Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean warned that Republicans who stand against the president’s health care plan or try to label it “socialized medicine” will suffer at the polls in 2010, and admitted “enough is enough” when it comes to the Rush Limbaugh hullabaloo.
Mr. Dean, a medical doctor passed up for health care spots he once coveted, told The Washington Times that because the president’s plan stresses choice - it would allow people to choose their preferred health coverage or keep plans they like - it’s “right up the Republicans’ alley.”
Mr. Dean said “Democrats can’t cave” on Mr. Obama‘s plan, which he called “perfect.”
“Not every Republican is a right-wing ideologue,” Mr. Dean said in an interview Monday.
“They called Medicare socialized medicine,” he said. “If they want to filibuster this to death, be my guest and let’s see how they do in 2010.”
Mr. Dean said he is not interested in an administration job, but he wouldn’t engage in hypotheticals about what he would do if Mr. Obama asked him to serve as surgeon general, for example.
He said he has told the White House he does not want to be considered for the post.
Mr. Dean said he is “free to freelance” and is busier now tackling several projects than when he was leading the party for the last four years.
The interview covered a wide variety of topics - from “exaggerated” reports about tension between him and the White House chief of staff to a theory the tough Virginia Democratic primary may help the party come November.
While he is focused on technology, health care and alternative energy projects in his new job as an independent consultant at Washington mega-lobbying law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge, politics and the administration’s policy weren’t far from his mind Monday.
“This has to get done,” Mr. Dean said, or major corporations may not survive.
In addition, a health care system would drastically help small businesses, he said.
He said Medicare for all would be a good solution since “people like it,” and “it works.”
“It’s ridiculous to say care would be inferior,” said Mr. Dean, who was a family practice physician in Vermont and later the state’s governor. “It’s perfectly good for the millions and millions of people over 65 in this country.”
Mr. Dean said the fight would be between the “conservatives and insurance companies” and the rest of the nation.
He predicted moderate Republicans like the ones who already crossed the aisle to support Mr. Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus plan would want to help on health care.
“Political leadership will get it,” he said. “Voters want this.”
Mr. Dean said he couldn’t talk about the alternative energy projects he’s working on, but hinted at some top secret news on a “breakthrough” he is working to get into the Defense Department: “There are some extraordinary inventions out there being moved forward.”
But he was most excited about a potential new project harnessing ideas he championed as governor - helping children from birth to age three - and saying that early age is crucial to determining how a child will perform in school the rest of their lives.
The “Baby College” idea encourages poor families to attend parenting groups to learn basic skills like reading to children, keeping fathers engaged and in some cases offering adult literacy courses.
“Middle class people in America know you have to read to your kids long before they can read, and it’s incredibly hard for poor people who are under economic pressure and maybe didn’t do so well in school themselves,” he said. “If you don’t get to kids who are really growing up in difficult circumstances before they are three, it’s very tough to get to them later.”
Nothing’s official yet, but he’s coordinating with a program in Harlem for the new venture and said a similar program helped reduce the prison population in Vermont.
Though he repeated he isn’t interested in an administration job, Mr. Dean has said previously he would have liked to be Health and Human Services Secretary. Political sources have speculated that his sometimes tense relationship with Mr. Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel might have been a factor, but he said the fights they had in 2006 over fundraising and his 50-state strategy are “exaggerated.”
Still, he was quick to point out he’s “not a registered lobbyist,” a label that would make it tougher to get a job in the Obama administration.
Mr. Dean said in the last three weeks he had a “very cordial” lunch with Mr. Emanuel and political adviser David Axelrod in the White House.
He declined to discuss any details of the meeting and would not say who extended the invitation, but added, “I appreciated it.”
Mr. Dean praised his predecessor Terry McAuliffe as helping lay the foundation for the Democratic takeover of government, and said he is “very good friends” with new Chairman Tim Kaine, who he suggested as a possible successor.
He said the new Organizing for America political arm - which morphed from the Obama campaign and will be housed at the DNC - may soon dwarf the party’s successes and “break huge new grounds.”
Mr. McAuliffe is running in a three-way Democratic primary to be the party’s nominee for governor this year, a race Mr. Dean said he wouldn’t touch.
But he did allow that the primary could help the party in the formerly red state, which has trended for the Democrats in recent years and backed Mr. Obama last fall, the first time Virginia went with a Democrat for president since 1964.
“The Republican candidate will have a hard time getting visibility because the press loves to cover a fight,” he said.
But in another political fight, asked if the Limbaugh situation was getting too much play from the Democrats, Mr. Dean laughed and responded: “Of course it is.”
“You expect people to have fun, and it was fun, but enough is enough,” he said. “The reason it’s fun is because it’s true.”
The conservative radio host has been a top headline for more than a week and Democratic groups seized on Mr. Limbaugh’s remark he wants Mr. Obama to “fail” and pushed the idea he is the true leader of the Republican Party .
That was only furthered when Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele first dismissed Mr. Limbaugh as “entertainment” who offers “ugly” comments but then apologized after being excoriated by the radio titan.
Mr. Dean told The Times it was “an embarrassment” and “ridiculous” that Mr. Steele felt he had to apologize to Mr. Limbaugh.
He said he can’t blame Mr. Steele, adding as the leader of the Republicans he shouldn’t have to apologize for pointing out the party’s sorry shape.
He said the inner-party squabble “reminds me of what happened when I got here,” though disputes he had with entrenched party leaders were kept private “instead of a public fight with a very prominent figure.”