Dem Con 5 pm: Chris Dodd interview

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By Tim Redmond

My first headline for this entry was "Angelides bores small crowd." Poor guy -- almost nobody is paying attention as the former candidate for governor makes an utterly uninspiring speech. Then it's time for Chris Dodd, the senator from Connnecticut who has about as much support now in the polls (that is, very little) as Bill Clinton did at this point in his first presidential bid. (Dodd likes to point this out.)

No giant mobs with Dodd! signs, but he makes a decent speech, focusing perhaps a bit too much on his history and reminding everyone how long he's been around. A few not-so-subtle Kennedy references, and a paen to the civic spirit of the 1960s ("that's where we want to get back to.")

He holds a press conference afterward, takes a question from me and says that he thinks the death penalty should be "reformed, not abandoned." Then he tells a woman from an LA queer publication that he supports civil unions but not same-sex marriage. Why? "I'm not prepared to use the word 'marriage' as something for people of the same sex.'"

My brief private interview after the jump.

Dodd looks like a senator. He's personable, smart and more experienced by a huge factor than either Clinton or Obama. He kindly makes time for me to sit down and ask a few questions. I start off with my, uh, stump speech:

Twenty-five hedge fund managers made more money in 2006 than it would take to pay all 88,000 New York City school teachers for three years. All the Democrats want to let the Bush tax cuts sunset, but shouldn't we go beyond that and actually raise taxes on people who are making these obscene incomes so we can pay the teachers a little better?

Dodd: "That's a possiblity." He talks about his corporate carbon tax, which is a great idea, but I press him: Is he in favor of raising income taxes on the very rich?

Dodd: "I don't disagree that we should be moving in that direction."

Wowie kazowie! I've just gotten a Democratic candidate for president of the United States (who is not Dennis Kucinich) to say that maybe he might kinda sorta even possibly consider raising taxes on people who earn more than $250 million a year. I suppose I ought to be happy: This is more progress than I've made with an elected official at his level in a long time. When Al Gore was running, he told me flat out that he didn't think we should raise any taxes on anyone.

I move on to antitrust law. I ask Dodd if his Justice Department would allow one newspaper company to own all of the papers in the Bay Area. He says he will be "much more agressive about anti-trust law" than Bush, and he actually seems to understand the media-concentration issue. He wouldn't quite say that he would have blocked the Singleton deal, but again, it's progress.

He talked a lot in his convention speech about the cost of higher education, so I asked him how he would make college more affordable. He tells me he thinks we should move student loans away from these rapicious lenders, cutting interst rates and offering favorable repayment rates to people who go into low-paid public-service work.

But those are still loans, and federal grants used to pay a much larger part of the cost of college for poor people. What, I ask, about adjusting Pell Grants to reflect the cost increases over the past two decades?

"Maybe," he says, "but we'd have to look at the fiscal impact, if we could afford it."

Senator, I say: Just tax the hedge fund people, and you'll have lots of money. At that point, the interview is over.