov. DEAN: I was just going to...

LAUER: ...about Iraq...

Gov. DEAN: ...finish by saying...

LAUER: ...because—because...

Gov. DEAN: ...we've got to bring new people into the—into the race.

LAUER: All right. We're going—we'll have to get our communications working out here. But in—on the subject of Iraq, as you mentioned before, you opposed the war. You didn't think the reasons were right for committing US troops. Now we're there, OK?

Gov. DEAN: Right.

LAUER: That's a given.

Gov. DEAN: Yes.

LAUER: And we've got a—a shaky piece, and we've got Americans being attacked almost on a daily basis. If you were president today, Governor Dean, what would you do?

Gov. DEAN: What I would do is do what we should be doing in Afghanistan, as well. I supported the invasion of Afghanistan, because I thought national security was at risk. But I think the president's job at trying to keep the peace in both places has been pretty dismal. We're making deals with war lords in Afghanistan, some of whom were on the other side when we first went in there. And I don't think that's the way to bring Ira—democracy to Afghanistan, nor do I think what we're doing is the way to bring democracy to Iraq. I want to internationalize both occupations. I want to bring NATO troops, I want to bring Muslim troops from the United Nations, preferably Arabic speaking in Iraq, and bring home some of our reserves. We're not going to be able to leave Iraq for many, many years, contrary to what the president told us.

LAUER: Well, the president wants to...

Gov. DEAN: Because you don't go to the...

LAUER: ...inter—the president wants to internationalize the force there, too. He would like NATO to send a significant force. The French and Germans say they're not going to do that without a UN mandate. And let's face it, they may set the bar so high that we can't accept their troops anyway. So if we aren't going to get that NATO support, what would you do? Would you send more American troops?

Gov. DEAN: Un—under my presidency, we would get the NATO support. One of the reasons that the French and Germans are reluctant to cooperate with the president is because of the way he behaved before he went in. The president promised a foreign policy based on humility. But in fact his foreign policy is based on humiliation of our friends, as well as our enemies. The first thing a new president needs do is to restore our place as leader of the free world based on not just the strongest military, which is important, but also high moral purpose, as we used to have in terms of—when every other president other than this one was in office. People—we want people to admire us again around the world, and that will open some of the doors to getting international cooperation and foreign troops in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

LAUER: If—if you were president of the United States right now, on the subject of Saddam Hussein, would you want him captured or killed?

Gov. DEAN: I—I'm not fussy about it. I think we've got to get him one way or the other, now that we're there. He clearly is an inspiration to some of the retrograde elements in the Iraqi society, although I don't think killing Saddam or capturing him will solve the problem. Because I think a number of the guerilla attacks on American troops are also motivated by Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations.

LAUER: You talk about balancing the budget. There is a huge federal deficit right now, between four and $500 billion. You'd like to repeal the president's long-term tax cuts, but most experts say that would only solve part of the problem. You'd have to make major cuts. Where would the bulk of those cuts come?

Gov. DEAN: Well, we're—you're not only going to get to a deficit—I—I actually have some experience in balancing budgets, unlike the president and unlike most of my competitors...

LAUER: On a smaller scale...

Gov. DEAN: ...because I've...

LAUER: ...obviously.

Gov. DEAN: Yeah, but it's the same—it's the same technique. What you do is you start to—start the glide path towards balancing the budget by getting rid of the tax cuts and investing some of that in health care, which helps the small business community enormously, and then you restrain growth. When I was governor of Vermont we never had a year in which the gover—the budget went up more than 5 percent, other than one where we took over some functions, payment functions from local governments for education. And that's what you've got to do. It's not a matter of you've got to go in and cut, cut, cut, cut, cut. You've got to restrain the growth of spending, and this president has not done that either. Three trillion dollars worth of tax cuts.

LAUER: Right.

Gov. DEAN: No wonder we have a $450 billion deficit.

LAUER: The Time profile issue this week starts with a—an interesting paragraph. Let me read it to you and get your reaction. 'Look back at nearly every campaign trail at the White House and you'll find embedded in the asphalt the flattened form of a once captivating outsider. The story line plays out as follow. He seizes the imagination with a compelling message and personality. He upsets the dynamic of the race, the media lavish attention and praise on him. He makes a rookie mistake or two under the TV lights, the reporters turn on him, and his fanatical legions realize he wasn't the guy they thought he was.' How do you avoid, Governor, becoming that flattened form in the asphalt of this race?

Gov. DEAN: Put my running shoes on so we can outrun a steamroller. Seriously, you know, all you can do is—is be who you are and say what you think. And the reason that we're being propelled as fast as we are is because we have a enormous number of supporters. Many of them over the Internet, but now a growing number that are not over the Internet. And we've got to bring new people into the electoral process. One could argue that the people who voted for Ralph Nader were the ones that—that Geor—cau—caused George Bush to go in the White House. Well, we're going to say to the people who voted for Ralph Nader, 'Look, you're going to—which in me you get somebody who says what they think. I won't agree with you all—all the time, but you'll know exactly what I believe, where—and what I think.' And the same is true with people who voted for John McCain and Ross Perot. We're seeing all those different people, including some moderate business Republicans who are...

LAUER: Right.

Gov. DEAN: ...terribly frightened of the president's economic policy, coming to our camp. And that is a—the beginning of the coalition that I think can change the occupancy of the White House.

LAUER: Ten seconds left. Are you too liberal to win the general election?

Gov. DEAN: If balancing budgets mean I'm too liberal, then call me liberal, because I—I think that's what the country needs, and I think the country desperately needs jobs again.

LAUER: Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean. Governor Dean, thanks for your time this morning. I appreciate it.

Gov. DEAN: Thank you.

Copyright 2003 National Broadcasting Co. Inc.  NBC News Transcripts


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