Howard Dean Shares Plan To Unite Dems

Howard Dean

hide captionDemocratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Howard Dean speaks during the DNC's fall meeting November 30, 2007 in Vienna, Virginia.

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Months after Sen. Barack Obama seemed to secure the Democratic nomination, supporters of the candidate and those of former rival Sen. Hillary Clinton have yet to make peace. Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean discusses contention within his party and explains ways he is working to resolve it.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Coming up, senators John McCain and Barack Obama will reach out to voters of faith at a weekend forum. But can they turn doubters into believers? Our panel of political reporters considers that question in just a few minutes. But first, our political chat. Months after Barack Obama secured the Democratic nomination, it seems he's still struggling to make peace with former rival Hillary Clinton and more importantly, her supporters. And what's being interpreted as a gesture of unity, the New York senator will get a share of the spotlight and her backers would be allowed to place her name in nomination at the upcoming party convention in Denver. But if bad feelings and division linger, are the Democrats really ready for their close up?

Joining us now to talk about all this is Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean. He's also the former governor of Vermont. Governor Dean, welcome to the program. It's a pleasure to speak with you.

Former Governor HOWARD DEAN (Chairman, Democratic National Committee): Good morning to you.

MARTIN: First, I just have to offer our condolences on the death of Arkansas Democratic Party Chairman Bill Gwatney. Just to remind all listeners, he was killed by a gunman earlier this week at his office. This has to be a terrible shock. Do you have any idea why he was targeted?

Gov. DEAN: We have no idea. The police had found nothing. It is a horrible, senseless crime and obviously, we feel terrible for Bill's family. He was a terrific chair but we just have no idea why this happened.

MARTIN: And I think people can hear that you're on the phone and you're actually on the road with the party's Register for Change tour. Where are you? Where are you going and what's your objective?

Gov. DEAN: We are between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. We are in the third day of a four-day bus trip to register voters, which is covering Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. And, you know, our strategy here is we can win in states like Indiana and Virginia. They haven't been in play for years. But in order to do that, we've got to register people who are voting, get them to the polls, and that's what this tour is all about.

MARTIN: Looking ahead to the convention, in recent years these things have been so scripted. I mean some people say they're really not conventions anymore, they're actually television shows about politics. Do you think this type of gathering still makes sense in the television age?

Gov. DEAN: Oh, yeah. It makes a lot of sense to have the biggest activists in the party all in one place. And it's not just the delegates, there could be 35,000 to 40,000 people there for the week and, of course, 85,000 people there the night of the acceptance speech by Senator Obama. So, it's really quite an extraordinary thing to have every four years. We set the rules for the upcoming four years there. It's - I think these things are good things even though I'll agree there's not a lot of suspense in them, although we thought there's going to be a lot of suspense this year, so you never know.

MARTIN: But what's good about it?

Gov. DEAN: What's good about the convention?

MARTIN: Yeah, yeah.

Gov. DEAN: I think it's a great thing to have activists who work with each other, usually long distance by the Internet and phone, to actually get together in one place every four years.

MARTIN: The one sort of bit of drama that people are kind of anticipating is this whole issue around Senator Clinton, her name being placed in nomination as she will get a roll call vote. Now, of course, there's a strong precedent for this, but this year there's still some concern that there are vocal Clinton supporters who believe she should be the nominee. Are you at all concerned that this roll call has the potential to remind everybody of the divisions of the primary at a time when really you need to be putting that behind you?

Gov. DEAN: You know. I really think this is mostly a media story. Their nominee - I mean, the runner up or another nominee always have their opportunity to be put in nomination. It's really up to the nominee. Senator Clinton has made this choice that she thinks is best for the party, and I think that's a good choice, and so her intention is try to unify the party by doing this and I think that's great.

MARTIN: But how does it unify the party when people just reminds everybody that it was a hard-fought campaign?

Gov. DEAN: I think it pays respect to all those people who went out, worked really hard for Senator Clinton. I think it pays respect to Senator Clinton in a very public way and I think that's a good thing.

MARTIN: Right now a draft of the party platform includes this language. It says, we believe that standing up for our country means standing up against sexism and all intolerance. Demeaning portrayals of women cheapen our debates, dampen the dreams of our daughters and deny us the contributions of too many. Responsibility lies with us all. Many of Senator Clinton's most ardent supporters have argued that sexism in the media and the party essentially cost her the nomination. They fault party leaders for not being more vocal in their words about standing up against what they consider to be the sexism of the media portrayals. They think people like you should have said more about this. Do you think there's any truth to any of that?

Gov. DEAN: I would say there was a lot of sexism in the media. I'm not sure there was sexism in the party. I haven't heard anybody say that except for some of the more extreme folks. But I do think that the media portrayals were - the thing that was bad about them was not so much what they said, nobody said much about it and people got away with it. I think we all thought that we are much further along down the line. That kind of stuff was - it was - if, you know, people had said the kind of things they said about gender, about race, those people would have been fired. So I do think there was a double standard and I think, you know, this is a generation of women that had to put up with that double standard for much of their lives, and I understand why that became a big issue and I was very glad that that is in the platform and it should be in the platform.

MARTIN: Do you think you should have said more about this? I mean, is there anything you could have done?

Gov. DEAN: You could always - would've, could've, should've, in retrospect. I mean, the reason I didn't say a lot of the times is A, I don't pay much attention to cable television because I'm on the road working 20 hours a day, so I didn't see a lot of it. It didn't really hit me until one of Senator Clinton's supporters, who is a very close friend, showed me a video of all the outtakes from some of the shows like Chris Matthews and Tucker Carlson and so forth, and I was really horrified. And the other problem was I didn't get involved in defending one candidate or another very much in the campaign because I had to be neutral. I really felt like I had to be very careful not to favor one candidate or another. But, you know, you can always, in retrospect, you can always say that you wish you've done things differently.

MARTIN: If you're just tuning in, you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News. Our guest for this week's Political Chat is Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean. Another bit of news that caught our eye this week, the U.S. census department released a report projecting that whites will become a minority in the U.S. by the year 2042, that's about eight years earlier than expected. How do you think that would affect your approach to building the Democratic Party? You famously declared that Democrats should pursue voters who had confederate flags in their cars, meaning that Democrats should continue to court culturally conservative southern whites. Does that suggest, that this new number suggests that perhaps that strategy doesn't really make sense?

Gov. DEAN: I think we should court all voters, and we haven't courted southern conservative working class folks, and we need to do that. But, you know, our party has been a no majority party for a long time, and the fact is that the Democratic Party is made up of a lot of different people and we're all minorities in our party. That's the way it's been for a long, long time. We're the party of opportunity so the demographic trends stay with the Democrats because we are an inclusive accepting party. And if you look at folks of color, even women, they're more successful in the Democratic Party than they are in the white - excuse me, the Republican Party because we just give more opportunity to folks who are hard working people, who are immigrants and come from numbers of minority groups.

MARTIN: But nevertheless, this campaign, this primary campaign does seem to have exposed some racial tensions within the Democratic Party, and as you...

Gov. DEAN: Well, you know, I think - I actually disagree with that. I think, you know, the Republicans want to talk about race, we want to talk about the economy. We think that we really need a change. John McCain is four more years that George W. Bush's economic policy and he's bold about it, he brags about it, voting 95 percent of the time with George Bush. Well, we think the big issue here is gross mismanagement of the campaign, gross mismanagement of our foreign policy, gross mismanagement of the deficit and the economy, and we could do better, and we should do better. That's the real issue of the campaign.

MARTIN: But (unintelligible) - but during the campaign, I mean, the Atlantic Monthly just published a series of internal memos from the Clinton campaign where poster Mark Penn suggests that one strategy is to undermine Obama's American roots and his multi-cultural background. He says quote, "save it for 2050" which is when the country was originally expected to become majority and minority. Doesn't that suggest there's a sense that there's some resonance to exposing racial relation. How do you counteract that?

Gov. DEAN: I think Senator Clinton gets a lot of credit for rejecting those Mark Penn memos. I think that kind of approach to politics is ugly and divisive. Frankly, the Republicans have been using it for 30 years and it hasn't helped the country at all. I think we want to get away from that kind of talk and we want to get away from the stuff and get towards the core of the issues. We're in trouble in America. We've got the most incompetent presidency in the last eight years, and we're now threatened with another four years of that presidency.

We need to review our economic policies that ordinary working people get tax breaks like big oil companies that Senator McCain wants. We need to review our foreign policy and tell the truth to the American people before we send our troops to places. We need to review our spending policies so we don't borrow and spend ourselves into oblivion as the Bush family and Ronald Reagan has done. We can do better in this county. We're a great country still. We just need a great president, not John McCain.

MARTIN: So, four days of speeches, you're showcasing your party's best and brightest. What's the one thing you want people to draw from the Democratic convention as they watch it unfold?

Gov. DEAN: The biggest thing is the contrast between Barack Obama and John McCain. Barack Obama is the president of the future. He caters to the best instincts of us. Hope, inclusiveness, opportunity, and freedom. John McCain is the president of the past, and embracing George Bush's policies which have really harmed America in the worst way and I think the contrast between Senator McCain and Senator Obama is going to be what makes Barack Obama the next President of the United States.

MARTIN: I have to ask. Are you watching the Olympics?

Gov. DEAN: I do get to watch the Olympics a little bit. I saw Michael Phelps win his sixth gold medal last night, which is pretty exciting.

MARTIN: What's your favorite event?

Gov. DEAN: Well, I would have to say, you know, watching somebody like Michael Phelps on a quest like this is kind of like watching Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France. It's just amazing when you see an athlete of that caliber to go for - to try to do things that have never been done before so it's pretty extraordinary.

MARTIN: How about the men's basketball?

Gov. DEAN: How about what?

MARTIN: Men's basketball? Do you think that they might do a little bit better this year to represent us? A little bit better?

Gov. DEAN: I love this men's basketball team. Their behavior is great. I think they're very popular and I'm a huge Lebron James fan but I just haven't been able to see the games because they seemed to be at times that I seem to be working.

MARTIN: Now to be honest, is there a part of you that kind of wishes you're in Beijing right now?

Gov. DEAN: No. Absolutely not. I'm not a grand spectacle-type person.

MARTIN: OK. Well, you're going to have to switch up on that in the next four days. Thank you for speaking with us.

Gov. DEAN: Yeah, that's right. I will.

MARTIN: Yeah. Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean joined us by phone from the Register for Change. So, he's somewhere in Pennsylvania. Thank you so much, Chairman Dean.

Gov. DEAN: Thanks a lot. Bye.

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