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Sen. John Kerry

Morning Edition: August 18, 2003

audio icon Listen to an extended version of the interview.

RENEE MONTAGNE: Sen. Kerry, welcome.

Sen. JOHN KERRY: Thank you, I'm delighted to be here.

MONTAGNE: What are the one or two issues that distinguish you from the rest of the Democratic pack?

KERRY: I think my record of leadership throughout my public life where I have been willing to take on tough issues, whether it was fighting against Ronald Reagan's illegal war in central America or exposing Oliver North's private aid network or struggling with John McCain to get accountability on POW/MIA and move our relationship with Vietnam forward, or fight against the drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge and lead the fight against Newt Gingrich's assault on the environment and on the Clean Air and Clean Water Act. I've been willing to fight for the things that make a difference in the quality of life in America. And I think more than anything right now, Americans want real leadership that moves us in the right direction.

MONTAGNE: You voted for the resolution authorizing the war in Iraq. Would you vote 'yes' again on that resolution if you knew then what you know now and, most particularly, the failure so far to find weapons of mass destruction.

KERRY: That's a question that just doesn't even fit in the context of where we are today. We have to vote where we vote. My vote was the correct vote: for the president of the United States to have a threat of force to hold Saddam Hussein accountable to the very agreement he signed. But we all had a right as Americans to expect that the president of the United States would use that authority properly. He did not, in my judgment. He did not do the hard work of diplomacy. He did not make real the meaning of the words 'last resort.' He didn't build the kind of international coalition they had talked about and promised. They didn't do the work of putting America in the strongest position possible in building the consent and legitimacy of their effort. And they certainly didn't do what I and others warned them to do, which was make certain that you have a plan for winning the peace if indeed you do this because that's the difficulty, not winning the war. So it was the correct thing to do to protect the security of the United States to go to the U.N., but we should have had a smarter, more effective carrying out of diplomacy in order to put America in a stronger position.

MONTAGNE: If you were to inherit the situation in Iraq right now -- and in a sense you rather hope to with this campaign -- what precisely would you do to make things right?

KERRY: I would have done what I would have done originally. Long before I chose to go to war absent a very imminent threat, I would have built the kind of international support... I would do that now. I think we should be going to the United Nations. I think we should be involving NATO. I think we need to put other troops on the ground. We need Arab-speaking troops, we need Muslims. We need to have the shared responsibility for the winning of the peace, which is what these people should have known to begin with and what many of us warned them about. I wasn't alone. We told them the difficulty of this is not winning the ground operation. The difficulty is winning the peace. And they have now probably out of false pride, they are unwilling to go to the United Nations. And as a Vietnam veteran, I feel particularly strongly about that because I watched false pride get in the way of the decisions we should have made during that war. I believe it is critical for the United States to defuse the sense of American occupation, to take the target off of American troops, to reduce the cost to Americans and to share the burden of winning the peace with the world. That will require a very different foreign policy from this administration. We have to end the unilateral blustering arrogance of this administration that is not making America safer in the world.

MONTAGNE: You have been running as a candidate whose experience with foreign policy and intelligence issues runs deep, and it does. You're also among the Democrats the only... veteran of a foreign war, that was Vietnam, plus you were an anti-war activist during Vietnam. Are you surprised that your background hasn't given your candidacy more traction, especially most particularly among liberal Democrats and those who are concerned about this war, the war in Iraq?

KERRY: I think I'm getting plenty of traction. I've been doing very, very well. I think that the war itself confused a lot of people and it angered a lot of people. I understand that. There were some people who just plain didn't like the vote. I recognize that and I respect that, but I did what I thought was correct as if I were president. If I had been president, I would have gone to the United Nations and I would have wanted a legitimate threat of force in order to make Saddam Hussein accountable to that international institution. But I would have respected the international institution. I would have respected the process. I would have taken the time and shown the patience and shown the maturity that allow you to bring other nations to you in your endeavors... There was nothing compelling that said you have to do this in May or March or whenever. It could have waited until September or October. There was much more diplomacy to be accomplished and I said so at the time. But I supported certainly the notion that after we discovered more chemical weapons, more biological weapons than we ever thought he had over seven and a half years, after we discovered that he was further down the road to the creation of a nuclear weapon than we thought he was. In other words, our intelligence was wrong but underneath, not on top. And suddenly the wall comes down on Bill Clinton in 1998 and the intelligence community is saying to everybody this is what they're doing. The responsible thing to do is to hold him accountable. The responsible thing for the president to have done was to do that properly. And I think my position is 100 percent correct in terms of how you protect the interests of our nation at the same time as you respect the values of the international community and our country.

MONTAGNE: Let's talk for a minute about economics. You've said you would repeal the Bush tax cuts... particularly the tax cuts that benefit the wealthy. What else do you propose doing to revive the economy?

KERRY: Well, let me make it very clear. First of all, there are some other candidates who say repeal all of the Bush tax cuts. I think that is an enormous mistake. We Democrats are the ones who fought to put in place the lower-income portion of the tax cut and the child care credit and I think it would be an enormous mistake to turn around and raise their income tax burden. I think that's a mistake. I think the wealthiest, the upside, is where you have the most egregious imbalance in the tax cut. And we can fund my health care plan for all Americans by taking that away. Secondly, I would provide assistance to the states for construction infrastructure programs in order to reduce the need for governors to be raising taxes and cutting services at a time when that really runs against the needs of our economy. In addition, I would create a jobs-creation incentive so that we begin to move those parts of the economy that are just being stuck where we'd like to get the next wave of technology purchasing going on. And we need a president who believes in science, who will advance basic science and start pushing America towards those discoveries. It's not that there isn't work to be done in our country. There's an extraordinary amount of work to be done: high-speed rail, schools, hospitals, health care. We need to value the things that we ought to be valuing in America. And that's what I intend to do by the economic choices I make in my budget. I'm also going to start us back down the road of fiscal responsibility. We did that with Bill Clinton and if you liked what you had with Bill Clinton, you're going to like what you get with John Kerry.

MONTAGNE: Bill Clinton was president during a unique decade. There was a revolution in technology during that decade. What are you going to cut to make all this happen?

KERRY: I'm going to cut the loopholes that make it attractive for companies to move to Bermuda to avoid their tax burden in America. I'm going to shut those loopholes down. I've called attention to those for a number of years. I wrote a book six years ago called The New War in which I laid out the international criminal conspiracy that helps launder money and provides a lack of accountability for the tax structures of companies of countries all over the world. We need accountability in those systems. Secondly, I'm going to cut excess within the budget. John McCain and I have put forward a commission idea that begins to look at the true pork that exists within the federal government and see if we can't begin to whittle down some of those subsidies. There are about $150 billion worth of subsidies to 100 different kinds of corporate entities where we pay, for instance, Dole and Pillsbury Foods $70 million in order to advertise their products overseas. These are the kinds of sweetheart deals that I think are undermining people's confidence in Washington and government itself and they make the workplace a very unfair place. I'm also going to crack down on the kinds of unfairness we have in the corporate relationship with workers. We've got corporate executives still feathering their nests for retirement and pay even as they're cutting workers, laying people off, squeezing down retirement benefits and health care. I don't think we've seen a workplace as unfair as this one in a long time in America and the divide between haves and have-nots is growing. If we were to make that more fair, we would have considerably more revenue to be able to deal with some of the problems of America.

MONTAGNE: President Bush and President Clinton proved that Americans find candidates who are a bit down-home, warm, quite appealing. You're known to have a patrician demeanor, something of a reputation for being -- would you recognize this in yourself -- of being a bit stiff, perhaps or unapproachable?

KERRY: Nope, I don't. I think you're reading old clips. I think if you were out campaigning with me anywhere you'd see people having a lot of fun. I've been elected four times to the United States Senate and it's not because I can't communicate to people or because we don't have a good time on the campaign trail.

MONTAGNE: I'm wondering, though, what you think about the fact that just as Democratic candidates like yourself are trying to get better known around the country and raise money, the big political news suddenly and through probably this fall is the recall in California.

KERRY: I think the recall is a miscarriage of American democracy, frankly.

MONTAGNE: But I'm actually more interested in how that might affect your campaign.

KERRY: It doesn't affect my campaign at all, not at all. I'm drawing big crowds out here in Iowa right now. [In] New Hampshire, we're gaining a great head of steam. I'll be announcing in September. I'm exactly on the schedule that I want to be on. I think Americans are really interested in the country. People are out of work. We've lost 3.1 million jobs. People are hurting. People don't have health care. People know their kids aren't getting the best education. People are worried about terror. They know that homeland security is not what it ought to be. And everywhere I'm going, people are coming out to listen and hear about the future. And they're not looking for just a frivolous, happy-go-lucky pass-off on this. They're looking for serious solutions to real problems facing our nation. This is a serious time. And I think while happy-go-lucky or whatever may have passed before, people are going to look for real leadership this time. And I'm just going to run as the person I am, a person who for 35 years has fought hard to make our country stronger and better, who stood up for principles, fought for my nation and is fighting now to make our country stronger and safer. And I think there are better choices on almost every issue facing the country, on health care, on children, on education, on the environment, on transportation, on long-term care, on Medicare, on prescription drugs, on our relationship in the world... You name the issue, there is a better choice than the Bush administration is offering us today.

MONTAGNE: Let's talk about terrorism, which is fact is on people's minds. Where does the need, in your mind, to protect Americans from terrorism end and the need to protect civil liberties begin?

KERRY: You always protect civil liberties. We do not have to give up the civil liberties of this country in order to fight terror. If you are sensitive to and care about civil liberties, you can make provisions to guarantee that lawyers have access to prisoners, that you have review systems for certain kinds of security needs, that you make sure that there is a panel of judiciary or something that reviews a situation so that there is not this blind spot in the American justice system that there is today under the Patriot Act. But it's the absence of that sensitivity that exacerbates the problem. And I can guarantee you one of the things I look forward to most as president is the opportunity to be able to appoint somebody attorney general who's not John Ashcroft.

MONTAGNE: Sen. Kerry, if you are nominated what is going to keep the Republicans from painting you as another liberal from Massachusetts?

KERRY: My record. If providing health care to all Americans instead of giving the wealthiest Americans another tax break, if making sure kids have after-school programs, if being protective of the environment and not going backwards on air quality and water quality like President Bush, if being responsible about the budget is all called liberal, let them call me what they want, because labels don't work. What American want is the truth. They want someone who's fighting to take this country in the right direction. And they want somebody above all who has the experience and the leadership skill to make America safer and stronger and more secure in the world.

MONTAGNE: You just got yourself a blog, a Web diary last week.

KERRY: Absolutely.

MONTAGNE: Now, Howard Dean, a rival of yours, led in this, collected a lot of money, got the word out on his Web site, on his Web diary. But you're getting some flak for have a ghostwritten blog.

KERRY: So is his... so are all of them. I mean, the fact is we contribute when we can, but that's just the nature of the beast. I've gone online live. I will go online again in the future live. But you can't do it every day all day and everybody knows that. I think he did a good job. I give him credit. I don't take a thing away from him. We have I think done a terrific job with respect to our Internet operation. We've raised a lot of money, incidentally not as much, but we did raise money and we're going to raise more. And we're going to be stronger on it. So I'm very pleased where we are today. Clearly, we were a little bit behind and I give him credit. More power to him; he did a good job. He's activated some people and we should feel good about that. That's part of the Democratic process, but I'm not worried about where my campaign is and I'm very confident about where we're heading.

MONTAGNE: Sen. Kerry, thank you very much for joining us.

KERRY: I'm delighted. Thank you for having me.


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