Howard Vs. Dennis

Editors Note: The startling success of former Vermont Governor Howard Dean's insurgent run for the presidency has surprised many.

He has been featured on the cover Time and Newsweek in the same week. Tens of thousands of supporters attended major Dean rallies in New York and Seattle recently. His campaign officials say Dean will rake in well over $10 million in campaign donations for the third quarter, probably a record for a Democratic candidate.

A recent Zogby poll shows Dean has taken a commanding leading in the New Hampshire primary, where 38 percent support Dean, with Massachusetts Senator John Kerry next at 17 percent. Six months ago Kerry was beating Dean by a 26 to 13 percent margin. Dean's ahead of Gephardt in Iowa polls, provoking the other Democratic political candidates to criticize him at every turn, while members mainstream media, like Newsweek's Howard Fineman, seem desperate to slow him down.

Dean's rise from an obscure candidate from one of the nation's smallest states to Democratic frontrunner has not come without controversy over Dean's policies, ranging from health care to gun control to Israel. On the one hand, many progressives around the country have been particularly galled to hear the media and other politicos label Dean as a progressive when they see him as a pragmatic centrist. For them, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich is the real progressive in the race (although Al Sharpton's positions certainly would qualify him as well).

It is obvious, by many measures, that Dean fails most progressive litmus tests. Yet his supporters, many of them progressive, appear not to mind, since he appears willing to "talk truth to power" in key areas, particularly how Bush and Co. have lied to the country in providing reasons to invade Iraq. Ironically it appears to be a strategy of both the conservative Democratic Leadership Council and the Republicans to try to paint Dean as too left to be elected, apparently to slow him down or marginalize him, which makes the left indignant, since they don't see him that way. Which is it? Is Dean too conservative or too progressive?

Recently the radio show Democracy Now!, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez facilitated a debate between Progressive Manhattan Congressman Jerold Nadler, who has endorsed Dean, and progressive writer and press critic Norman Solomon. Excerpts from speeches and statements from Kucinich and Dean candidates were interspersed in the show. All and all it was quite enlightening and we're happy to provide a transcript for you, courtesy of Democracy Now.

--Don Hazen

  • Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont, recorded at a rally in New York on August 24, 2003.

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY)

  • Norman Solomon, executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy

  • Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), recorded on Democracy Now August 18, 2003.

TRANSCRIPT (slightly edited by AlterNet for clarity)

AMY GOODMAN: It was another one of those weeks for former Vermont governor, Dr. Howard Dean that would have been nearly unimaginable six months ago. He has appeared on the cover of the New York Times, USA Today, thousands of supporters attended major Dean rallies in New York, San Antonio and Seattle.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And now the results of a recent poll show Dean has taken a commanding lead in the New Hampshire primary, of a poll of 500 likely democratic voters 38 percent support Dean -- coming in second is Massachusetts senator John Kerry who is at 17 percent.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, last week Dean ended his sleepless tour going across the country -- in New York right outside the New York Public library, thousands of people turned out to hear him at 10:00 in the evening.

HOWARD DEAN: (speaking in NYC) You know in my state, everybody under 18 has health insurance. 99 percent eligible, 96 percent have it. In my state everybody under 150 percent of poverty has health insurance, all are working poor. In my state, seniors making less than 225 percent of poverty get help with their prescription drugs. If we can do that in a small rural state -- 26th in income out of the United States, which balances its budgets every year, year after year, surely the most powerful and wealthy society on the face of the earth can join the British and the Japanese and the Germans and the French, the Israelis, the Canadians, the Irish, the Italians, the Swedes, the Norwegians, the Danes, even the Costa Ricans have health insurance for all their people, Mr. President, I'm tired of being a second class citizens in the industrial world. We can do better than this, we can do better than this.

AMY GOODMAN: In the studio with us is New York Congress member Jerrold Nadler who is one of two New York congress members to stand up along with the former Connecticut governor Lowell Wiecker and endorse Howard Dean at this event, Nadler and Brooklyn Congress member Major Owens.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you like so much about Howard Dean?

REP. NADLER: Well, I like a number of things about Howard Dean. Number one he's been the most forthright on foreign policy of the Democratic candidates. He opposed invading Iraq, number one. Number two, he is talking about how we have to wage the war on terrorism without being an imperialist power. He's talking about how we have to defend the United States against real terrorist threats by doing things like, buying all the ex-Soviet weapons grade plutonium before it's smuggled to Al Qaeda for use in nuclear bombs. Like inspecting every container, shipping container before it's put on a ship to the United States to make sure there's no weapons of mass destruction on it before it gets to an American port. We inspect less than 2 percent of the 12 million containers before they come into this country. Now that's the real threat, not missiles that we need anti-ballistic missiles for.

Number three, he is saying we have to repeal the entire Bush tax cut. Without repealing the entire Bush tax cut you're not going to have money to do the defense that we have to do. And to do things like national health insurance, education, housing and health care and all the other things that progressives talk about. And he is the only candidate who is exciting people and recruiting people to the political process, therefore I believe he has the best chance of doing what is absolutely essential -- which is to get rid of George Bush.

You mentioned the huge amounts of money he's raising, but he's raising it in contributions of average size of $51. He's not depending on lots of huge fat cat contributions from the big interests. So in all these ways, he's, I think, by far the best candidate running for the Democratic nomination. I'm aware of some criticism from progressives, I've read their criticism. Some of it is justified. But I always bear in mind when I look at a candidate to endorse what my colleague Congressman Barney Frank said a number of years ago when he said that if I want to support a candidate that I agree with, who agrees with me on everything, I have to run myself.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we're also joined on the phone by Norman Solomon who is a well-known media critic, who wrote an article: "Dean Hopes and Green Dreams, the 2004 Presidential Race," which appeared around the country. You're not as laudatory of the former governor of Vermont.?

NORMAN SOLOMON: I really think it's about having your eyes wide open. Candor is best. I certainly agree with Congressman Nadler that it's essential to get George W. Bush out of the White House. And I suspect unless it is somebody who is just abominable like Senator Leiberman, I would support the Democratic nominee against George Bush. But that's not where we are right now. The choice is not between Dean and Bush. So we have to look at where we are at the present time and I think it's fair to say overall that Howard Dean is from the triangulating wing of the Democratic party. He said so himself. He told the New York Times magazine and I'm quoting here, "In my soul I'm a moderate. I was a triangulator before Clinton was a triangulator," and that means that he likes to polarize, not only with Republicans but with progressives and their constituencies. Clearly we don't go by rhetoric alone. We go by record. We go by program. If you do that with Howard Dean you see some very ugly stuff in Vermont.

AMY GOODMAN: Just about a week or so ago right after the blackout we spoke with Ohio Congress member, Dennis Kucinich, your colleague in the house, Congressman Nadler. We were talking to him about First Energy, the Ohio company that looks like-ground zero of the blackout. He has been taking on this company for years as they have him. But, at the end of the conversation I asked him how it is that Howard Dean has become the symbol of opposition in the Democratic party, even Howard Dean himself said "its pathetic that I'm considered the anti-war candidate." This is what Dennis Kucinich had to say.

"If you're going to talk the talk, you've got to walk the walk. And with all due respect to Dr. Dean, a doctor who turns his back on universal healthcare with 8,000 physicians out there favoring it could hardly be considered progressive. He has taken a position not to reform NAFTA and or GATT through canceling it and reinstituting bilateral trade based on workers rights, human rights and the environment. There's a question about being progressive and there's a question about being progressive when you come into a campaign and you support public financing and you turn around and start to equivocate on it because you're worried about keeping pace with the president's fundraising and that means you can only get your money from corporate, heavy corporate contributors. You know, I think as this campaign develops it will be very clear that I'm offering a real progressive alternative for the American people. And again if you're going to talk the talk, walk the walk. We'll see where our respective campaigns continue to walk and run as we move through these next few months of the campaign. I'm quite confident that as that happens, I'm going to be gaining increased support and this campaign will be there to provide a real alternative to the American people not a series of head fakes and directions of progressivism for the crowds and then after the campaign events are over you go back to this kind of centrism which blurs the differences between the parties, causes people to become disillusioned and results in people not turning out on election day."

AMY GOODMAN: And that was Dennis Kucinich, Congressman of Ohio. Your response to that, Congressman Nadler?

REP. NADLER: Well, Dennis is a good friend of mine and I agree with him on a lot of things. There are some issues I don't agree with him on. I don't think there's any question that on some issues he's more progressive than Governor Dean. But on some other issues he's not. Dennis until this year was anti-choice. He has changed this year, he says, and he voted against the partial birth abortion bill, although last year he voted for it. But still he voted against the so-called anti-cloning bill which would prevent research on stem cells and so forth with the right-to-life people who are the people who supported that bill.

On economic issues, Dennis is excellent. The two of us agree on economic issues probably 99 percent of the time. But there are mixed things in both. What he just said about Governor Dean was somewhat accurate, but in some ways not quite fair. For example, he talked about Governor Dean perhaps not going into public financing because he wants to be supported by large interest but the fact is, that if he decides not to go to public financing it's because he's getting so many small contributions, his average contribution is $51.

AMY GOODMAN: This is very interesting, actually. On the issue of public financing, you have President Bush who is raising an enormous amount of money, he may raise hundreds of millions of dollars before the primary. They put off the convention until September, I think it's the latest it has perhaps ever been so that he can raise as much money as he can before and then go into the public financing system afterwards. Then you have Governor Dean, it's not exactly clear what he's going to do, but possibly opting out of the public financing so you'd have Bush in it.

REP. NADLER: Well, opting out of the primary season public financing. He would still take the public financing after the convention as would Bush. Bush is allowed to raise unlimited amount of money as long as he doesn't opt into the system of the primaries. Whereas the Democratic candidate, if he goes into the system from March, when it will probably be clear who the nominee is, until the convention when they start getting public financing, he may have no money. He may have spent what they're allowed to spend in the primaries and have no money for six months, whatever that is, from March to September. Then you have a one-sided $150 million Republican propaganda barrage and the election could be over by the time of the Republican convention.

And Governor Dean is obviously thinking -- because unlike the other Democratic candidates he can rely on small contributions -- about the fact that he may be able to have enough to compete. And not by selling himself to the special interests group -- but with millions of small contributions -- he may be able to have enough money to combat that March and September or whether he wants to legally hamstring himself by opting in. There's a real problem with the way the law is set up where you put candidates in that no-win decision situation. I'm a very strong supporter of public financing. As far as I'm concerned -- I don't know if you can do it -- but if I could wave a magic wand, I would prohibit private money in politics all together. But I'm not sure that I could legitimately or honestly say to a Democratic candidate that the right thing to do is to concede the election to Bush by disarming yourself and having no money essentially between March and September.

NORMAN SOLOMON: It's very important to understand where Dean is coming from in terms of economic policy and priorities. You know after Dean was Governor for seven years in Vermont, the Associated Press, and I'm quoting here, said "he was a clear conservative on fiscal issues." Adds the AP, "This is after all the governor who has at times tried to cut benefits for the aged, blind and disabled whose number one priority is a balanced budget." In fact Dean's obsession is a balanced budget; he's done that at the expense of low-income people. For him to talk as we heard in the sound byte that he's going to do for the country what he did for Vermont, I would take that with a box of salt. For one thing he's opposed to comprehensive national healthcare, he has said so himself. He's nibbling only at the edges. He doesn't want to get a single payer system. He's ignoring the fact that 8,000 physicians just called for single payer that would save, they said, a couple of hundred billion dollars a year from administrative costs. He has simply been tinkering. The fact is that if you look at his history he got behind President Clinton's so-called welfare reform in 1996, he went out of his way to praise Clinton's welfare reform, as " a real step forward." And while he has polarized poor people in his own state and programatically polarized with poor people and progressives around the country, he gets along very well with conservatives in terms of economic policy.

REP. NADLER: Well, I think a few things. He has -- I mean I don't know the details of Vermont politics or Vermont history. I can't comment in detail on what you said. But he has apparently gotten the 96 percent of children covered -- all low income people- covered in Vermont with whatever other problems there may be. I mean I'd prefer if he'd be supporting a single-payer program, I support a single-payer program.

AMY GOODMAN: It's interesting he used that example in the speech that we just heard at New York Public Library, the Canadians, he said, look what they all have. They have universal healthcare.

REP. NADLER: They have single payer systems, but the fact of the matter is he is committed to getting close to universal coverage but the real important thing, I think, is: Number one, all these details. The details of the candidate's program whether Gephardt's program is better for healthcare or Kerry's or his are not really that important because it's Congress that's really going to decide this along with the president. They are going to rewrite whatever the president submits. What is really important on all these progressive economic issues is are you going to repeal the tax cuts or not. He says he wants to repeal all of them. Not some of them the way like some of the other candidates are saying, but all of them. If you don't repeal those tax cuts you're not going to have the money for healthcare or housing or education or anything else that we care about. If you do repeal the tax cuts, if you follow intelligent expansive programs for economic growth, you will have money to do those things and then the political system will push you in that direction.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Norman, if I can interrupt you, there is a question I'd like to ask Congressman Nadler? We were talking before the show started about how you worked in the McCarthy campaign in 1968. Those of us who go back to those days remember that there was a similar feel to the McCarthy movement when it suddenly arose out of nowhere, to the feel of Dean. But there also is some of the same kinds of weaknesses of that movement, that it is largely a white movement and that in reality that neither McCarthy nor apparently Dr. Dean at this point have had any kind of resonance among huge section of the democratic electorate which are African American and Hispanic voters. I'd like to get your perspective on that.

REP. NADLER: Well I think Dean is working hard to remedy that. His endorsement by Major Owens the other day is a first step in that direction. Look, I think he's a candidate who is largely unknown, he comes from a state where the black population is 3 or 4 percent, it's tiny and he's unknown. He's unknown to the African American population, the Hispanic population. He's becoming known now. A classic insurgent candidate. He first becomes known during the campaign. And based on what he says he will get hopefully a lot of African American and Latino and other support. It's not there yet. I don't see it flocking to any other candidate yet either. Based on advocacy of the kind of issues he's advocating I do anticipate it will come.

NORMAN SOLOMON: When you have a candidate who supports welfare reform, what Bill Clinton did to low income people, mothers and children in this country how are you going to promote Howard Dean when he was one of the major governors behind Clinton's welfare reform? I think it's silly. And also when we talk about the budget of this country, the Pentagon accounts for almost half of the so-called discretionary spending, Howard Dean has said point blank he is against cutting the military budget. It now adds up to more than a billion dollars per day routine spending. He also supports the occupation of Iraq, a continuation of a war that he did oppose. I think that's a contradiction, when we're spending billions and billions of dollars a month on an occupation that is the continuation of illegitimate war. Meanwhile we're told we don't have the money to deal with contamination in lower Manhattan -- that's what the White House is saying, the money has to come from somewhere. The Pentagon is a logical place. Howard Dean doesn't support taking that money out of the military.

REP. NADLER: I'd make a couple of comments on that. First of all Howard Dean supports repealing all those tax cuts which is -- even from a straight monetary point of view -- even more important than cutting the military budget. Just on a dollar for dollar basis there's a lot more there by several orders of magnitude than you can cut out of the military. Number two, Howard Dean is saying: The real question in American politics is not whether we should withdraw from Iraq tomorrow morning because it's not going to happen. It's simply not on the table, it's not in the cards. The real question is, are we going to make this an occupation of Iraq by the United States which will be seen as such by the Iraqi people, which will lead to development of a national insurgency and get into a real quagmire as in Vietnam. We're on the cusp of that happening.

Howard Dean is saying -- and this is the real debate in America politics: that we should not have American occupation. We should have an international reconstruction, give up the monopoly of decision making power, give up the monopoly of the contracts for American companies for Halliburton and invite the UN, invite in NATO, invite in a lot of other countries in order to put Iraq back together and not only so that the burden both militarily and economically is shared by a lot of countries, not just the United States, but equally importantly so that it is seen and in fact is a reconstruction of the country. You can't just destroy existing order and leave chaos. The scene is a reconstruction so that you don't develop an anti-American -- so it isn't the colonial occupation -- that we get out as fast as possible and that it's an international reconstruction that turns the country over to Iraq as fast as possible. And that is the question in front of this country right now.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Howard Dean is sounding more like Hubert Humphrey, wringing his hands about a war and refusing to deal with the fact that you have 100,000, close to 150,000 U.S. troops occupying Iraq after the war that was illegitimate -- and yet we're told by him now that the occupation is legitimate. He told the "Washington Post" over the weekend, and I'm quoting, Howard Dean here: "We cannot withdraw from Iraq." Then he said: "we have no choice, it's a matter of national security; if we leave and we don't get a democracy in Iraq the result is very significant danger to the United States." Now if we're supposed to accept the idea that the absence of democracy is a very significant danger to the United States, in his words, then that is a blank check to continue to keep huge numbers of U.S. troops in Iraq, I think we've heard this argument before. We heard it during years and years of the Vietnam war.

REP. NADLER: I think I would repeat what I said a moment ago. I don't think you'll get democracy in Iraq any time soon. I think that was a will of the wisp to start with -- it was rhetoric. The fact is that the real discussion in this country now is whether we should have a military occupation, an American military occupation -- with some help from a few other countries that's just really illusory -- or whether we should turn it over in effect to an international reconstruction, looking to end it as soon as possible and that's the real question. I think he's on the right side of that question.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Waxman has been talking about the latest Halliburton boondoggle, $1.7 billion dollars that is received in Iraq as the vice president continues to receive checks from Halliburton. And he said the amount of money is quite staggering, far more than we originally believed. What can congress do about this? Do we wait years like we're waiting with hearing about the toxins that we're all breathing at ground zero to read about the expose?

REP. NADLER: Congress could do a lot of things but it won't because controlled by the Republican party in both houses and a lot of the Republicans are not going to embarrass their own administration. Don't look to Congress for help. You look to people like Henry Waxman and others to try to make embarrassing public statements -- or to introduce resolutions of inquiry. But that is about the extent of power that the Democrats have.

AMY GOODMAN: Well I want to thank you both for being with us. Norman Solomon, ten seconds.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Well, I think it's clear that Howard Dean doesn't represent what Martin Luther King called for fighting what he said were the giant triplets of racism, militarism and economic exploitation. Yes, we should get rid of President George W. Bush. Let's go in with our eyes open and not have illusions about who and what Howard Dean is.

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