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National Public Radio Morning Edition Transcript

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HEADLINE: Senator John Kerry discusses why he should be the next president of the United States



Earlier this year Massachusetts Senator John Kerry was considered the front-runner among the Democrats hoping to unseat President Bush in 2004. Senator Kerry fought in the Vietnam War and later became a leader in the anti-war movement. He voted for the war in Iraq but now is a leading critic of Mr. Bush's handling of the postwar occupation of Iraq.

In the last in our series of MORNING EDITION interviews with the Democratic presidential hopefuls, Senator Kerry says he has always been willing to stand firm on international and domestic issues.

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democratic Presidential Candidate): I think my record of leadership throughout my public life where I have been willing to take on Ronald Reagan's illegal war in Central America or 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 to 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?

Sen. KERRY: Well, you see, 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.

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?

Sen. KERRY: I believe it is critical for the United States to diffuse 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. We have to end the unilateral blustering arrogance of this administration that is not making America safer in the world.

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

Sen. 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 plain 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 start pushing America towards those discoveries.

There's an extraordinary amount of work to be done: high-speed rail, schools, hospitals, health care. 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?

Sen. 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. 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.

I'm also going to crack down on the kinds of unfairness we have in the corporation relationship with workers. You know, 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. 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, you know, a bit down-home, a bit warm quite appealing. Now you're known—Would you recognize this in yourself?--for being a bit stiff perhaps or unapproachable?

Sen. KERRY: Nope, I don't, and 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. You know, 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. And everywhere I'm going, people are coming out to listen and hear about the future. People are out of work. We've lost 3.1 million jobs. People don't have health care. People know their kids aren't getting the best education. People are worried about terror. And I think, you know, while happy-go-lucky or whatever may have passed before, people are going to look for real leadership this time.

MONTAGNE: Let's talk about terrorism, which, in 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?

Sen. KERRY: You always protect civil liberties. If you are sensitive to and care about civil liberties, you can make provisions to guarantee that there is not this blind spot in the American justice system that there is today under the Patriot Act. 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: Senator Kerry, if you were nominated, what is going to keep the Republicans from painting you as another liberal from Massachusetts?

Sen. KERRY: My record. If providing health care to all Americans instead of giving the wealthiest Americans another tax break, 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.

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

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

STEVE INSKEEP (Host): You can find an extended version of the John Kerry interview and previous interviews in this series by going to our Web site at

It's 29 minutes past the hour.

Copyright 2003 National Public Radio ®. All rights reserved.

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