Howard Dean on Democratic Strategy
JOHN YDSTIE, host:
One of the people who will be watching the president's speech tonight is Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Steve Inskeep asked him what tactics he and his party have learned from their Republican opponents.
Governor HOWARD DEAN (Chairman, Democratic National Committee, Vermont): Well, I think the Democrats have begun to unify our message and unify our approach, a theme which talks about honesty and integrity in government; a strong defense based on telling the truth to our citizens, our soldiers and our allies; American jobs that'll stay in America. These kinds of themes, I think, will allow us to take back the Congress.
They've attacked our patriotism for a long time. Well, now you're going to see the gloves come off on the Democratic side. And that's the only way we can take the country back for the people who built it.
STEVE INSKEEP reporting:
When you talk about honesty and integrity in government, you're saying you want to emphasize the scandals in Washington.
Gov. DEAN: Well, yeah, it's not just the scandals. It's things like the conference committees putting in things in the middle of the night to give $22 billion to HMOs. It's things like the president not telling the truth about Katrina. He said he had no idea that it was going to be this bad, now we find out that two days ahead of time, there was an extensive briefing in the White House. So, this is his pattern of dishonesty in the administration. This doesn't just extend to the Abramoff scandals.
INSKEEP: The Washington Post Survey recently asked people for issues that mattered to them, and the Congressional scandals came in last in a list of 14 different issues.
Gov. DEAN: Yes, but character and values matter to people. They want to know what your position on the issues are, but they want to know what kind of a person you are. We can really differentiate ourselves from Republicans in this area.
INSKEEP: Factually speaking, speaking in terms of facts, Republicans can look at this lobbyist Jack Abramoff, whose clients gave most of their money to Republicans, and say that some of the money did go to Democrats.
Gov. DEAN: Yeah, they can say that, and of course, that's what they're gonna try to do, but of course, that's not really truthful, either.
INSKEEP: Well now, wait a minute. Democrats did receive money from Abramoff's clients. So, there is some truth there.
Gov. DEAN: Well, the key, literally, it's true, but the fact is that only Republicans have had money directed to them from Jack Abramoff in return for certain legislative favors.
INSKEEP: I wanna ask about another issue if I might, eavesdropping. The president has been critisized, and he has rigorously defended, in recent days, the National Security Agency listening to, what the administration describes as international phone calls that may involve Americans. How does that become an issue that Americans vote on?
Gov. DEAN: Well, the issue is, do you trust the president? Does he tell the truth, and the fact is, of course, he's not telling the truth about this, either. Why the president decided to do this, I don't know. Every Democrat in America, I think, is in favor of spying on al-Qaeda. What Democrats are not in favor of is giving up the constitutional protections for ordinary American citizens.
INSKEEP: You said the president is being untruthful. Do you have evidence that the president is being untruthful in the way that he is describing the program now?
Gov. DEAN: I believe he is, because there's been reports in reputable news magazines that they're tapping into the main trunk lines to look at patterns of telephone calls. Those are Americans that are being spied on, not just terrorists. How can you find out of somebody is a terrorist unless you tap their phone? And I'm not against tapping the phone, but I want court protection, because that's what stands between us and a dictatorship, and I don't think this country's ready for that.
INSKEEP: Governor, I wanna ask about one other issue. We're talking, as President Bush prepares his State of the Union address. One of the issues he's expected to touch on is healthcare, which makes me wonder, if Democrats were in power, what could they differently than the last time Democrats were in power, and tried to pass healthcare reform and failed?
Gov. Dean: This is hard to believe, but it's true, and I was not a fan of the single payer, but the fact is that the government actually runs a healthcare system substantially more cheaply than private insurance companies, that is a fact. And so, I don't advocate for a single payer, but I do advocate for healthcare for every single American.
INSKEEP: Well, hold on, you're saying that you don't want the U.S. government to become the health insurer for all Americans, which would be a single payer, as you say.
Gov. DEAN: Right.
INSKEEP: But you do want the government to have more control over health insurance and health insurance costs across the board, and more management.
Gov. DEAN: What I, what I want is to make sure that everybody has insurance, and what I propose, for those under 25 would be in a single payer, an automatic, essentially free insurance, it's a very low-cost group, so just do it. Secondly, fix Medicare properly, so the drug prescription is part of Medicare, not part of some private scheme to benefit the insurance industry and the drug industry.
And then, in between, you've got to work something out that's very difficult. Between 25 and 65, what I proposed in the presidential campaign was to use employer-based. I think that the business community's not gonna like that anymore.
The business community's is really suffering because of the healthcare mess in America, in part. So, we've gotta sit down with the business community and figure out a way to insure people. And if that's government insurance, well then, I'm willing to listen.
INSKEEP: Howard Dean is chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Mr. Chairman, thanks very much.
Gov. DEAN: Thanks very much, Steve.
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