Bill Press had a chance to sit down with Democratic frontrunner Howard Dean. Is he too liberal to lead the party? And what about the attacks he’s faced from other Democratic candidates?
BILL PRESS, HOST: How do you respond to the rap that you’re too liberal to lead the party?
HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That’s mostly put out by people who are afraid I’m going to win because they’re not, but the fact is I balance budgets. I believe in health concerns for every single American. I’m not a big gun control person because I come from a very rural state. I’d say I’m a centrist. I believe in gay rights because I believe every American ought to have the same rights as everybody else. So, you have to decide whether I’m a conservative or a liberal or a moderate. I think I’m a centrist.
PRESS: But, what does it say to you when Joe Lieberman gets up at the National Press Club and makes a speech-without mentioning you by name-but really says that you are, to use his words, “a ticket to nowhere? ”
DEAN: Joe is a great guy, and Joe wants to be president of the United States, and one of the problems with our party is people will say anything to get to be president of the United States, and that’s an example of it. I truly believe that it’s possible that I’m the only person that can beat the president. Obviously that’s totally self-serving, but what’s it going to take to beat President Bush? It’s going to take somebody who can excite our base again, who gives people a reason to vote and then will go out and recruit people who haven’t voted for 10 or 15 years. That’s who’s supporting our campaign, and that’s why I think we’re going to win.
PRESS: But here’s the rap then on Howard Dean. You do a good effort. You win in Iowa. You do another good effort in your neighboring state of New Hampshire, you win in New Hampshire, and then you fizzle because you don’t have the nationwide organization... you don’t have the strength to really compete in those great big primaries.
DEAN: I’ll tell you something right now... We’re going to win in Texas and we’re going to win in California, and we may win in Oklahoma. We’re probably going to win in New Mexico we have an organization down there. Nobody else does.
PRESS: Will you have the money and the organization to compete in all the big national primaries?
DEAN: Bill, we raised more money in the last quarter than anybody else raised. I understand why these people are saying this, but people will say anything to become president of the United States. That’s what the matter with the Democrats is. If you’re willing to say anything to get elected, Americans can see right through that, and they’re not going to elect you. Every time somebody says he’s too liberal to win, we raise more money and our numbers go up.
Why do you think that is? It’s because what people want is somebody who is going to call it the way they see it. I have a record on guns that is not in favor of a lot of gun control, although I support the Brady Bill and the assault weapons ban and all that stuff. I have a record of balancing the budget. I have a record of equal rights for gay and lesbian people. I believe what I believe. People know where I stand, and I really don’t worry very much about where the polls are. That’s what differentiates me from all the other Democrats.
PRESS: Do you think President Bush misled the American people in making the case for the war in Iraq?
DEAN: Yes, I do. I believe he said four things that weren’t true. One, that the Iraqis were purchasing uranium from Niger. Two, that the Iraqis had a relationship with al Qaeda. Three, the vice president said that they were about to get atomic weapons. The fourth was Secretary Rumsfeld’s statement that he knew exactly where the weapons were. I actually expected that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, but we had control of Iraq for 12 years with no-fly zones. We controlled the Soviet Union for 50 years. I think it was a mistake to go into Iraq in the long run. Now that we’re there, we’re stuck there, and the administration has no plan for how to deal with it, and we cannot leave because losing the peace is not an option. We cannot leave Iraq. The president never thought about that when we were getting into Iraq.
PRESS: Don’t Democrats run the risk right now if they oppose the war in Iraq of being called-accused, attacked for being soft on defense, soft on security?
DEAN: You know who is soft on security and defense is the president. He gave big tax cuts, but he’s not funding homeland security. He gave big tax cuts, but we’re not buying enriched uranium from the Soviet Union. If that stuff gets in the terrorists’ hands, then we really have a problem. He gave big tax cuts, but he won’t spend the money to inspect the cargo containers that are coming into the United States. I think there’s a good case to be made that the president is soft on defense.
This president who talks so tough is about to let North Korea become a nuclear power, and he has not lifted a finger to do anything about it. We need somebody who is really tough on defense, but we also need somebody who doesn’t need to prove they’re tough on defense by sending people to a war without telling them the truth.
PRESS: President Charles Taylor is out of power in Liberia. He is out. Should American troops go in?
DEAN: I think they should. I think a small delegation...
PRESS: In what capacity?
DEAN: As peacekeepers with a small delegation of Americans, larger delegation of international troops. What we need more than anything right now is internationalization of the occupation of Iraq. We have no friends left or very few friends left in the world because this president has treated all the other countries with such arrogance. Perhaps by becoming part of an international force to keep the peace in Liberia, we could then entice the United Nations to send troops to Iraq so we can bring our reserves home.
PRESS: I want to ask you a last question, which is on the issue we talked about in the debate of gay marriage. The Republicans are going to make that a big issue. They’re going to try to use it against Democrats in 2004, and you are the only governor in the country who OK’d not gay marriage, but civil unions for gays...
PRESS: Doesn’t that make you too far out on the front on this issue to lead the party?
DEAN: Most people in America believe that everybody ought to have equal rights. All civil unions does is say gay people can have exactly the same rights I do. Hospital visitation, insurance, inheritance rights, job discrimination, taxes. It says marriage is between a man and a woman, but that gay and lesbian people deserve exactly the same rights as everybody else. I don’t think that’s too far out for the American people.
PRESS: Gay marriage, yes or no?
DEAN: Gay marriage-we don’t have gay marriage, and it’s not the federal government’s business to impose gay marriage, but it is the federal government’s business to make sure everybody has equal rights under the law.
PRESS: How about couples that are married in Canada come to this country?
DEAN: As president what I would do is recognize their rights the same as civil union rights or any other state’s domestic partnership rights. Equal rights under the law, but the federal government is not in the business of deciding who’s married and who’s not. That’s up to the states.
PRESS: I can’t let you go without asking you about the recall in California. I mean this is a process as governor I don’t think you ever faced.
PRESS: Is it a fair process?
DEAN: No, it’s a ridiculous process.
PRESS: Do you think Arnold Schwarzenegger think Schwarzenegger is the next governor?
DEAN: No, I don’t think so. I think-first, the people of California are going to think very carefully before they decide to let the Republicans take another election by nefarious means. So, we’ll see what happens with the recall election. I think Gray may well survive. If he doesn’t, I hope and I believe that the Californians will make Cruz Bustamante the next governor.
PRESS: But not Arnold Schwarzenegger?
DEAN: I don’t think so. Look, Arnold is a very attractive guy, but he has absolutely no experience what so else-whatsoever in politics. In the end with a $38 billion budget deficit, you’d better find a governor that knows how to deal with it and there are only two. One is Gray Davis. I think he’ll stay. If they don’t pick Gray to stay, then I hope they pick Cruz.