On Wednesday afternoon I caught up with Howard Dean, former presidential candidate and chair of the Democratic Party from 2005–08, for a conversation about Obama’s chances, Paul Ryan’s lies, the impact of unlimited Super PAC money and new voting restrictions on American democracy, and the status of the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.”
Ari Berman: You were chair of the Democratic Party during the last Democratic convention. How is this one different?
Howard Dean: Like Denver, this is a swing state. And I might add that Obama won Colorado last time, so we have high hopes for North Carolina.
If the election were today what would happen?
I think we’d win. Nate Silver has Obama winning 293 electoral votes [Editor’s note: Silver projects Obama winning 310 electoral votes]. If the election was held today, we’d win Virginia, which I think we will definitely win anyway, and Ohio and Florida. You can’t win if you’re a Republican if you don’t take even one of those states. I think we’ll win Virginia, and one of the two of Ohio or Florida, maybe both.
The problem for Romney is that middle-class people know he doesn’t care about them, and no matter what he does he can’t change that.
What does the president need to say in his speech tonight and about the economy in general going forward?
If I were the president, I would leave the attacking of Republicans to others. I think they’ve pretty much been shredded, some of which they’ve done themselves. I would pretty much just talk about my positive agenda for the economy. What specifically would he like to do? Some of the things he’d like to do he’s been trying to do for two years and McConnell has refused to let him do anything, which I think is un-American really. So I’d be really specific about my plans. The Republicans have no specifics whatsoever other than cut taxes for millionaires and I don’t think that’s a program most Americans can relate to.
Have Democrats done a good enough job of defining Paul Ryan?
I think Paul Ryan has done a pretty good job of defining himself. Oddly enough, Paul Ryan’s demise as a candidate who can be taken seriously happened at his own hands. The lies about the General Motors plant and the Simpson-Bowles study [during his RNC speech] were bad but they were sort of within a political context. Lots of people lie in politics. When he lied about his performance in the marathon, you can’t do that… It’s like cheating in golf. You do that and you kind of wonder why you should lead the country?
What impact will all the Super PAC money have on the last two months of the election?
It’s going to be tough. There’s going to be more mud thrown around than you can possibly imagine. The good news is that most people have already made up their minds about the election.
What impact will new voting restrictions passed by Republicans have in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida?
I think it will hurt too. I think we’re going to win in Pennsylvania anyway, but we have a lot of work to do. I think it’s pretty despicable of the Republican Party to decide they’re trying to disenfranchise people. We know it was a Republican strategy because we’ve seen the bills that ALEC has suggested. This is really a group of pretty repulsive people who think it’s OK to win by taking people’s right to vote away.
What do you think Democrats should do in response to those voting restrictions?
I think we continue to do what we’ve been doing. It’s another reason we need President Obama, so we have a Supreme Court that obeys the law and follows the Constitution. There’s nothing in the Constitution that says you ought to take away people’s right to vote. Voting is a right. It’s not like getting on an airplane…. Republicans say they want small government, but not when they want to invade your bedroom, and tell you when you can and can’t vote, and what picture you need to vote.
When you ran for president you famously said you wanted to represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. What sort of shape is it in today?
Much better. Because this is a base election. We’ve gotten a lot. We can complain about healthcare but what I say to progressives is, You’ve complained for three years, now you get in line for the fourth year. This is the fourth quarter. The differences for the future of the country are enormous, not just for the people we care about but for our own families and democracy itself. Long-term, you can’t have a democracy which is based on the ability of corporations to buy elections. And that’s what the Supreme Court has allowed by a narrow 5-4 margin. We’ve got to reverse that and have a country where ordinary people matter again, and that’s what the Obama election is all about.