Gov. Tom Vilsack - In His Own Words
by Gary Boatwright, Wed Aug 10, 2005 at 05:58:20 PM EDT
Joining me from Des Moines is Iowa governor, Tom Vilsack. Earlier this month, he was named chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council. I am pleased to have him on the program now to talk about DLC and their meeting.
Welcome to the program, Governor.
GOV. TOM VILSACK (D), IOWA: Thanks, Charlie.
TOM VILSACK: I`ll tell you, Charlie, one of the most surprising aspects of this was the energy that 350 elected officials from all over the country brought to Columbus, Ohio. They`re energized, they`re excited, they`re interested. They know that it`s incumbent upon the Democratic Party and the DLC to provide a positive, aggressive agenda that the Democrats can unite behind and that the nation can be attracted to.
We`re going back to the values that are important to Americans -- opportunity, responsibility, and security -- and we think that that forms the basis of that progressive agenda. We`re going to look for ways in which we can seek out the best ideas that this country has to offer as we tackle big problems. And I think Democrats have got to do that.
Energized, excited, interested, positive, opportunity, responsibility and security.
TOM VILSACK: No, I think, Charlie, that we to a certain extent, got co-opted. If you remember George Bush`s campaign in the year 2000, opportunity and responsibility painted on his bus. In the year 2004, security was the main issue. I think it is important for Democrats in 2006 -- with 38 governors` races coming up in the next two years, a third of the Senate, all of the House -- that we go back to the core values that represent the best of our party, and reassure people that we`ve not forgotten about those values, that we absolutely support them; that we`re going to develop programs that are consistent with them; and that it's going to be the framework for success in 2006 and 2008.
CHARLIE ROSE: Here is what most - and you know this much better than I do - here is what most political pundits are saying, whatever they know. They are saying, the most important thing to happen at the DLC meeting was that Sen. Clinton from New York showed that she is moving rapidly to the center, and that's where she wants to be identified, and moving away, some say -- I`m sure she'd argue with this -- away from being characterized as simply coming from the left of the Democratic Party -- right?
The most important thing that happened at the DLC convention is that Hillary Clinton moved to the center? Did Charlie really just say that?
Much of the concern that Democrats have today is that we have no common purpose, we have no common direction in this country. And in order for us to tackle the big problems, whatever they might be, it is going to be necessary for us to unify the American public. And the only way we`re going to be able to do that is by responding to the concerns that they have about the value system that supports politicians. They want to know where our heart is. And our hearts, as far as Democrats are concerned -- I'm absolutely convinced of this -- is where it needs to be: opportunity, responsibility, and security.
Well, having your heart in the right place is good, but I'm not sure that's my biggest concern with the Democratic party right now.
TOM VILSACK: Well, I think we need to characterize that debate in a larger context. I think it`s important for us to recognition that there are steps that we can take in society today to ensure that whatever choice is made is the right choice for the individual woman. And, in most cases, we would hope that choice would be life. If we make adoption easier, less expensive, less cumbersome, if we support and create a support structure and a safety net for individuals who want to make a choice to bring a child into the world and raise that child, we can successfully bring down significantly that rate of abortion.
We have in my state; we have seen that in a number of states that have aggressively pursued those alternatives. That is the answer. It isn't about restricting a woman`s choice. It's about making that choice meaningful and providing real alternatives, and then, encouraging individuals to take advantage of the choices that society been.
CHARLIE ROSE: Does the Democratic Party need to have a debate within itself about how it articulates its position on abortion?
TOM VILSACK: Well, I think President Clinton did a very good job of that, and I don't see any reason why we should veer from that conversation that he had with the country years ago when he talked about abortion being safe, legal, and rare. I think that`s where most Americans are. I think most Americans would support choice. I think most Americans would like the choice to be life. I think most Americans would support their government creating adoptions as an easier process, an easier alternative than it has been in the past. In my state, we have tripled the number of adoptions by removing a lot of the barriers and the cumbersome procedures. I think that can be done across the nation and ought to be.
Vilsack straddled that one pretty well. I'm not sure what any of that means as far as actual positions are concerned. Next, Charlie moves on to national security:
TOM VILSACK: I don`t think there`s any question about that. I think we need to state, without any clarification, without any qualification, that we will do what it takes, we will pay whatever the price might be, and bear whatever the burden is to secure the safety of Americans and their families and their communities.
I think we also have to say that we would take a different, smarter, more comprehensive approach to national security, beginning with ensuring that we have sufficient troops to do the job that we`re asking these folks to do. As the commander-in-chief of a state National Guard, I can tell you that there are concerns about whether or not we are spread too thin, and whether or not we are going to have the equipment over the long haul to respond, not just to national security issues, but also homeland security issues, and what can occur from natural disasters. All of that has to be part of our discussion, and I think Democrats can be and should be part of that discussion and debate, and should state it, unequivocally, we`re going to take care and protect people.
CHARLIE ROSE: That is an important point. I mean, you`re in the heartland of the country, in Iowa. And are you saying that in your conversations with Iowa citizens, there is real concern that America is spreading itself too thin, there are concerns that America may not be protecting itself, and they want to make sure that there is a debate and an articulation of a position of strength on those things, so that American men and women are not...
TOM VILSACK: Well, first of all, Charlie, let's understand what we`re asking our National Guard Reserve and soldiers to do. We`re asking these families to sacrifice. We're asking them to take themselves away from their families, their communities, the jobs that they hold. We're asking them to go some place far away, expose themselves to danger, and then come back and have to reacquaint themselves with their families and communities. This is a very, very tough task we're asking them to undergo.
At the same time we are asking them to undergo that, it is pretty clear that we do not have sufficient personnel where they need to be to be able to do the job, and we`re asking folks to be redeployed from time after time, placing greater stress. We're asking a small slice of America to essentially do all of the sacrificing, to bear all of the burden and brunt. And I will tell you that communities across my state --and I suspect across the heartland -- understand exactly what's going on, because they see what happens to families, they see what happens to communities, they seen what happens to firefighting units, to EMT units, to local police departments when these folks leave.
And they are concerned because, in some states, recruitment levels are not where they should be. In some states, it`s becoming more difficult to encourage people to be part of the National Guard and Reserve. And, over the course of time, this is not going to get better. It's going to get worse. And I think it's important for the nation to have this conversation about we`re going to support our military. Many people in my state were very concerned initially when there were reports that our soldiers were inadequately equipped, that they didn't have the security and safety mechanisms that they needed. They have become increasingly concern when we are told that equipment is sent over to Iraq and Afghanistan from our state, and not necessarily returned, and maybe they will be replaced - we have to hope that they will be.
All of this is creating some sense of anxiety. And then when you realize the enormity of the challenge, of securing the borders of this country -- over 800 ports and airports, over 20,000 miles of perimeter. When you consider the variety of threats that we have to deal with, and the fact that we're still not completely convinced and know where all the nuclear warheads were from the Soviet empire; we aren't secure in the knowledge that all that we do know of their location are adequately secured; when we`re not quite sure what potential biotechnology, biological threats there may be, and how to respond to those; when we really haven`t done a very good job, over the course of the last several years, focusing on agri-terrorism (ph), and the safety and security of our food supply. This is an enormous task, and I think the Democrats have a great opportunity, and I think a responsibility, to be engaged in this debate, and come up with a positive comprehensive approach to this and reassures people that we, in fact, can get the job done.
Are you starting to get the same sinking feeling that I am? Do you keep hoping that Vilsack is going to actually take a stand on something? Are we really still in the debate, discussion and conversation stage?
TOM VILSACK: Charlie, I think there are sharp, bold lines that we could draw in contrast to the far right. I don`t think there's any question about it. I think our challenge is to f*ocus on the core set of values that, I do believe, unite Democrats*. To reach out and to be inclusive in this process, to think anew, to act anew, to come up with ideas and proposals that are bold and new, to address the concerns and stresses that Americans have today. I think we have to deal with the security issue. I think we have to have ideas about how to fashion a new 21st century American economy, that looks at a more greater safety net, a more comprehensive safety net for those who are negatively impacted by trade, but it also takes full advantage of the upside of trade. I think we have to begin to talk, in a meaningful way, about health care reform in this country. It is pretty clear that that`s putting us at a competitive disadvantage that can`t continue. We all know that we have to talk about energy policy. It is an absolute disgrace that we have not yet had a policy that is put in place. We`re asking Americans to conserve more. And we're asking our smartest and brightest to come up with innovative and creative ways to make us energy independent with renewable fuels. That should be done.
I think it`s pretty clear that we also can draw a very bright line, in terms of standing with American families as they struggle with raising children in a very difficult, and sometimes extremely coarse society. And finally, as the party out of power, we can clearly draw a sharp contrast with Republicans on the need for political reform. When the standard now appears to be all you have to do is avoid indictment and you can stay employed in the federal government, that is a standard that I don`t think comports with what most Americans think is right.
CHARLIE ROSE: What does that mean? I mean, are you speaking on a specific thing?
TOM VILSACK: Well, clearly, the situation with Karl Rove is such that, regardless of whether a crime has been committed or not, it is clear that Mr. Rove has done a great disservice to his president and to his nation. Instead of us focusing on these issues of health care, on energy policy, on national security, homeland security, redesigning and transforming the economy, we`re talking about who said what to whom. And everyone knows that in the corporate world, if you`re faced with that kind of dilemma, action would be taken. But now, the standard is, well, if there is an indictment, we`ll see what happens.
CHARLIE ROSE: So, therefore, you are calling for Karl Rove to resign in the interest of allowing the White House to focus on more important national and international issues.
TOM VILSACK: I'm calling on Karl Rove to do the right thing, and I think he knows what it is, and I think the president knows what it is, and I think we need to get on with the business at hand, which is attending to the people`s business.
I think he knows what it is? Is there any good reason Vilsack couldn't have come right out and said "Yes. Karl Rove should resign."? Vilsack's conversation with the American people is going downhill quick.
TOM VILSACK: Well, I would agree that the Democratic Party has to put forward, and Democratic leaders have to put forward, a positive agenda - there`s no question about that -- and there`s plenty of opportunity for us to do that. Unfortunately, there seems to be a fixation in the national media on this particular issue, which, again, takes us away from a discussion and a debate about what this country needs to do in a wide variety ever areas.
Charlie, there are, as you know, serious and significant challenges confronting this nation. This nation needs both parties engaged in a positive debate, and frankly, my party -- everyone knows what we`re against, but it`s now time for us to tell folks what we`re for.
CHARLIE ROSE: And since-- I hear you loud and clear. On that matter, it is assumed by the same group of political pundits that the Republicans were better able to speak to faith and culture than Democrats were. A, do you believe that`s true? And if it`s true, what should the Democrats do in articulating how they feel about faith and cultural values?
TOM VILSACK: I think it`s important for Democrats to convey to Americans that they understand where Americans` heart and soul is, and that they`re on their side. So it is important to talk about faith to the extent that it impacts and affects decisions. You know, my particular situation, my mother had a bout with alcoholism. It was a very difficult time when I was growing up, but it was her faith, Christmas Day of 1963, that made her convert, that made her turn her life around and gave me a very valuable life lesson. I believe that that has shaped the way in which I have responded to my job as governor and how I ran for governor. I don`t think there`s any doubt about that.
We ought to be able to talk about those kind kinds of things so people know where we come from. I think it`s also important for us to talk about the value set that is important to us, so that people know the decisions we`re making are not as a result of special interest or as a result of trying to score political points, but are rooted in some basic value set that`s important, that defines who we are. I think we have that value set. I just think we need to articulate it more frequently.
So faith is absolutely important. Values are important. And it is also, I think, very, very significant for Democrats to talk about society and the challenges that parents have in raising children in a situation where there is extraordinary temptation from video games, from even just basic commercials that play. There are messages that are being sent, and I think we need to do a better job of educating and equipping parents to help their children understand when they`re being manipulated, when they`re being taken advantage of, so that they are wiser.
CHARLIE ROSE: Gov. Vilsack, thank you for joining us this evening. It was a pleasure having you on the program -- I hope we can do it again.
TOM VILSACK: Thank you.
Is everybody as inspired as I am?
That's it folks. The best and the brightest the DLC has to offer, articulating the positions of the Democratic party. Standing front and center for debate, discussion and conversation about the important issues and even listing a few of them. And someday someone may actually figure out what if anything the Democratic party stands for and represents. It just won't be Gov. Vilsack.
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