Friday, March 02, 2007

MyDD Dodd Interview


Jonathan Singer: Let's start talking about that issue, Restore Habeas. Do you want to talk a little bit about what that's about, what you're trying to get accomplished and why it's so important to you?

Chris Dodd: It's the rule of law. This even predates the constitution. It's about as fundamental a principle as I can think of. The idea that I can hold you indefinitely without ever telling you what you're being held for, I don't know what anyone's politics may be, but the idea that you tolerate that as an American is something I'd be surprised at.

So I was stunned by that, stunned that Congress voted for that and that we also did a few other things in addition to that that seemed to me just rolling back the clock on a country that used to pride itself on leading the world to embrace a set of universal values about human rights.

Many people probably don't consider it that important of a vote. I think it's one of the most important votes that's been cast in the Congress in the last quarter century or more.

Singer: Dealing with an administration which - and I believe it was Alberto Gonzales in testimony (I could be wrong) who said that the right to Habeas Corpus is not enshrined in the constitution, it's just that it cannot be taken away - how do you deal with people that have that frame of mind?

Dodd: He's suggesting somehow that because it wasn't specifically written in... It was so fundamental, what someone would have called the penumbras, reaching back to law school days. The founding fathers probably thought it wasn't terribly relevant to state something that was so obvious and so basic that it needed to be enumerated, per se. So I just find that troublesome that a guy who was going to be considered as a nominee for the Supreme Court and be Attorney General of the United States would embrace it.

I think you can be strong and right. There are those who say that it's better to be strong and wrong than being weak and right. This is not being weak, this is strong. If we're not prepared to defend and stand up for the constitution of the United States, you have no business being in public life in my view.

Singer: Let me ask you another question on an area upon which you are standing out from your colleagues, and that is ending the Iraq War. A lot of people think that right now you've arrived at the right decision but that your vote, as well as others' votes in 2002, indicates a line of thinking, a line of reasoning that worries them about the future. What do you say to address these concerns of people who think he, in their opinion, voted wrong in 2002? What will assure them that that won't happen again in the future as president?

Dodd: First off, I've said I made a mistake and I wish I could have it back, although I honestly think George Bush was going to go to war with Iraq no matter what we voted on five years ago, too, by the way. I don't think it necessarily stopped the war, it gave him cover, it gave him a legitimacy that I think was terribly wrong. But I suspect he would have gone ahead anyway. It wasn't a war powers resolution.

But I don't believe in compounding that mistake by perpetuating it under the notion, somehow, that the only reason we're staying there right now is to protect the troops when in fact if you talk to the troops they will tell you that their continued existence there places them at great risk and they're not accomplishing anything by doing it.

And no one's suggesting, by the way through this, that you're going to cut off the troops. What you do is you provide whatever assistance they need during that redeployment phase as you move them out of the country. The idea that you can't walk and chew gum on this issue doesn't make any sense to me. But the idea of staying there, particularly in these large urban areas that are the major source of civil strife, is somehow going to have an outcome other than what we're presently looking at, there's no evidence nor does anyone believe that who's looked at it at all.
So the question that George Stephanopoulos asked me today, virtually the same question, "Isn't going to mean more chaos?" How much more chaos could there be, with 100 people dying a day in Iraq, the people there think we're the source of chaos, 60 percent or more think it's appropriate to shoot at Americans, and I'm supposed to send some 19 year old patrolling the streets of Sadr City on no more mission than to be shot at or blown up, not to hold anything, not to capture anything, not to do anything, guard anything, but merely to roll out there and come back and hopefully you've not been killed or wounded in the process?

So I just feel it's time we start redeploying immediately. I'm all for the training mission. I'm all for the border support mission. I'm all for the counter-terrorism missions. But you can do that with a very much smaller number than 135,000 troops we have there. Put some in Afghanistan, they could really use the help, put them in Qatar and Kuwait, if you want to, so you're over the horizon, but get out of these places and let the Iraqis assume this responsibility.

I'm not sure that's going to work. But I have a greater sense it may work than the present course we're following.

Singer: Let me ask you, related to the question I asked you, a lot of people see the situation today with regards to the Bush administration's policy towards Iran is similar to what we saw in 2002. Number one, do you think that there is a clear and present danger to go into Iran, which it seems the administration is trying to make that case. And b), if not, what will you try to do and inhibit, to stop the Bush administration from making any type of attack or some type of attack on Iran?

Dodd: To go back to the point again, this resolution back in 2002 was not a war powers resolution, it was a kind of a sense of the Senate resolution, more than anything else. And clearly, again, by insisting on some sort of resolution, at least you could slow it down and getting that kind of commitment out of the White House should they try to go forward with what sounds like a drumbeat building in that direction.

And, by the way, it needs to be said, this is not to be an apologist for Iran - they're clearly a problem and they're clearly involved in Iraq. And there's a reason for that, going back, many of these Iraqis, the Shias particularly, lived in Iran for a good period of the reign of Saddam Hussein. So there are ongoing relationships there. And clearly maybe some border security, which is something maybe some of our troops could help provide, could limit some of these armor-piercing IEDs from getting in the country. But that's a far cry from deciding you're going to go in and invade the country here. And clearly there, those steps that I've suggested to you might help at constantly reminding people of where we're going.

Now the President has said over and over again he has no intention of doing that. But that old expression, fool me once shame on you, fool twice shame on me. So I apologize if I sound a little skeptical to people who think I shouldn't be worried about it, but now I've watched this administration cook the books, manufacture evidence, try to fire people who gave them intelligence they didn't like and I'm going to be watching very carefully what they're up to.

Singer: A couple of political questions. The skills that it takes to be a successful Senator over the course of 26, 27 years aren't necessarily the skills that it takes to become a presidential nominee or to become president, in terms of not necessarily the skills to be president but the skills to become president. Are you finding it difficult to kind of move from the type of oratorical situation that there is in the Senate where there is extended debate and the situation here where you have two minutes to speak and you're speaking in shorter time clips and things like that?

Dodd: It can be. I think the danger is you get used to talking in a certain lingo that can glaze over the eyes of the most determined listener. And that's and occupational hazard, so you need to be careful that you don't start talking to people in Senate legalese or talking about cloture votes and depends on which side of the aisle you sit on and language like that that can leave people wondering what you're talking about.

But you can learn. If you spend time at this and you've spent time with your constituencies then the transition, if you will, of a speech you might give in a committee hearing or discussing a process I think is not that difficult to cross. This is different and people look at you differently.

I've not done this before, so it's relatively new. I've been a general chairman of the party, I've been through eight elections and a lot of other things. But the reaction I'm getting over the last six or seven months as I've gone out campaigning for candidates and then lately going out on my own I think has been pretty good. And I've been around long enough to know the difference between a courtesy and a commitment, or a courtesy and a come on back we'd like to hear more. I don't have a tin ear. So I think I can pick up when people are saying "I don't get this guy" or "He's not responding" or "I don't think he understands how I feel."

And that's the most important thing, in a way. And this is hard to explain, but people who run for office always think it's about them. It's never about us or rarely about us. It's not about our resume. The voter wants to know more than anything else - they want to know about you, but more than anything else they want to know if you know about them, and if you're listening to me as a voter. Do you have any idea what I'm going through, what I struggle with, what I worry about? I don't mean personally and intimately. I want to get a sense that you're paying attention to me. And if I don't think you are, I could care less what you're 8- and 10-point program is on healthcare and energy and education. And that's whether you're running for the city council or the presidency, in my view. That's not about where you're from, that's not about accent you have or how many elections you've been through, it's about whether or not you can connect with people, and people believe you're real and, the overused word today, authentic. And I think that's more important than sort of the language you might use, although I think you can lose people with the language. But that sense, "I think this person is for real, I think they are listening, and therefore I'm going to react."

It's a primal kind of thing. Too many people think that it's all intellectual. It's rarely intellectual. If it had been intellectual, Ronald Reagan would have never won any elections. But he did because he was real to people. He had a sense of humor, he conveyed conviction and he left people with the sense that he was paying attention to them. And that, more than anything else, is the most important first quality that you've got to have. And if you don't respond and connect with people initially on that basis it's a very difficult climb up hill to win their vote.

Singer: A related question. You are the chairman of the Banking Committee. You did a very good job fundraising within your state within the industry, within insurance companies, which are also largely based in your state. Do you think that you'll have difficulty reconciling the type of work that you have to do with them, the interaction that you have to do with them as the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee with the type of rhetoric and the direction of the Democratic Party, in terms of running for President?

Dodd: I don't. I've done this for a long time. They know me well. I'm not a newcomer in that sense. I've been on the committee for 25 years. I've chaired the consumer affairs committee, as well as the securities subcommittee, and now chairing the full committee.

I've already had hearings on abuses by the credit card industry, about predatory lenders, the exchange rates with China and will continue in that vein. And I have a good relationship with people. I try to be fair, to be independent, to think clearly. I voted against the Bankruptcy act. I thought it was an outrage what happened there. But I also helped put together the interstate banking provisions before. So I think the industry knows I know what they do for a living, I understand it very, very well, the financial services sector, and I'm not buffaloed by them. And when they've got a legitimate issue that I can help on, I'll try to do that as a good chairman. If they do things like have outrageous fees and charges on a credit card, I'm going to go after them on it. I don't have any problem with a sub prime lender. I have terrible problems with predatory lenders.

So I read the articles and I think both of them had it pretty right: Pretty good marks from the Consumer Federation of America and high marks from people out of the industry. And frankly I'll take that as a pretty good review of my 25 years on a committee where they know I know what they do. I'm not going to be fooled by it and I want to help them. Financial services is a very important part of our economy, a very important sector and very valuable to people, so I'm not out just to demagogue on the issue. But I know it well enough to know when they are trying to pull the wool over my eyes and I won't let them do that.

Singer: Two more quick questions. The first is the current president is the son of a president.

Dodd: Yeah. I think this is outrageous that children of [politicians] are running for office.


Singer: Especially from Connecticut.


Dodd: I know. That's outrageous.


Singer: But in reality there are people who feel that there's the idea that it will be Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton but even to have a situation where it's the son of someone who's served in office - not that it should be a disqualifier - but how do you address this?

Dodd: I was saying to some people today because ironically I was talking to one of these state legislators - oh, no, I was talking to the Secretary of State here in Nevada who is the son of the former governor and a very nice fellow, the Secretary of State, been around him a little bit, and I knew his dad Bob Miller very well, and I teased him by saying, "I'm highly suspicious of children of parents who have been in public life.

Dodd: I can cite many more examples of children of public officials who have lost elections than have won them. And because we are very skeptical, if we think for one single second that you think you have inherited right, we will vote against you so fast it will make your head swing.

In some ways it's harder initially to break through because we have an inherent suspicion that you may think that. And so if we get it, you're out. I can tell you right now you're gone. And you have to prove yourself.

The toughest elections I ever had were the first ones where I wasn't as well known and there were people who thought... In fact some of the toughest problems I had were people who were big supporters of my dad because they wanted to prove that they weren't going to be for me because of my dad. Some of my biggest supporters were people who never liked him because they wanted to prove, too, that it wasn't personal in a way.

And eventually you establish your own credibility. I've been through eight elections now. My dad's been gone for almost 40 years. So you'd have to be in your 60s to remember him in Connecticut and you'd have to be a student of history to go back and know who he was. So I'm way beyond that point today. But it's a source of pride, too. I'm one of six children, I'm the only... My siblings are very interested in the subject matter and read the papers and follow current events, but they would have no interest in doing this. And I find that even in other professions, we now find it in sports and other places. It's a form of flattery, in a sense.

I think my father would be very proud of the fact that... He said something in a letter to my mother he wrote from Nuremberg in June of 1946 and he was very strong on the rule of law and felt that Nuremberg was the pivotal experience in his life, changed everything for him. And he's talking about defending the rule of law and he wrote this letter to my mother and he said, "Someday, maybe one of the boys will stand before a bar of justice and use the speech I gave about defending the rule of law." And it's a moving letter. He died before I got elected to office. But I'd like to think he kind of knows that I've got involved in the Military Commissions act and these things, but I've thought about that letter a thousand times and that's exactly what he'd want me to do, to stand up and fight back and kick back on someone who wants to get rid of Habeas Corpus and move away from the Geneva Convention. That he had a great record, a marvelous commitment to human rights and he was the gold standard, in many ways, for me.

Singer: Last question. Any quick message you want to send directly, specifically to the progressive blogosphere, to the Netroots?

Dodd: I want you to stay involved in this stuff. You've been great already. I can't tell you, having citizen co-sponsors of my bill. I only have three others - Pat Leahy has been terrific. If you want to write and send Pat a message as the chairman of the Judiciary Committee being a co-sponsor, Russ Feingold, who's always great on these issues. Again, it's always great to say thank you to these people. And Bob Menendez of New Jersey is also on the bill. Bob voted for the Military Commissions act last fall and now regrets that vote and was on this bill.

So I believe in saying thank you and urging other people that should come on with us and help us out here. I'd even blog to Republicans, because this ought not to be a liberal or conservative choice question. You know Habeas Corpus... This is where bona fide conservatives who want to protect and defend the constitutional principles ought to be sitting up there arm-in-arm with the more progressive community saying, "We disagree on a lot of things. Here's one we agree on." To join us on this effort.

Singer: Terrific. Well thank you so much.

Dodd: All right.

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