The White House Under Fire And The Democratic Party's Future As questions linger about the official response to the Benghazi attack, the White House faces new challenges related to probes by the IRS and the Justice Department. Political Junkie Ken Rudin discusses the week in politics and the future of the Democratic Party with former DNC chair Howard Dean.

The White House Under Fire And The Democratic Party's Future

May 15 Junkie segment on TOTN

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As questions linger about the official response to the Benghazi attack, the White House faces new challenges related to probes by the IRS and the Justice Department. Political Junkie Ken Rudin discusses the week in politics and the future of the Democratic Party with former DNC chair Howard Dean.


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington. The IRS targets the Tea Party; the Justice Department picks on the press, but the president waves off Benghazi as a distraction. It's Wednesday and time for a...


CONAN: ...edition of the Political Junkie.


PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.

VICE PRESIDENT WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad: Where's the beef?

SENATOR BARRY GOLDWATER: Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

SENATOR LLOYD BENTSEN: Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

SARAH PALIN: Lipstick.


PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: But I'm the decider.


CONAN: Every Wednesday, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us to review the week in politics. This week, new scandals put the White House on the defensive as a frustrated president dismissed the drip, drip, drip of disclosures on the official response to the attack in Benghazi. He had to answer questions about why the Internal Revenue Service used keywords like "tea party" and "patriot" to investigate the tax status of nonprofit groups.

And then the Justice Department admitted that it secretly seized reporters' phone records in pursuit of a national security leak. And scandal, scandal, scandal did not leave a lot of oxygen for the other political news. In a few minutes we'll be joined by former DNC chair Howard Dean. Later in the program, a solution for a sedentary writer: Walking while you work.

But first, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us as usual here in Studio 42, and as usual we begin with a trivia question.


CONAN: Hey, Ken.

RUDIN: OK, well since Howard Dean is our special guest later in the program, here is a Howard-Dean-related trivia question. Dean, of course, is a former governor of Vermont, and he later became chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Under his chairmanship, the Democrats took control of both the House and Senate in the 2006 elections. So other than Howard Dean, who was the most - ready for this question, Neal?

CONAN: OK, I'm ready, yeah.

RUDIN: Who is the most recent former governor who, while he or she was chair of the national party, they won control of the House or Senate in November?

CONAN: If you think you know the answer to this week's trivia question...

RUDIN: If you understand it.

CONAN: ...get help. Give us a call, 800-989-8255 - that is, if you think you know the most recent former governor who served as chair of either the Democratic or Republican National Committee, and while as chair, that party took control of either the House or the Senate in a November election.

RUDIN: Right.

CONAN: All right. Give us a call, phew, 800-989-8255. Email And Ken, well, it is one thing after another at a suddenly besieged White House, and the IRS scandal seems to be the top of the list.

RUDIN: That seems to be the - not only the top of the list but the most - first of all, maybe - perhaps the most troubling, but also one potential scandal that both Democrats and Republicans could be furious about, because as we've seen, you know, President Obama said the other day, he said yesterday, I think, he said this is contrary to our traditions.

Well, it's not contrary to presidential traditions. If you go back to FDR and JFK and Nixon, we know what Nixon did with the IRS, and George Bush and Bill Clinton - I think Bill Clinton, they reported that he had Gennifer Flowers and Paula Jones, their taxes were audited. We know that John F. Kennedy sat with Ben Bradley and talked about, who was it, Howard - the guy, the oil billionaire from Texas.

CONAN: Bunker Hunt.

RUDIN: No, not that one.

CONAN: Not that one? Another one.

RUDIN: H.L. Hunt.

CONAN: H.L. Hunt, OK.

RUDIN: H.L. Hunt, were talking about his tax returns with JFK. The presidents have used this in the past. Now, we haven't gotten that far yet. The president says this is outrageous.

CONAN: And there is no link to the White House.

RUDIN: Not yet, no, and there may not be. And that's the whole thing. That's what makes it either a scandal or just an annoyance because it is an awful thing, and it is obnoxious and outrageous that this happened. But if the White House knew of it, then it's even bigger problems for President Obama.

CONAN: But this is a gift for conservatives.

RUDIN: Well, everything - see, the problem with this, a lot of people start rolling their eyes because the conservatives have been attacking the White House from day one, and we know that the conservatives have been using the talking points for Benghazi when most of the American people said, OK, there may not be that much there there with Benghazi.

But something big like the IRS tax-free status for conservative groups, going after conservative groups; or when the Justice Department decides to go after the reporters' phone calls regarding trying to catch a leak, trying to see where the leaks are in the White House, that is disturbing, and that is not just a conservative disturbance, it's disturbing for both - everybody basically.

CONAN: Well, going back to the IRS for just a moment, the IG's report on the IRS does not seem to suggest that this is a huge scandal, but we have many questions to answer, and there will be 8,700 congressional investigations, certainly in the House of Representatives.

The phone records seized, the questions, two big questions. First of all, it was done secretly, which did not allow the Associated Press time to take this case to court and protest, maybe they could work out another deal. And it seemed to be, well, over a couple of months, 20 different phone lines, three different bureaus.

RUDIN: Yeah, apparently what the White House says it was looking for, and this was regarding a botched al-Qaida plot...

CONAN: Well, you can understand their plot. It was that double agent, the report there was a double agent in al-Qaida who had blown the whistle on this underwear bomber plot to blow up an airplane.

RUDIN: But once the administration goes looking at phone records for reporters' phone records, then we know that any government official who ever thinks about talking to a reporter would be at risk because that - because his or her name could very well appear in these phone records. And that's the chilling effect, what this does, what the Justice Department did with the AP phone links.

CONAN: In the meantime, there are some hints of 2016 in the controversy over Benghazi. Rand Paul was in, of all places, Iowa late last week to speak to the Lincoln Dinner and question the official response on the Benghazi attack in September.

SENATOR RAND PAUL: First question for Hillary Clinton: Where in the hell were the Marines?

CONAN: And then Rand Paul went on to talk about how this actions by the now former secretary of state, well, might have an impact come 2016.

PAUL: It was inexcusable, it was a dereliction of duty, and it should preclude her from holding higher office.

CONAN: Preclude - what higher office might she seek?

RUDIN: Well, look, the point is Hillary Clinton is running for president by all indications, and that's exactly why the Republicans think they have a perfect way to go after her in advance of Iowa and New Hampshire. But again, you know, Mike Huckabee, a former presidential hopeful and perhaps a future Republican presidential hopeful, said that he thinks that President Obama is not going to survive his second term because he's going to be impeached, because basically nobody died, nobody died at Watergate.

And they're still using that quote that we've seen 40 years ago, 30 years ago, that nobody, you know, drowned at Watergate; they did that with Chappaquiddick. Nobody died at Watergate, but people did die in Benghazi, and they're using this against both Obama and Hillary Clinton.

CONAN: Believe it or not, we have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question.

RUDIN: It's not as hard as you think it is, Neal.

CONAN: That is the former governor who served as chair of either the D- or RNC and whose party took control of either the House or Senate during his or her term, except for Howard Dean the most recent, 800-989-8255. Email is We'll start with Kevin(ph) and Kevin on the line with us from Pittsburgh.

KEVIN: Hey, good afternoon, fellows.

CONAN: Go ahead.

KEVIN: Hey, Governor Ed Rendell.

CONAN: Of Pennsylvania. Ken?

KEVIN: Yes, sir.

RUDIN: Governor - Ed Rendell was governor of Pennsylvania, but he was not governor when the Democrats picked up either the House or the Senate.

CONAN: He's not chair of the DNC.

RUDIN: He was not chair - he was chair of the DNC, yes he was.

CONAN: But he was not chair when...

RUDIN: That's correct. He was not chair when the Democrats picked up a branch of Congress.

KEVIN: Ah. Thanks.

CONAN: Kevin, thanks very much. Got two out of three right there. This is Diane(ph), Diane with us from Virginia Beach.

DIANE: Hi, my guess is Tim Kaine.

CONAN: Governor of Virginia.

RUDIN: Tim Kaine - actually, Tim Kaine - I mean whatever you want to say of him about DNC chair, when he was chairman of the DNC the Democrats lost both the House and Senate. So Tim Kaine had a very disastrous 2010 when he was chairman.

DIANE: Oops, well thank you guys. I look forward to you every Wednesday.

CONAN: Oh, thanks very much. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Mike(ph), and Mike's on the line with us from Ames in Iowa.

MIKE: Haley Barbour?

CONAN: Haley Barbour, the former governor of Mississippi.

RUDIN: Yes but Haley Barbour was governor after he was RNC chair. Haley Barbour was governor - during the 1994 Republican sweep, but he didn't become governor of Mississippi until well after that.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. Let's see if we can go next to Emily(ph), Emily on the line with us from Durham.

EMILY: Hey, love the show.

CONAN: Thank you.

EMILY: John Connally.

CONAN: John Connally, the former governor of Texas.

RUDIN: Yes, but - well, I'll tell you later why I'm laughing, but John Connally was never chairman of the RNC or the DNC. He wasn't...

CONAN: He was in both parties.

RUDIN: Yes, he was.

CONAN: And here's an email question - answer from Terri Zullo: Is it Marc Racicot, the former governor of Montana?

RUDIN: That's a Butte. But that is the correct answer.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.


RUDIN: That was Howard Dean in the background, because Howard Dean predicted Roy Romer of Colorado. No, Marc Racicot, governor of Montana, he was governor in 2000, 2001 - I think '96 to 2000. And in 2002 he was a Republican chairman when the Republicans took back the Senate in the 2002 elections.

CONAN: So Terri Zullo will get a free Political Junkie T-shirt and of course that precious Political Junkie no-prize winner button, which she will get in the mail in exchange for a promise of a digital picture of herself wearing said same objects so we can post it on our wall of shame.

RUDIN: And while Howard Dean does not get a button, he did see the Ken Rudin-Howard Dean button collection today, so it was pretty impressive.

CONAN: Oh my goodness. This is - well, he's...

RUDIN: I know, that's why he's excited to be here.

CONAN: Joe Sestak, Admiral Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania setting up an exploratory committee to run when, Ken?

RUDIN: Well, he announced that he was going to run against Pat Toomey, and that's fine, but Pat Toomey, the senator from Pennsylvania, is not up until 2016. Now we spent last week talking about all the Republicans who don't want to run for the Senate in Iowa, all the Democrats who don't want to run for the Senate in Georgia. We heard this week that Stephanie Herseth, the former congresswoman from South Dakota, announced she will not run for Tim Johnson's seat. But Joe Sestak, who did run against Pat Toomey and lost to him in 2010, is up for a rematch in only three and a half years.

CONAN: And we also need to note this week the passing of a political figure from, what, now 50 years ago, Billie Sol Estes, involved in scandals back in the Kennedy administration.

RUDIN: Well, you've got to be old to remember him, but he was a con man of the first degree, a swindler. He came up with all these theories, none of which could be proven.

CONAN: Well that was after his conviction in the con man operation...

RUDIN: That's true...

CONAN: ...but he had a lot of political connections.

RUDIN: He did. I mean, he made payoffs to politicians, he had bribery things. Of course, once he was convicted, he said, I can prove to you that the Kennedy administration tried to kill Castro, that Lyndon Johnson tried to kill John F. Kennedy. It was kind of - Jimmy Hoffa definitely was out to get Bobby Kennedy. But he was a very colorful guy, died this week. But he was a con man and not of the honorable kind.

CONAN: Well, he was also the object of some interesting songs back in the day. It was - Phil Ochs wrote one, and then there's this one, "The Ides of Texas" by the Chad Mitchell Trio, if you want to go back to that. Howard Dean joins us in just a minute. Stay with us. It's the Political Junkie on TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.


THE CHAD MITCHELL TRIO: Billie Sol Estes, that boy really cooks. He had one shining purpose and two sets of books...


CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan. It's Wednesday, which means Political Junkie Ken Rudin is with us. And Ken, do we have a ScuttleButton winner from last week?

RUDIN: We absolutely do. There was a four-button set. The first button was a badge from APPA, which was the Association for the Preservation of Political Americana. So it was a nametag from APPA. There was a "before it's too late vote Wallace in '68," Jim Sheehan for Congress of New Jersey, and take the Shirley Chisholm trail to Washington.

So when you add APPA, late, Sheehan, Trail...


RUDIN: Get - we're getting two moans here.

CONAN: Two moans.

RUDIN: And speaking of which, by the way...

CONAN: Stereo moans.

RUDIN: I don't know if you know this, but Mark Sanford of course gets sworn in to his House seat today, and he will not, I heard, be appointed to the Foreign Affairs Committee.


RUDIN: But anyway, the ScuttleButton winner, another, is Michael Ruffin of Fitzgerald, Georgia.

CONAN: And he also will get a Political Junkie T-shirt and that valuable button. In the meantime, there's a new Political Junkie column up and a new puzzle?

RUDIN: There is a puzzle, yes, which I think Neal Conan would be very interested in seeing, but there is not a column this week.

CONAN: All right. As part of our Looking Ahead series, we now look ahead to the future of the political parties. We hope to speak with former RNC chair Michael Steele soon, a couple of weeks, we hope, but this week the Democratic Party. We want to hear from Democrats in red states today. How do you think the party can turn things around where you are? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us,

Former Vermont governor, former Democratic Party chair Howard Dean is here with us in Studio 42. Governor, welcome back to TALK OF THE NATION.

DEAN: Thanks for having me on. This is a lot of fun.


DEAN: Except I guessed wrong on the governor, last governor who turned over the House and Senate.

CONAN: We may give you that T-shirt anyway.

DEAN: Thank you.

CONAN: A lot of controversy at the White House this week. It is easy to get the sense of this as suddenly an administration under siege, but they're getting it from right and left.

DEAN: Well, we've got to sort out the facts from the fiction here. Benghazi is going to go away because it's essentially made up. You know, the Republicans are really interesting. They cannot get out of their own way. For them to be beating up on Benghazi, which really is a nothing, invented scandal by the right wing, captured by the right wing, who are obsessed with this, is the wrong thing to beat up on.

The poll - there's a recent poll that showed that 40, something like 46 percent of the people had no idea what was going on there, and a big chunk of the rest of them thought it was nothing. The other two are a little more serious, the IRS and the Associated Press stuff.

The IRS, the inspector general, who is an independent investigator, essentially gives the president and the IRS people a pass on this one.

CONAN: The senior IRS people, yeah.

DEAN: First of all - secondly, the IRS, the fact that there's not a sitting IRS commissioner, my understanding is it's a temporary administrator running the IRS, not a commissioner, because the Senate refused - because the Republicans filibustered the appointment of an IRS commissioner.

If that's so, if I get my facts right there, that makes them partly responsible because the principal thing that the inspector general said was bad administration at the IRS. So my guess is this is a dangerous one because nobody likes the IRS. On the other hand, the Republicans in Congress may have a slightly lower popularity rating than the IRS, so eventually this one goes away.

The AP is more serious, and that's the one they're getting it from both ends on. This sort of comes into the same category, although there's no loss of life, of how much power should the president have, as the drones. That is, there needs to be some kind of a guard against the government interfering with the role of the judicial branch.

And I think as far as the president's ability to order strikes on people, there needs to be some kind of an oversight for that, even if it's a FISA court, and we understand the national security implications of that. The same is true of the AP scandal. There is not a case to be made, although apparently it's legal, for - to survey reporters and rummage through their records without going to somebody who was willing to say this is indeed a threat to the national security.

The administration does not get to make up their minds about what's a threat and what's not. There has to be a third party if you're going to go invade the province of the First Amendment.

CONAN: And indeed it is a very serious case, yet this administration has been more active in pursuing leak cases than any other administration in history.

DEAN: It's true. Here's what the Republican problem with this one is, that they are the cheerleaders for this. When President Bush was in office, they were all in favor of doing whatever they had to do, including going after reporters who've said outrageous things, mostly in this case liberals. So they have not such clean hands at all. In fact their hands are really just as in the same - in the same dirt as the administration's is on this one.

So I'm not - I think this is the one that's got staying power. The IRS, if the Republicans were more skillful, they might be able to make into something, but they're not particularly skillful. And if I were running the Republican Party, I'd tell them to shut up about Benghazi because they're never going to get any traction about that.

They've been pushing it for two years. It didn't have any effect on the election whatsoever. They think it's going to have an effect on Hillary; it isn't, because it's nonsense and it's made up. The income tax stuff, that I'd push even though there's not a lot of there there. But I think the real meat and potatoes and the one that the president's going to have to deal with in a serious way is the AP invading reporters' records.

CONAN: At least so far as we know, there's no there there on the IRS, at least so far. Ken?

DEAN: Right.

RUDIN: Governor Dean, as a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, I understand where you're coming from regarding these scandals, but don't you think, and I hate to start a question with don't you think, but...

DEAN: It's all right, I'm used to being on Fox for that. They do the same thing.

RUDIN: But don't you think we deserve better than, well, Bush did it, and Nixon did it? I mean...

DEAN: No, Bush did it, Nixon did it is not an excuse for anything. But you can have - according to the inspector general's report, which is, I think, worth reading because this is an independent branch of government, this was a small group of people who disobeyed their superior in Cincinnati, which is the headquarters of the IRS that deals with all these nonprofit groups, and they shouldn't have done it.

And probably there are going to be some heads that roll, but this is not going to - this is not on the White House's doorstep. They had nothing to do with this. Unlike when Nixon did it - they did have something to do with it.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get some callers in on the conversation. Howard Dean, of course, as DNC chair was famous for running the 50-state strategy, in other words making the Democratic Party competitive in places where it hadn't been competitive for some time. We now seem to be in a much more of a red-state, blue-state divide, and a lot of those seem, well, at least at this juncture, more set than ever.

800-989-8255. We want to hear from Democrats in red states. What does the party need to do to turn things around? 800-989-8255. Email us, And let's start with Jerry(ph), Jerry with us from O'Fallon in Missouri.

JERRY: I think the solution is to move. Seriously, about a dozen years ago, up until that point, Missouri was a bellwether state. And of course our state legislature has some of the most nationally recognized, ludicrous time spent on bills like, you know, making it a crime for a federal - to enforce federal gun laws within the state.

But on the serious side, we are not going to engage in the Medicaid expansion. We are probably going to lose about 400,000 people. A very close friend of mine was a physician in rural Missouri, where there's a lot of rural poverty in Missouri.

CONAN: Jerry, we can hear a litany of how bad things are for Democrats in Missouri. What does the party need to do to turn them around?

JERRY: I think to really emphasize that people are voting against their economic interests. And maybe when some of these people - my friend, 80 percent of his patients were on Medicaid, and about 95 percent of them would never vote for a Democrat. And it's kind of amazing. So I think communication. You know, I don't think the Democrats have gotten hold of the framing thing yet as to - yeah, you have the freedom, you have the freedom to go without diagnostic treatment that may stave off a much more expensive, for all of us, disease. It's just on that little narrow point.

CONAN: Governor Dean, the Democratic Party has tried for a long time to try to make the argument it is in your economic interest to vote for the Democratic Party.

DEAN: It's true, and it's a dumb argument. People don't - and to say that somebody didn't vote for their economic interests is not to say they're voting against their own interests. And this is something the Democrats have never figured out. It just drove me nuts when I was chairman, trying to get the people inside Washington to figure this out.

The fact of the matter is people vote on emotion. And what the emotional needs of rural people and very conservative Tea Party people and so forth, which is a shrinking minority among Americans, which makes them of course all the more agitated, is the kind of stability and traditional kind of quote-unquote values that they used to have.

The problem is they can't restore the life they had. We have the first president of this country who's not Caucasian. He's the first of a long line of presidents who's not going to be Caucasian because this country is going to be like California in another 20 years, and we're not going to have a majority in this country.

That's demographic and it's true, and it's a great thing for the country, because we now have to deal with a world that looks like - we look like the rest of the world, and it's going to make it easier for us to deal with the rest of the world. So the question is, how can we - this is where the caller is absolutely right.

We've got to frame this argument differently. The truth is, appealing to traditional values does not have to be done based on hate and bigotry, which is what the Republicans seem to specialize in, at least the right wing of the Republican Party. What it has to be done is - what has to be done is we have to frame this argument in letting people understand that we know what they're struggling about.

It's not about race, and it's not about hating gay people and immigrants and all that kind of stuff. It is about economic opportunity. But you cannot start to make the case that they're voting against their own interests. The minute you say that, their retort, properly so, is who the hell are you to tell me what my interests are?

CONAN: Jerry, thanks very much.

JERRY: OK, thank you.

CONAN: Let's see - we go next to - this is Alex(ph). Alex is on the line with us from Davisboro in Georgia.

ALEX: How you doing?


ALEX: Listen, I moved here from Palm Beach County, Florida, where my vote really did count. You know, sometimes we'd go Democrat, sometimes we'd go Republican. But here in Georgia right now, everything is Republican. And I think...

CONAN: You should have moved to Chicago where your vote can count twice.


ALEX: That's right. Well, one time in Florida, it didn't count because they didn't finish counting, but we'll leave that one alone. But the problem right now is the voter ID law. A lot of people, you know, poor people don't have ID. And what's happening is in Georgia, you have to show your ID. And really, it's ridiculous because I live in a precinct that's only 400 people. I live in a small town, OK? Everybody knows me. So when I show up to vote, I still have to have my ID, even though all the people who are poll workers know me and everything, and it's an attempt to stop people from voting.

I think it's a little racist, but certainly, it's a blatant attempt because the legislature is all Republican. The governor is Republican. Everybody is Republican. And they're doing everything they can to stop people from voting. In fact, in Macon County now, they've got consolidated. They took away the partisan elections so that your party doesn't appear because there, there's more Democrats. They don't want your party to appear in local elections just to stop people from getting elected.

CONAN: Governor Dean, these laws are proliferating.

DEAN: Here's the problem for the Republicans. What the Republican Party is essentially embracing is the idea that in order to win, democracy is not as important as us being in power. When your platform is that you're going to reduce the number of people who are eligible to vote, whether they're conservatives or liberals or what they are, then you are really abandoning democracy in favor of your own success as a party. And that's really a big problem with the country, because as long as you have people of either party who think that their power is more important than the survival of the country, you're in trouble. Now, the American people are not stupid, and they see what the Republicans are doing.

CONAN: But the Republican argument is we're trying to prevent voter fraud, and it seems to be persuasive.

DEAN: But there is no voter fraud. The only voter - the biggest voter fraud in this country in the last 200 years was perpetrated by the United States Supreme Court in 2000 when they stopped a vote count, which they had no right to do. There was a process for electing a president if you don't know what the votes count, and that's - goes to the Congress of the United States. So, you know, the actual number of people who've really cheated in going to the polls and try to vote when they're not supposed to is in the double digits for the last - over the last 15 years in this country.

There is no substantial voter fraud. This is baldly, as the caller said, an attempt to disenfranchise people who might vote for Democrats. It also disenfranchises people who tend to vote Republican. For example, seniors in nursing homes who don't have driver's license anymore. It's a pathetic selling-out of the United States of America to support these kinds of votes. It puts your party in front of your country, and there's a lot of that going on in politics today, and it needs to stop. And the American people know it, and it's why Republicans are having a hard - trouble winning presidential elections.

CONAN: Alex, thanks very much for the call. It's Wednesday, Political Junkie day. Ken Rudin is with us, of course. And that's former Governor Howard Dean, former chair of the Democratic National Committee. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And here's a tweet from one of our listeners, Angela Wells. She writes: Alabama, here. The Dems have to be more visible. The climate is ripe, but Dems are inactive. Colleges, churches, nothing.

DEAN: Yeah. This is really - Alabama is a really interesting place. And I spent some time in Alabama when I was - I'll tell you an interesting statistic about Alabama. I went to Alabama after the 2008 election when I was chair - became chair, to raise some money and so forth. And I found out when I got down there, first of all, the place is doing pretty well, business-wise, and there's jobs being created and so forth. That's a good thing.

CONAN: It's still the poorest state in the Union, I think.

DEAN: I think Mississippi is...

CONAN: Well...

DEAN: ...but I'm not sure. But anyway, I think Alabama is on their way up, and being on the way up is a good thing for Democrats, because higher education level and the better off you are, the more likely you are to vote for a Democrat. But here's the interesting thing. So there were two very active primaries when the Alabama primary rolled around in 2008. There was Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. And on the other side, there were several - the race hadn't been settled, and McCain hadn't won, and there were still three or four live candidates in that race, and it was a hotly contested primary.

Sixty percent, higher number - higher - more than 60 percent of voters chose to vote in the Democratic primary. And Alabama is like Vermont in this way. You don't register by party. You go and ask for a ballot, and that's how you participate in your party. More than 60 percent of people under 30 chose to participate in the Democratic primary, not the Republican primary. Now, that's all voters. So you can't say, oh, well, you know, what do you expect? It's African-Americans influential in the Democratic Party disproportionately.

That's all voters. It's an extraordinary thing. So I wouldn't write off Alabama at all. I think there's a lot of success going on down there economically, and I think the Democratic Party has got a lot of growing and a lot of work to do. But I do think our message, particularly of economic empowerment, can resonate there.


RUDIN: Governor, when you ran for president, you were very popular with many progressive groups. What do you say to progressives today who say that - that there's little difference on - certainly on the - on drone policy, on surveillance issues, on national security wiretaps - little difference between Obama and Bush administrations? Or even if there wasn't much of a difference, what do you say about the critics of the Obama administration?

DEAN: I think it's perfectly - I mean that's one of the great things about living in this country. We have the constitutional right to criticize our government, no matter where we are in the spectrum. I think anybody who blindly says, well, I'm a Democrat, the president's a Democrat, so I support the president, is nuts, anymore than it's a good thing for Republicans to do that when they have the presidency. I mean the dialogue and the openness is what allows this country to succeed.

So, now, specifically, I think you have to be pretty tough on national security. We've had some pretty awful things happened to the country. And so I, you know, I said what I said about the wiretaps, and I said what I said about drones. But I would not refuse to support the president based on those two policies. And I - and for those who are upset about the drones, I think you do have to watch out for the drone policy. But the truth is, I think getting rid of those horrible people that blew up - helped to blow up the World Trade Centers by drones is a whole better than doing what Bush did, which is to send hundreds of thousands of troops to Iraq.

CONAN: Do you think that appeal of Rand Paul, the libertarian wing of the Republican Party, has appeal for a lot of Democrats too?

DEAN: No. I think Rand Paul is not qualified to be president. I mean, he's spouting off stuff he has no idea what he's talking about. Getting rid of the Federal Reserve is - that's a nutcase position. Without the Federal Reserve and Bernanke, this country'd be in terrible shape. So, I mean, he's going to get some play and he's going to say some outrageous things and there're going to be some young people who like him, and he's going to disappear and somebody else is going to get the nomination.

CONAN: Well, Howard Dean, we thank you. And next time you're on the show, bring some opinions, OK?


DEAN: Thanks very much.

CONAN: Former Governor Howard Dean, former chair of the Democratic National Committee, joined us here in Studio 42. Of course, next week, Political Junkie Wednesday will return. Ken Rudin, thanks as always for your time.

RUDIN: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: When we come back, we're going to be talking with New Yorker staff writer Susan Orlean about the new step she has taken in office fitness, a treadmill desk. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.


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