Q&A with former DNC Chairman Howard Dean

Former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean discussed President Obama's choice for his new chief of staff, the Tea Party's likely impact in the 2012 presidential election, and his current role in the Democratic party at a Jan. 5 Monitor breakfast.

Michael Bonfigli / The Christian Science Monitor
Former Vermont Governor, presidential candidate, and DNC Chairman Howard Dean at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, DC, Jan. 5.

Former Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean ran for president in 2004 and was Vermont's governor from 1991 to 2003. A graduate of Yale University and a medical doctor, Mr. Dean was the speaker at the Jan. 5 Monitor breakfast in Washington, D.C.

How the Obama White House treated liberal Democrats:

"The core issue is the contempt [with] which not just the progressives were treated ... but lots of people were treated, by a group of senior advisers around the president who had been here for 20 years and thought they knew everything and we knew nothing.... It was more than just [Press Secretary Robert] Gibbs or Rahm [Emanuel, former chief of staff]. It was the whole mind-set that was going on there."

President Obama's new chief of staff, Chicago businessman William Daley:

"I don't agree with [him] on a lot of stuff politically, but I do think (a) he is a grown-up, and (b) he gets that you don't treat people like you know everything and they don't."

The odds of a primary challenge to Mr. Obama:

"It is incredibly unlikely and ... it would be foolish, and I certainly wouldn't entertain it and I hope that nobody would. Barack Obama is the best chance that we have of holding onto the White House in 2012, and I intend to support him."

The tea party's likely impact in the 2012 election:

"They will be important in 2012....It is the last gasp of the 55-year-old generation and not the first gasp of the new generation.... This is the last gasp of the generation that has trouble with diversity, and the new generation doesn't."

The mandate in the health-care reform law that all Americans must buy health insurance:

"This is a libertarian country.... That is why the individual mandate ... is doomed – whether it gets thrown out in court or thrown out in the legislature or just ignored. Americans can't stand to be told what to do, no matter what party."

What drives health-care cost inflation:

"Fee-for-service medicine is the No. 1 driver of health-care cost inflation in this country, and everything else is such a distant No. 2 [that] it almost doesn't pay to debate about it. Fee-for-service medicine – that is 'the more I do, the more you pay me regardless of the outcome.' "

Ronald Reagan's legacy on the eve of the 100th anniversary of his Feb. 6 birth:

"Reagan was a great leader, had leadership attributes.... He put a roadblock in terms of the Roosevelt revolution.... It is hard to point to particularly singular accomplishments that are for the ages.... I attribute the collapse of the Soviet Union much more to [Mikhail] Gorbachev than I do to Reagan.... But he put a stake in the ground and stopped the ... progression to a more communitarian country."

His role in the party now:

"It is a little more rewarding than I expected. You can have an impact from the outside...."

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