Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean
Morning Edition: July 2, 2003
Listen to an extended version of the interview.
BOB EDWARDS, host: You say you represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic party. Explain that.
Former Vermont Gov. HOWARD DEAN: That was really a phrase that was first developed by Paul Wellstone, and although Paul Wellstone's probably a little more liberal than I, his characteristic, which I enormously admire, was that he's willing to stand up for what he believes in. I think there are so many people in our party that aren't. When I go around talking to Democratic audiences, one of the lines that gets an enormous round of applause is that there are almost as many Democrats that I talk to that are angry at the Democrat Party as they are angry at the Republican Party.
EDWARDS: Well they wouldn't be Democrats otherwise, would they?
DEAN: Well, that's true. But people just don't feel like the Democrats have stood up against this president who's got really what amounts to, essentially, a radical agenda.
EDWARDS: The Democratic wing of the Democratic Party, would that be the wing that loses national elections?
DEAN: It's the wing that wins national elections because they restore principle to the party, and without principle we're never going to beat this president.
EDWARDS: Well, when did they win? I mean, you wouldn't put President Clinton in that category.
DEAN: I would put Bill Clinton in that category, actually. Bill Clinton is in a different time, even though he was elected only 10 years ago. What Bill Clinton did was appropriate issues that the Democrats had ignored but that were reasonable legitimate issues: welfare reform, being one of them; health insurance, being another, let's not forget that Bill Clinton ran on bringing health insurance to every single American; and balancing the budget, really somewhat similar to the platform that I run on, and he won. I think I can win, in fact, I think I may be the only Democrat that can win. And the reason for that is, that, first of all, we have 38,000 volunteers in... all the 50 states. The next person, last time I saw, had 1,300. There is an enormous hunger in this country, not just by Democrats, but by independents, to see somebody in the White House who stands up for principles that are good for the country, centrist principles. This president has moved so far right that our guys have chased after him trying to get themselves elected. Voting for a war when they didn't have the facts, supporting tax cuts that don't make any sense. They didn't support the president's tax cuts, but all but one of the major contenders voted for at least $350 billion in tax cuts, and some supported much higher ones, and voting for No Child Left Behind. Now, No Child Left Behind does some good things but it's a huge unfunded mandate, and it basically is going to put every public school into a failed school category by 2012. Our guys all voted for this stuff for whatever reasons. The way to beat George Bush is not to vote for half his stuff and say, 'Well, I voted for the president half of the time.' The way to beat George Bush is to offer a different vision for the country, and that's what I'm trying to do.
EDWARDS: Four of the last five presidents have been governors first and when they got to Washington they had difficulty working with Congress. Would you be better prepared than they were?
DEAN: Only because my favorite philosophical saying is that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. I'm aware of the problems that both President Clinton and President Carter had, and because I was chairman of the National Governors, vice chairman of the National Governors, chairman of the Democratic Governors, vice chairman of the Democratic Governors, I have a fair amount of experience with Congress for someone who's never served in Washington. And so I understand that Congress is a much more powerful institution relative to the Presidency, than say the state legislature is relative to the governor, and you do have to have things, have people on your team who know how the Washington system works. I'm not interested in coming to Washington to make a big statement about how terrible Congress is, I'm interested in coming to Washington to get something done, and you got to work with Congress to get anything done here.
EDWARDS: You have changed your mind on a number of key issues. Don't you risk coming off as indecisive?
DEAN: What key issues have I changed my mind on?
EDWARDS: Well the death penalty for one.
DEAN: Well that's one. Got any others?
EDWARDS: Balanced budget amendment?
DEAN: No. Balanced budged amendment is something that is political, I've publicly said that it's not great public policy, but we may have to have it anyway because you can't trust the Republicans with your money. And that's true, this president is using Argentina as his fiscal model: borrow and spend, borrow and spend, borrow and spend. It turns out the Republicans pushed the balanced budget but they never balanced budgets. They cut taxes, they cut services, they raise your middle class property taxes, but they never balance budgets and that's why we may need a balanced budget amendment.
EDWARDS: Why would your plan to provide near-universal health care coverage fare any better than Hillary Clinton's plan of several years ago?
DEAN: Because we have a plan that actually works. I tried a comprehensive heath care plan the year before Bill Clinton became president. One of the advantages I have is that I was governor for so long in Vermont that I actually served through both Bush recessions, not one of them. And during that first recession we had a comprehensive health care plan before our legislature which failed. But I was very persistent. What we got out of it was health care for everybody under 18. In our state, everyone under 18 has health insurance and everybody who makes less than about $17,000 a year is guaranteed health insurance whether they qualify for Medicaid or not. On that building block, I build my national plan. We use something called the Family Insurance Plan, which is modeled after what we did in Vermont to cover everybody under 25 and everybody under about $30,000, $33,000 a year income. Above that, if you have no insurance you can buy into this same plan your congressman has for about 7 and a half percent of your adjusted gross income. If you don't want to have the health insurance you don't have to, but we sign everybody up, and you can opt out. So it covers everybody, it costs less than half of the Bush tax cuts, and it brings America into the same civilized category as every other industrial country in the world... I can't wait, should I be fortunate enough to get the nomination, to stand up and ask President Bush why we have to be second-class citizens. The British, the French, the Germans, the Italians, the Irish, the Israelis, the Canadians, the Japanese, not to mention all the Scandinavian countries all have universal health insurance of some kind. America doesn't. Why is that? Our economy is just as strong as theirs are.
EDWARDS: So you would pay for that by reversing the tax cuts. But would there be enough there to do that and the other things you want?
DEAN: Sure. The key commitments that I have are to fully fund homeland security, which this president is not doing, to bring health insurance to each American and to fully fund special education because it's a huge unfunded mandate and what the president has done is cut taxes and then get middle-class property tax payers to increase their taxes so that they can essentially pay for his income tax cuts, because his income tax cuts mean that not enough money goes to the states to do all the things the states have been told they must do by the federal government. And, if you do those things, you still have enough money left over to begin the process of balancing the budget. I am absolutely determined to balance the budget, I'm a complete deficit hawk, I had balanced budgets when I was governor, and we don't have any requirement to have a balanced budget. We're the only state in the country that has no statutory requirement. We put money aside, we had small tax cuts, and we paid off a quarter of our debt, going from the worst bond rating to the best bond rating in New England during the time I was governor. Now, we're not cutting K through 12, we're not cutting higher education, we're not cutting kids-only health care. If the federal government were run like that, I think Americans would be much better off.
EDWARDS: As governor of Vermont, you passed legislation legalizing civil unions between couples of the same sex. Would you recommend that to other states or propose it as a national policy?
DEAN: I would certainly recommend it to other states, but you can't propose it as a national policy. I think the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, and I think anything, any national civil unions act would be unconstitutional. That is not the prerogative of the federal government, that is the prerogative of the states. What I would do... is two things. First of all, if a state had a civil unions statute or a domestic partnership statute, we would recognize that federally so that people who enter into those arrangements can have the same legal rights at the federal level that I have: hospital visitation, insurance, inheritance rights, there are 1,500 rights that you can only have if you're married and since gay people can't get married that needs to be remedied, because I believe that every American ought to be equal under the law, and that's what we do in Vermont.
EDWARDS: Why did you oppose creating the Department of Homeland Defense as a way to streamline national security.
DEAN: Well I didn't, I don't know that I really opposed it, I was asked about that and I said I wouldn't have done it that way. I really didn't oppose it at the time. And the reason for that is that I find, in general, having some executive experience, and I'm one of the only two candidates that's had any executive experience running, is that when you rearrange the beauracracies and who reports to who you find a lot of turf battling and you don't often get a lot of improvement. So what my approach as governor has been when you have agencies that are fighting, you bring the true authority into the governor's office, or in the case of the federal government, you bring it into the White House, and have the key agencies report there, and if they aren't getting along, then somebody loses their job until you find somebody who will get along with the other agencies. I'm not a vehement opponent of the Homeland Security Department at all, I've never spoke out on it one way or the other, but I think that there are going to be some problems merging the cultures of the different agencies that are now going to have to be merged.
EDWARDS: You say you wanted to divert national security funds from the states directly to cities?
DEAN: No. What I said was that national security funds for homeland security that affect the cities ought to go right to the cities. They ought not to go to the states first and then be passed to the cities. And I'll give you an example: as governor, if I have a responsibility, for example, to have more state troopers or more public health investment, I should get that money. But if you're the mayor of a large city in my state and under homeland security you have the responsibility to have first responders or public health facilities funded properly then the money should go directly to you, there's no reason it should go to the state first.
EDWARDS: How would you decide who gets what?
DEAN: There's a formula for that and it has to do with, andů actually the formula that we have isn't a very good one, because Wyoming, which has relatively low security needs, gets more money per-capita then New York which has very high security needs. But there is a formula, I would change the formula to account for a likelihood of attack, which is clearly higher in major cities than it is in rural areas. But I think we need just a straight formula, otherwise it gets to be too much of a fight in Congress about who gets what.
EDWARDS: Wyoming gets more than New York City?
DEAN: On a per-capita basis.
EDWARDS: Wow. You opposed the war in Iraq...
EDWARDS: You said you weren't sure of the benefits of removing Saddam Hussein's regime.
DEAN: I think that clearly Saddam Hussein is a mass murderer: there are some benefits to the Iraqi people, at least now. But the president, as we should have figured out from what he did... or didn't do in Afghanistan, has not done a very good job trying to deal with Iraq post-war and we don't know what the result of this war's gonna be yet. If we end up with a democracy, it'll be a huge relief to get rid of Saddam Hussein. If we end up with chaos as we have now or a fundamentalist Shiite regime, we'll be in more danger than we were when Saddam Hussein was in power because they will invite in terrorist groups like al Qaeda, and that is a much greater danger than Saddam Hussein ever was. As we find out now that the government wasn't truthful with us when they told us that we have to go into Iraq because Iraq was an imminent danger. Secretary Rumsfeld claimed that he knew exactly where the weapons were around Tikrit and Baghdad. We can't find those weapons, so that wasn't true. Second, Vice President Cheney said that they believed Iraq had nuclear capability. That wasn't true. The president of the United States said that Iraqi troops were going to use chemical weapons on Americans and that Saddam... was giving weapons to al Qaeda. Neither of those things were true, there was no evidence for that. One of the things I'd like to see is an impartial, bipartisan investigation outside of Congress to find out what the president did know and when he knew it, because the implications for having the American regime not being truthful with the world or our people are huge, because the next time we claim wolf, wolf; who's gonna believes us, not that many did this time. Here's the possibilities: One, we have terrible intelligence and they didn't do a very good job; two, the president's advisers saw the intelligence and selectively gave some of it to the president, so they withheld information; or three, the president knew what was going on, and didn't tell us the full story. That's pretty serious, and if this were Bill Clinton sitting in the White House, I dare say the right wing Republicans in the Congress would be howling and baying and I think we need not to have a double standard in this country.
EDWARDS: Well they say that they're there, they just haven't been found yet.
DEAN: Yes, but the president -- the Secretary of Defense told us exactly where they were. Turned out not to be true.
EDWARDS: What would you be doing differently in post-war Iraq?
DEAN: Now that we're there, we can't leave. We cannot allow chaos or a fundamentalist regime in Iraq because it could be fertile ground for al Qaeda. First thing I would do is bring in 40,000 to 50,000 other troops. I'd look to Arab countries, Islamic allies, countries, Islamic countries who are our allies, NATO, the United Nations. Gen. Shinseki, before we went in, said that we did not have enough troops. The administration ignored that advice. It turned out to be true. It was a good thing that Shinseki made us give us that advice. It was a bad thing the administration ignored their own military expertise. We need those troops, we're not keeping order in Iraq. And it seems to me that what we need is some expertise from people who know how to police countries that are in some chaos and who understand how to administer and build the institutions of democracy. We're gonna be there for a long time in Iraq. We can't leave, because if we do before there's established democracy, many worse things will happen to both the Iraqi people and to America if the terrorists move in.
EDWARDS: Why do you believe gun control should be legislated at the state level, while issues like abortion and parental notification of abortion should be mandated at a national level?
DEAN: I don't think parental notification should be mandated at a national level. I think that's something I strongly disagree with the president on. I think abortion is a consitutional right, that is a national right that is interpreted by the Supreme Court to exist for every single American, so that is a national issue. And I -- here's the deal on guns. In our state, we have no gun control of any kind. We have -- essentially, we have a little bit, but not much. We have the lowest homicide rate in America, or at least we have had over some years, five homicides one year for the whole year. We don't need gun control in our state, other than the federal gun control which I support. I support, for the whole country, the assault weapon ban and I hope the president keeps his word and makes -- sees to it that it's reauthorized. I support the background checks. I support background checks for... people who buy guns at gun shows using the same mechanisms that we use for the other background checks. But after that, I think every state ought to make their own gun laws, because in Vermont, you don't need any after that, and in New York and California and New Jersey you may want tons of gun control. Why not let them have it? Gun control's not a national issue, it's a state issue. Some states have big problems with guns, other states don't, so let's not have a one-size-fits-all piece of legislation.
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