I thought Howard Dean’s Meet the Press interview this morning was in large part quite good. He was forthright in assessing what went wrong in Iowa and New Hampshire –

We spent a lot of money in Iowa and New Hampshire trying to win. We’re were trying to do essentially what John Kerry is now doing. We were planning on trying to get a huge momentum out of Iowa and it didn’t work…We really wanted to try to capitalize on the momentum that we had. And when things started going south after the campaign got really rough in Iowa, because when you’re the front-runner of course, everybody’s whacking you every day, we got in a fight with Dick Gephardt and we both ended up third and fourth instead of first and second…It was my fault. We knew what we were doing, we took a gamble, and it didn’t pay off.

– and how the campaign lost stream:

There are a lot of analyses of what went wrong in our campaign…The best one, though, was an article in The New York Times which said that the campaign was so much about message that I forgot that it has to be about me, too, that people have to like you if they want to make you president of the United States. And I think there’s some truth to that.

I think Dean’s right that there’s some truth in that – people want a trustee as well as a delegate in Washington. I also think, though, that voters want someone who’ll fight for them, and that just as few organizing conversations are successful if you’re not convinced the organizer is willing to argue with you and change your mind, few candidates win voters’ faith for the general election if they aren’t seen fighting to win the primary.

He also used that moment as a chance to defend the increasing visibility of his wife:

That’s why I asked Judy to come out on the campaign trail, who incidentally had such a good time the other day, yesterday, which was our anniversary, she had volunteered to come again, much to my astonishment. But that’s why I asked Judy to come out, at Senator Harkin’s wife’s suggestion, so that people would get to know me…She’s not a prop. I always said when we first ran, I promised I would never–I mean, I didn’t promise, but I knew I would never use her as a prop, but I do think that people have to know something about Judy to know something about me. It’s the person I married; it’s my life partner…They have to get to know Judy, and I actually think, which is a funny thing to say after two years on the road, that people don’t feel like they know me that well and I’ve got to figure out a way to let them do that more.

I think in large part my feeling on this comes down to agency – is she there because she wants to be? And that, of course, is impossible to assess.

Looks like this will be Dean’s stance on Roy Neel’s corporate background:

First of all–Roy Neel hasn’t been a Washington lobbyist for four years, first of all. Secondly, he was Al Gore’s chief of staff; he was Bill Clinton’s deputy chief of staff, and he’s a great organizer and he’s a good guy…[Neel] has not been in the lobbying business for four years. He’s been a college professor. And I think he’s been good for the campaign and he’ll continue to be good for the campaign…He did exactly what he was supposed to do and didn’t break any–not only didn’t break any laws, he didn’t break any ethics guidelines…What I want is a–and what we have–we have not changed what we’re doing in this campaign a bit. We’re getting enormous support still from the grassroots. It does help to have somebody who knows something about how to run campaigns organizing your campaign. It had been my hope that Joe would stay on, because he’s such a brilliant strategist and he built the campaign, and I think that would have been a tremendous team to have Roy running the inside stuff in the campaign, making sure that the trains ran on time, and having Joe’s brilliant strategy from the outside…

Not terribly convincing, but that’s because he’s defending a move that’s quite difficult to come up with a coherent and credible defense for. Someone should definitely tell the Governor to forswear the expression “making sure that the trains run on time” unless he really wants to make us think about the major benefit of fascism. He does make a good case against the current frontrunner:

…that is a very different thing than taking $650,000 of special-interest money after you claim that you don’t and you’re railing against special interests, as Senator Kerry has and as George Bush–what George Bush has done is much, much worse than what Senator Kerry did. The only thing that bothered me about John Kerry is that his whole campaign, which borrowed from me, was “Well, we’re going to get the special interests out of Washington.” Come to find out, he’s taken more special-interest money in the last 15 years than any other senator…We have 11 percent of our contributions of $2,000 checks; 89 percent is less than that, and that’s not true of any other candidate running for the presidency.

Dean also defended his critique of the DLC:

As you know, Tim, I don’t take it lightly when people go after me and eventually I’m going to respond. Look, eventually we’re going to need the Democratic Leadership Council in order to beat George Bush. We’re going to need every single Democrat that we can possibly get. But, you know, I don’t lie down in front of people who want to run me over with a steamroller.

And he slammed Bush on pre-war intelligence:

The president was not truthful with the American people about why we went into Iraq. Now, we don’t know why he wasn’t truthful. We don’t know if he was given bad information which he passed along to the country or if he and the administration at the highest levels decided to manipulate the intelligence reports. We don’t know. But we do know that most of the things the president said about why we were going into Iraq were not true…It is true that Saddam Hussein committed genocide. That was under President Bush the first’s watch…

And he tried to distinguish himself from other candidates as an economic realist:

There was no middle-class tax cut in this country. There was a huge middle-class tax increase because of the fiscal policies of George Bush. So for John Kerry to get upset that I want to get rid of all the Bush tax cuts is ridiculous…You know what I’m going to say? I’m going to say, “Mr. President, most people in this country would gladly pay the same taxes they paid under Bill Clinton if they could only have the same economy they had under Bill Clinton.”

Me, I’d rather have a tax structure, entitlement system, and economy like we had under FDR – or even, say, Nixon.

Dean also argued that voters would accept higher prices at Wal-Mart from fair trade policy:

Well, you know what they get in return? American jobs stop going overseas, illegal immigration is reduced to a trickle because people are going to make money in their own countries instead of having to come here to feed their families. And you get much better world security because you develop middle classes in developing countries. I think that’s a pretty good tradeoff.

And he slammed the jobless recovery:

No jobs. Where are the jobs? The 1,000 jobs created in December? This president is the first president since Herbert Hoover who has a net loss of jobs. You know, you can talk about all the numbers you want on the front page of the newspaper, but until your neighbor has a job, and you’re not worried about losing your health insurance, the economy has not turned up.

He also reminded progressives like myself why we should be anxious about him:

You can have health insurance for every American, which costs exactly the same amount as we’re putting into Iraq every year now. But you cannot have family leave and all this other list of things.

Dean called the leadership of the NRA “nuts” but argued that being endorsed by the NRA for Governor will help him more than it’ll hurt him:

Now, look, I’m not going to get the NRA endorsement [for President] because I do support the assault weapons ban and I do support background checks and extending it to instant background checks to gun shows laws, but nobody is going to be able to push me around and say that I’m for registration or all that stuff which they’re going to do for all the other Democrats because I was endorsed eight times by the National Rifle Association when I was governor of Vermont. That stuff matters. That’s an electability issue.

What I wish he – or any of the Democratic candidates – would say is that guns should be regulated because they’re dangerous, but the way to stop urban crime is through massive investment in jobs, education, and income support. But then again, I’m no fiscal conservative.

Dean handled the “scream” pretty much just right:

I was having a great time. Are you kidding? Look at the expression on my face. I’ve never had so much fun…You know, I never lost my temper once in 12 years at any staff member when I was in the Legislature, although I did blow up at a few legislators from time to time. This is ridiculous.

And he promised to stay in the race as long he’s viable:

I’m not going to do anything that’s going to harm the Democratic Party if we get blown out again and again and again. You know, if somebody else gets more delegates and they clinch it, of course, I’m not going to go all the way to the convention just to prove a point. But I’m going to be in this race as long as I think I can win.


David Corn slams Howard Dean over Roy Neel:

There has always been a disconnect in the Dean campaign between the man and the movement. If two years ago someone cooked up the idea to create a progressive, reform-minded grassroots crusade that would focus on harnessing “people power” to confront Washington’s money-and-power culture and a leader for such an effort was needed, Dean’s name would not have jumped to mind. Senator Paul Wellstone maybe, not Dean. Yet thousands of Americans were yearning for such an endeavor, and Dean found a way to tap into their desires. It was not the most natural or conventional of couplings, but it happened. And he was propelled to the front of the presidential pack.

Is Dean filing for divorce?

Maybe what we’re seeing here is the Kerry, Edwards, and Clark campaigns becoming more like Dean’s just at the point at which his is becoming more like theirs…