In a paragraph of his own words, this is why Howard Dean should run the Democratic party:
"We can change our vocabulary, but I don't think we ought to change our principles. The way I think about this is--and it gets into the gay marriage stuff, too. We're not the party of gay marriage. We're the party of equal rights for all Americans. You know, I signed the first civil unions bill in America, and four years later the most conservative president the United States has seen in my lifetime is now embracing what I signed. We've come a long way. We're not the party of abortion. We're the party of allowing people to make up their own minds about medical treatment. It's just a different way of phrasing it. We have to start framing these issues, not letting them frame the issues."
Other personal highlights:
MR. RUSSERT: You said you're thinking about running for chairman of the Democratic national party. If you did, in fact, run for chairman of the party and win, could you run for president in '08 as well?
DR. DEAN: No, absolutely not. You cannot--the reason I'm interested in running for the DNC chairmanship is because I think we need some fundamental things done differently. I think we are left by Terry McAuliffe with a big surplus, and he's done a great job in terms of leaving this party in good financial condition. Something I've never seen in my lifetime in politics is the DNC with a surplus after a presidential election. So the next chairman doesn't have to dig out from debt.
What we do have to do is look at what the Republicans do well and, frankly, what we did well at Democracy for America. We elected candidates in places like Alabama and Utah and Idaho and Georgia. Democrats can win in those places. First, I think we have to have a 50-state strategy, and secondly, I really believe we have to stand up for being Democrats. We have a message to sell. I frankly think it's a better message than the Republicans; we've just got to figure out how to get it out there. Grassroots, empowering people elsewhere in the country, instead of trying to run things from the top down, I think, is the way to do it. It was successful for us. I think it can be successful for the Democratic National Committee.
MR. RUSSERT: You just spent the weekend in Florida meeting with the state Democratic Party chairs. Are you close to running? Were they encouraging to you?
DR. DEAN: Well, you know, I am going to run if I think that I can win, if I think that they really want me. This is an institution and the people in the institution know that they have to change, but the pain of change is always greater. Until the pain of changing is less than the pain of staying the same, they aren't going to change. And I had a lot of debates with myself about whether to try to change things from the outside or change things from the inside knowing it was going to be a significant institutional resistance if I try to change things from the inside, but I concluded it's faster to change the party from the inside.
We have got to get back in power in this country. We can't afford these two trill--imagine the president talking about spending $2 trillion of additional deficit charged to our children's credit card to take senior benefits away. These people who are running this country are running it in a short-term way, racking up enormous deficits, enormous future national security problems for us. We can't afford the Republicans. We've got to get rid of them as fast as fast as possible because they can't run the country properly. And so I concluded that trying to move the party in a direction where we can start winning elections at the local level first, because that's where it all starts, and then at the national level as fast as we can is the right thing to do.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me talk about your potential run for state chair. For Senator Bob Kerrey had this to say. "[Dean's] got tremendous skills, and if he became [DNC] chairman, he'd do a good job. ...But if he runs, he's going to have some 'splaining' to do, as Ricky Ricardo used to say. ... Which Howard Dean are we talking about? ...If we're talking about the Howard Dean who was governor of Vermont, I would say fine. But if it's a presidential candidate Dean, I would say probably no."
DR. DEAN: Well, you know, everybody's going to have their own opinion about whether I should run for the DNC chairmanship or not, but let me just say a little bit about what I think I could bring to the job. First of all, I think it's accepted that our campaign brought hundreds of thousands of new people, not all of them were Democrats, into the fold especially young people to vote for Democrats which--and they voted for John Kerry by a significant margin.
Second of all, we raised more money than any other candidate because we taught people how to run grassroots. Since that time, we've had an organization, Democracy for America, which has raised even more grassroots money and pumped into the local races and we've had some successes in so-called red states.
I understand what it is to empower people who aren't in Washington. I think we can't win anymore unless the message is made in the states and then filters up to Washington rather than made at the DNC and then we tell the state parties what to do because the message--there'll be an overall Democratic message, but the message needs to come from places like Alabama, not just Minnesota, if we're going to win and have a chance in Alabama. So I think I have a lot to offer the DNC and we'll see if they agree with me or not.
MR. RUSSERT: Harry Reid, the new leader of the Democrats, was on the MEET THE PRESS last week, and he said he would be open to Antonin Scalia being appointed chief justice of the Supreme Court. There may be some ethical problems, he said. If he could get by those, he was very much impressed by the brilliance of his mind.
DR. DEAN: Well, first of all, I like Harry Reid a lot. He's a straight shooter, and I think he's going to be a good leader. I disagree with him on this one. I think Antonin Scalia ought not to be on the Supreme Court let alone chief justice because I think he lacks judicial temperament.
MR. RUSSERT: Why?
DR. DEAN: Because when you--and I have appointed a great many judges as my career as governor--the second thing after a work ethic that you look for when you're appointing a judge or a justice is judicial temperament. That means--in our judicial system, it's very important for the loser and/or the winner in any case to be--to feel like they've been treated fairly and respectfully by the court system. That's what is the glue that binds us together as a society. When you are sarcastic and mean-spirited, as the justice often is from the bench, it leaves the losing--the loser in that case feeling as if they were not respected by the judicial system, and that's why you don't put people with bad temperament on the--on any court, and I certainly don't think they should be on the Supreme Court of the United States.
MR. RUSSERT: When specifically was he mean-spirited or sarcastic?
DR. DEAN: You've seen many, many times. I don't have a specific time, but you could go read almost any oral argument in the last year and find sarcastic, mean-spirited remarks from the justice in those arguments.
MR. RUSSERT: It sounds like you'd really like to be chairman of the party.
DR. DEAN: I would like to be chairman of the party, but you know, it's an odd dance. It's not like going out into the primaries and bringing people in. There's 447 people that get to vote on this, and, you know, I'm not much of an insider, and this is a pretty insider game.
MR. RUSSERT: When do you have to make a final decision?
DR. DEAN: Not for a while. There's a lot of people who are sort of in and out and moving around, and there's a lot of talking behind the scenes, and I'm very much hoping--I'm hoping actually, oddly as it sounds for me, to be a somewhat of a consensus person. I'm hoping that we'll be able to bring all the factions together. It's going to take some time, because I really fried the party while I was out there running for president, I think with some good reason. But I am a Democrat. I think the Democratic Party is a far better vehicle for reforming America than some other vehicle that you'd have to start from scratch or some interest group. And in the long run, if we can make the Democratic Party the party of real reform, then I think we'd really gain something for the country.
MR. RUSSERT: You said if you win chairman of the Democratic Party, you can't run for president in '08. If you do not become chairman of the Democrat Party, might you consider running for president?
DR. DEAN: I'll think about it, because I never turn down any, you know, proposal without thinking about it carefully. So certainly I suppose I'd be in the mix for a while until I figured out what I was going to do. But my first choice is to be the DNC chair if I can be.