Mr. Progressive: A Q&A With Howard Dean

Mr. Progressive: A Q&A With Howard Dean

Mr. Progressive: A Q&A With Howard Dean
January 12, 2015

Howard Dean, a doctor and the former governor of Vermont, arrived on the national scene during the 2004 presidential election. Questioning the invasion of Iraq and building up a strong Internet-based campaign, the long-shot candidate became the Democratic front-runner until he fizzled in the Iowa caucuses. During a concession speech in Iowa, Dean’s enthusiastic “Yeah!”— dubbed “the Dean Scream”—was shown repeatedly on cable channels and pointed to by some as a key turning point in the race. Dean went on to found Democracy for America and served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He is now a strategic adviser to McKenna Long & Aldridge. City & State Managing Editor Jon Lentz spoke with Dean about Bill de Blasio, Anthony Weiner and the 2016 presidential race.

The following is an edited transcript.

City & State: Why did you decide to endorse Public Advocate Bill de Blasio for mayor of New York City?
Howard Dean: Actually, you can quote New York magazine. This guy is a real policy guy, and I think he’s the only person in the race who’s really talking about policy. He’s progressive, and he gets that the income gap matters, and he’s got some solutions to talk about it, and nobody else seems to do that. New York magazine actually said that, and I think The New York Times repeated it, saying that de Blasio is the only person in the race that was actually talking about real ways of reducing the gap between the wealthy and the poor.

C&S: Do any particular policies de Blasio has proposed stand out for you?
HD: Well, one is universal prekindergarten financed by a surtax on people who make over half a million dollars a year. The average surtax would be $2,000 a family, and I think that’s something that many New Yorkers who make that kind of money would be happy to do if there could be universal kindergarten, so that’s just one example. Universal kindergarten is really important. Zero to 3 is more important, but he gets this stuff. He gets early childhood, he gets the gap between the rich and the poor, he gets that you better run the city to the middle class. I think that’s what makes him an attractive candidate.

C&S: He is still behind in the polls. Does he have time to gain ground?
HD: I think he has plenty of time. He hasn’t even gotten on television yet. He’ll do that with four weeks to go. The press is focusing like crazy on this race, but I think the average voter is not—yet. But they will.

C&S: Another candidate, Anthony Weiner, has also positioned himself as a policy-oriented progressive, but his Twitter scandal has returned amid revelations of inappropriate online interactions after he resigned from Congress.
HD: Well, I actually—before this second round, I predicted that he would be in the runoff. But I think it’s really going to be tough now.

C&S: Another interesting race in New York City is for comptroller, at least since former Gov. Eliot Spitzer jumped in. Could he win?
HD: Well, obviously he’s a very competent guy. I’ve seen the numbers on him, and I’m no expert on New York City politics, but he seems to have a fairly decent edge. But again, it’s very, very early. He has a big edge, some of that is clearly because he has probably close to 100 percent name recognition. I don’t think he was over 50 [percent support in the polls], and he needs to be. The problem with both him and Anthony, if you have 100 percent name recognition and you’re not over 50, you don’t have a lot of room to grow. So I suspect that will be a close race, much closer than the polls show now.

C&S: Would you ever run for political office again—even for president?
HD: What I say is, you never say never in this business. But I think there are a lot of other good folks out there, and we’ll have to see what happens. I like Hillary, I hope she runs, but who knows? There are a lot of problems in this country, and a lot of them aren’t being looked at by either party, so I don’t know the answer.

C&S: In a recent interview, you said that if Hillary Clinton runs, she won’t get a free pass.
HD: The idea that someone would not have a primary, other than a sitting president, I think we haven’t seen one of those ever. I certainly don’t remember, because it hasn’t happened in my lifetime, but I’m trying to remember a time in American history where there was no contest to get the nomination for a party that wasn’t in the seat. That’s why I said that. It’s not a reflection on Hillary. It’s just a reflection on our American politics.

C&S: A couple other New York figures are mentioned as potential presidential candidates: Gov. Andrew Cuomo and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Would they be viable candidates?
HD: I think they’re both quite possible. I’m sure that Kirsten won’t run if Hillary does because they’re very close, but I think they’re both potential presidential candidates, either now or later.

C&S: You have also been a proponent of healthcare reform. President Obama recently pushed back against Republican attacks on the Affordable Care Act, arguing implementation will demonstrate its success and defending the delay of a requirement that businesses provide insurance to employees.
HD: I think he has done those things right. I was just saying how impressed I was by the effort that’s going into making sure healthcare works. It really is the first time since his presidency started that he has been as absolutely focused on something to the same degree that he has in his campaigns. His campaigns are the best campaigns I’ve ever seen, both of them, and now it looks like he’s got an effort that’s going to match his campaigns in terms of getting this healthcare thing up and running, and I think it’s great. There are still some things I would have done differently, but I think it’s important to get this done and get this up and running and get these folks insured.

C&S: You recently wrote in The Wall Street Journal about the Independent Payment Advisory Board, saying it’s rate-setting and won’t actually lower medical costs.
HD: It won’t. Rate-setting has been tried for years, and it doesn’t work anywhere, and it’s not going to work now. But that’s not going to cripple the bill.

C&S: You are now a consultant with McKenna Long. Is your concern about rate-setting shared by any companies you represent?
HD: I suspect it is, but I say what I think. I don’t say what people tell me to say.

C&S: When you were at a fundraiser for de Blasio, you brought back the “scream.” It seems like you are able to laugh about it now.
HD: I never had any trouble with the scream. That was a concoction of cable television. There were 75 reporters in the room the night I did that, and not one of them wrote about it. But I think it is funny.

Jon Lentz
is City & State’s editor-in-chief.