Howard Dean: Is the president dishonest or just incompetent?

The DNC chairman shares breakfast and plans with the press.


Michael Scherer
April 12, 2006 8:16PM (UTC)

Salon's Michael Scherer reports on a breakfast with Howard Dean:

Howard Dean called this morning for the Bush administration to declassify a Pentagon report that apparently disproves President Bush's claim that mobile labs found in Iraq constituted "weapons of mass destruction." As the Washington Post reported today, Bush made this statement in 2003, after a team of experts dispatched by the Defense Intelligence Agency concluded that the labs had no military value.

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"We are going to call for, probably today, the declassification of the report," Dean said at a private steakhouse breakfast today with reporters. "Everybody can see what's in that report, so everybody can make their own judgments about whether this president and this administration is incompetent or whether he was dishonest. It has to be one of the two."

The breakfast, which was organized by the American Prospect, provided an intimate setting for Dean to take questions from reporters. He discussed his new fundraising strategies ("Democracy Bonds"), concerns over electronic voting ("this is not some Internet conspiracy") and his close working relationship with President Clinton ("the most brilliant mind in politics"). He also criticized the voter database built by his predecessor at the DNC, Terry McAuliffe, saying the "the platform was too small" and the data set included 900 data points for each voter -- an unwieldy number.

On the 2006 elections, Dean said he hopes that Democratic candidates adopt a succinct, unified platform, emphasizing the importance of staying on message. The first plank would be "Honesty in Government," he said. The second plank would be "National Security," and it would include attacks on President Bush's handling of North Korea, Iran, homeland security and intelligence on Iraq. "We need to have a national message that plays all over the country," he said.

On Iraq, he said that Democrats were close to consensus about what should be done next, with several similar Democratic proposals in Congress that all advocate a staged redeployment of U.S. troops. "Obviously, Joe Lieberman is the outlier here," Dean said, referring to the Connecticut senator who is fighting a tough primary battle for reelection.

Dean said that the United States cannot afford to lose the war in Iraq. But then he defined success in relatively modest terms. "Winning in my view is simply not making it any worse than the president has already made it," he said.

At another point in the conversation, Dean showed he was having a hard time taking his own advice about staying on message. He was asked if Democrats would schedule new 2008 caucuses that might "molest" the stature of New Hampshire as the site of the first primary. "We don't molest anybody," he quipped. "We leave that to the deputy press secretary at the Homeland Security Department."

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After some nervous laughter from the assembled journalists, Dean realized his mistake. "I'm always getting myself in some trouble," he said.


Michael Scherer

Michael Scherer is Salon's Washington correspondent. Read his other articles here.

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