Breakfast With Dr. Dean

Barack Obama will have a free hand in writing the Democratic Party platform and the agenda at the national convention in Denver, according to Democratic National Chairman.  At a press breakfast yesterday hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, DNC chairman and physician Howard Dean would not answer my question as to the role at the convention of former President Bill Clinton, Sen. Hillary Clinton, or the Boy Scouts of America. In a lively session in which the former Vermont governor explained why he wore the American flag pin (“I want to remind the Republican Party that they don’t own the flag”) and charged that “the problem with the Republican Party is that they value their ideology above what’s good for the country and their hold on power,” Dean would not specify anything at the party conclave this August aside from the role House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and two others will play in presiding over the convention.

“Senator [sic] Pelosi is the permanent chair,” Dean told me, “There are three permanent co-chairs, or will be when the convention presumably elects them. [Kansas] Governor [Kathleen] Sebelius, [Atlanta] Mayor Shirley Franklin, and [Texas] State Sen. Letitia Vanderput.  We did that because  those women at the time of their appointment were chairs of major Democratic organizations — the first time four women had chaired these major organizations — Governors Association, Mayors Conference, and National Conference of State Legislators, and, of course, the first woman speaker of the House.”  He added that “we rotate between men and women every convention,” recalling that New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was chairman of the convention in 2004.

Fine, but will the Clintons and the Boy Scouts play a role at the convention that nominates Obama?  (I asked because the Boy Scouts were nearly booed off the stage by gay activists at the 2000 Democratic Convention).  Dean said: “In terms of who’s going to do what at the convention, that is left entirely up to the nominee.  Since we now have one, those decisions will now be left up entirely to the nominee and we will not be part of those decisions.” 

“And that includes the role of the Boy Scouts?”  I persisted.

“Quite frankly, I haven’t given a lot of thought to that,” replied Dean, “all those kinds of things will be left to the nominee’s folks.” 

“Not Embarrassed At All” By “Impeach Bush” Move

Dean also made it clear he was not embarrassed by the effort of Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and other Democrats to impeach President Bush.

“Well, I’m not embarrassed by the effort,”  he said, “My view is the American people hired us [Democrats] in 2006 because they did not like the direction the country was going in and what they wanted to see was someone who was willing to do something positive and get something done in Washington that was for their benefit.

“Now I’m speaking for myself and not for Sen. Obama or anybody else. My own view is the President may or may not deserve to be impeached. I’m not going to make a judgment about that.  What I do make a judgment about is that the American people sent us [to be a majority in Congress] to get something done, which we have done.  We’ve stopped many of the more ghastly pieces of legislation the President has threatened to put through.  We’ve even gotten him to sign the increase in the minimum wage.  They didn’t send us there to impeach the President.

But the Dean would not repudiate the impeachment movement of Kucinich and company.  In his words, “I’m supportive of Speaker Pelosi’s views on this but I’m not embarrassed in any way that this [impeachment] is being discussed. 

Dr. Dean’s Prescription on Campaign Finance

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields raised the issue of Obama “breaking the law” of waiving public financing and avoiding spending limits in campaign finance limitations.

“Excuse me, we’re not breaking that law,” shot back Dean, telling Democrat Shields that “even though I agree your political views most of the time, I don’t agree with the way you framed the question.”

Despite the enlargement of the DNC’s Finance Committee cited by Shields, Dean insisted that no decision had been made about waiving the public financing, and “I was the first candidate [for President] ever to decide not to take public financing for the primaries.”  (When I gently corrected him and reminded him it was Republican John Connally in 1980 who first waived public financing, he said “You’re absolutely right.  John Connally did that.  That’s a very good piece of trivia.  I stand corrected”). 

“Senator Obama has not made that decision [to waive public financing for the general election],” he continued, “Secondly, the reason that I decided not to take public financing is the same reason he would decide, if she should decide that, is his base of small donors.  It’s one thing to do it if you are going to get a gazillion, $28,500 contributions, or in those days, []before campaign finance laws] unlimited donations.  It’s a different thing  if your donor base is three million people, which is unprecedented in the history of America and they want to take advantage that they have that.

“It is wrong and unfair to criticize Sen. Obama if he should do this.  And the reason it is is that Sen. Obama has not taken one dime of lobbyist money.  And when the Republican National Committee does what we did two days ago and decides they are not going to take a dime of lobbyists’ money, then they can lecture us on campaign finance reform.”

Global Warming Bill

Citing the Democrat-sculpted global warming bill (including a windfall profits tax) that was stopped in the Senate last week, I asked Dean what Democratic measure dealing with energy would not raise the price of gasoline.

“We don’t think it would raise the price of gasoline,” Dean shot back, noting that the recent killing of the energy bill “is an example of John McCain’s hypocrisy.  His party is  killing the energy bill while he goes on the Today Show  to claim he’s going to do something about the price of gas and energy and global warming.  It’s nonsense.  He’s got Mitch McConnell back there killing every positive, possible development we could put forward on gas prices, global warming and everything else, while he’s running around campaigning saying he believes in this stuff. This is nonsense!  This is nonsense!”

“Why don’t you think it would raise the price of gasoline?” I asked.

“Because when it’s been used in the past, it hasn’t,” Dean insisted.

“When has it been used?”  I asked.

Dean remonstrated that “I can’t remember when it’s been used, but I know we were still getting money for it until relatively recently.”  [The Windfall Profits Tax is an excise tax passed in 1980 on oil companies’ profits they earned from a sharp increase in profits brought about by the Arab oil embargo of the 1970’s.  According to the Congressional Research Service, the tax brought in $80 billion — far less than the projected $393 billion.  It was ended by President Reagan in 1988.]