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Public Statements

Democratic National Committee Debate - Part 1

Location: Des Moines, IA

November 24, 2003 Monday


BYLINE: Howard Fineman; Chris Matthews; Frank Luntz; Pat Buchanan

GUESTS: Ed Gillespie; Jesse Jackson; Stephen Hayes; Peggy Noonan; Jesse Jackson; Norman Schwarzkopf; Steve McMahon; Steve Murphy; Tony Potts; Joe Tacopina; David Jefferson; Joe Lieberman; Dick Gephardt; Wesley Clark; John Kerry; Sharman Stein; Raymond Mesa

NBC's Tom Brokaw will today host and moderate a debate among Democratic presidential candidates in Des Moines, Iowa. Iowa hosts the first Democratic caucus in less than 60 days.

TOM BROKAW, NBC ANCHOR: Good afternoon from Des Moines, Iowa, where in less than 60 days the Iowa caucuses, the first round in what could be a long and spirited fight for the Democratic presidential nomination.

And MSNBC and NBC News, in cooperation with the Democratic National Committee, is proud and privileged to present this debate for two hours today among Democratic candidates for their presidential nomination.

We have an unusual situation, as you're probably aware, one of the most important debates of this year or any year is now under way in Washington, D.C., that is the most significant expansion of Medicare since its inception.

As a result, we have two of the candidates who are going to be appearing from our studios in Washington, and at some point they may be called away to go vote.

Let's begin by introducing all the candidates for you now.

In Washington, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.

Senator Kerry, thanks for being with us.


BROKAW: Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich.


BROKAW: Governor Howard Dean.

Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun.

Congressman Richard Gephardt.

Former General Wesley Clark.

The Reverend Al Sharpton.

From North Carolina, in Washington as well, Senator John Edwards.

Thank you all very much for being with us.

If we can just do a little piece of housekeeping here for the audience, I want to tell everyone that we're joined by not only interested citizens, but distinguished guests as well, including the governor of the state of Iowa, Tom Vilsack is here with his wife, the first lady of Iowa, and Terry McAuliffe, who is the chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

A reminder: These candidates will have 60 seconds to respond to a question, 30 seconds for a follow-up or for a rebuttal.

We do hope to have a very vigorous exchange here today, across a wide range of issues, including their individual character and their values as well.

I'd like to remind the audience, however, that if you would keep your applause or your boos or your hisses to yourself until the very conclusion, so that we can cover as much ground as we possibly can.

We're going to begin with the issue that's before the nation right now, and that is the expansion of Medicare to include prescription drugs.

I'm going to go to Senator Kerry, if I can, in Washington, D.C.

Senator, Hillary Clinton has already issued a press release saying that this is a Trojan horse that is designed to bring about the demise of Medicare. Do you honestly think that the AARP, that Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, for example, or Senator Dorgan of North Dakota, are determined to bring about the demise of Medicare? Because they've indicated that they support this.

KERRY: I think that will be the impact. I agree with Hillary Clinton.

I'm opposed to this, Tom, because it's representing a way of pushing seniors off of Medicare into HMOs. There's $137 billion, $139 billion worth of slush fund money that's going to go directly to the drug companies.

They've taken away the ability to import cheaper drugs from Canada. They've taken away the ability of Medicare to actually negotiate bulk purchases for states, which would lower prices.

The impact on seniors will be that they cannot choose their own doctor, they're going to pay more money if they stay on Medicare, or they'll be pushed into HMOs.

And I believe what's going to happen is you're going to find seniors as angry with this as they were with the catastrophic health insurance when we passed it in the 1980s and then had to take it back.

This represents a special interest giveaway. And the headlines you saw in the newspapers the last days said, "Drug Companies Win." Now if the drug companies win, who's losing? It's the seniors in America.

BROKAW: Senator, thank you very much.

Let's go to Congressman Gephardt, if we can.

Congressman, you didn't exactly address what I was trying to get at, which a number of Democrats are going are going to vote for this bill. They already have in the House of Representatives.

Do you think that they're determined to bring about the demise of Medicare? And as you well know, after your long career, politics is the art of the possible. Senator Feinstein has said this is a first step; we've got to take it.

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Republicans have repeatedly tried to craft some vehicle that they could get through what they've been trying to get through for 50 years.

When Social Security was founded, they wanted to privatize Social Security. George Bush is still trying to do that.

When Medicare was founded, the Republican alternative to the bill was a privatization scheme for Medicare. So this is a Trojan horse.

Now I understand people will look at this and say, "Well, something's better than nothing." But when it really is a Trojan horse, you shouldn't go for it.

Let me say one other thing: This is a continuation of this administration and this Republican Party selling our government to special interests. That's what's happening right before our eyes. We've got to stop them from doing this. We've got to win this election. We've got to win back a Democratic Congress and stop the selling of our government to the highest bidder.

BROKAW: Governor Dean, you've long been interested in Medicare reform. Isn't it possible that once this bill passes-and there's every indication that it will-that next fall, whoever the Democratic presidential candidate will be facing George W. Bush will be able to say to America's seniors, "I delivered prescription drugs for you and I did that with the help of Democratic senators and the AARP, the largest single organization of senior citizens in this country"?

HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Tom, the problem with that is they didn't deliver prescription drugs for anybody.

What this bill does is help the seniors that don't need it and charge them for it, and then charge the seniors that do need it, and they don't get any help. Once you spend more than about $200 a month on drugs, you get cut off of help.

This bill doesn't make any sense. It's a $400 billion charge to our grandchildren's credit card so that President Bush can be reelected. If this was such a terrific bill, why do you suppose the president put the enactment date in 2006? People aren't going to get any help at all until 2006. This is an election-year gimmick charged to the taxpayers, like so many of the other things that this president has done.

And while Dick Gephardt and I may have our disagreements on a number of matters, this is not one of them. This government has sold itself to the special interests and this is the quintessential special interest bill. Drug company profits will rise 38 percent as a result of this bill, and that comes directly out of the pockets of America's most vulnerable senior citizens.

It is wrong and a no vote was the right vote on this bill.

BROKAW: Senator Edwards, will you go to your Democratic colleagues who are inclined to vote for this bill and say, "This is a sell-out. You are betraying the country"? Or do you put it in words that are that harsh?

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Actually, I'd put it in very harsh words, Tom. I think that this is, in fact, a continuation of this administration's auctioning of the government. It's like an auction on eBay, except the only people that get to bid are corporate lobbyists.

The energy bill was that; this bill does the same thing.

We have $12 billion going to HMOs on the theory that allows them to compete. I thought the whole reason we were sending people to HMOs was to create competition.

Then on top of that, we've done almost nothing to bring down the cost of prescription drugs, nothing to get drug company advertising under control, nothing to use the power of the government to bring cost down for everybody, nothing to allow the reimportation of prescription drugs from Canada.

And the reason none of those things are being done is very simple: because the drug companies said, "No."

This is what happens over and over and over. When the drug companies say, "no," the Bush administration goes along with them, and we can't stand up to them in the United States Congress.

This is so important. Speaking for this candidate, I intend to stand up to the drug companies and the HMOs, which is what I've done my entire life.

BROKAW: Congressman Kucinich, you talked a lot about the difference between the haves and the have-nots in this country. This bill at least opens the door to means testing: Those people who earn more income will have to pay a higher premium. Isn't that a step in the right direction?

KUCINICH: This bill actually reduces drug coverage for poor seniors. In addition to that, it prevents drug prices from being lowered and it also frustrates any attempt at reimportation.

Now, Tom, people in my district, seniors, are actually splitting their pills to make their prescription drugs last; that's how serious an economic issue this is.

But instead of addressing it directly by trying to keep Medicare intact, what this administration's has done is they-by disallowing any kind of an element that would prevent drug prices from being lowered, they knocked out cost containment, Tom, which means that the drug companies can charge the government whatever they want. They could charge whatever they want, and that's how we're going to break Medicare.

They're going to break Medicare, turn Medicare over to the private insurance companies. And they're going to break the ability of seniors to have a real prescription drug benefit by not having any cost containment.

We still have the same problem: The drug companies are charging too darn much for prescription drugs and this does nothing about it.

BROKAW: General Clark, the difference between passing this bill and not passing it is the ability to deliver some prescription drug benefit to seniors. If you were in the United States Senate, would you be voting for it?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Absolutely not. I wouldn't vote for it because this bill is not the right bill with which to deliver drug benefits to seniors.

BROKAW: But could you get the right kind of bill in this climate?

CLARK: You can't unless you stand up...

BROKAW: In this climate?

CLARK: ... and fight for what's right.

I understand those senators who want to deliver drug benefits, but these drug benefits are marginal. Tom, I was in New Hampshire the other day, and I met a woman in a shoe store there who's paying $20,000 a year for her lung medication. She'd like to go to Canada and get it cheaper. She can't.

And under this bill, do you think an HMO is going to take her and insure her and pay that $20,000? She's going to be uninsurable. She'll be back on Medicare. This is the kind of person who really needs prescription drug benefits and won't have it under this bill.

BROKAW: Madam Ambassador, what would you have in this bill that is not there if you were back in the United States Senate, where you once served?

CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This bill is not only a Trojan horse. It's a turkey stuffed with goodies for the pharmaceutical and the insurance industries and a poison pill for seniors.

It will give us the end of Medicare as we know it. It does a terrible thing to low-income seniors by disallowing their ability to get subsidies where available from Medicaid.

What will I do? I'd have a single-payer system of universal health coverage that took care of this issue. Instead of continuing to split pills and split the issue, we would have comprehensive services for seniors for every American, health care for all. And there's no reason why we cannot do this and get beyond the kind of continuing stand-offs that we have over the dysfunctional system that we have now.

We're trying to match public and private systems; it doesn't work. We need to go to a single-payer system such as federal employees currently enjoy.

BROKAW: And no means testing? People in a higher income group wouldn't have to pay more? You don't think you'd ever have to get there?

MOSELEY BRAUN: Federal employees are not means tested; they can choose their provider and they get health coverage and it's from a single-payer system. I think it's the only way to go.

And particularly this bill, I think, will be the tipping point, because when seniors figure out what's happened to them, they're going to demand real reform.

BROKAW: But, Reverend Sharpton, this bill alone has $400 billion over 10 years. If you do what the ambassador is suggesting, take that number and run it out as far as you want to, it would be extraordinarily expensive.

AL SHARPTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: First of all, the fact that this bill is $400 billion and won't solve anything makes it a waste. When we talk about extending it to single-payer plan, we're talking about solving the problem with an investment. This $400 billion will not help those that need it the most. It certainly does not put a ceiling on the costs that pharmaceutical companies and others can give us.

To say it's a step in the right direction, where is the direction? If I'm going to leave this building with you, Tom, and say, "Let's go to a certain place," the only way we know if we're going in the right direction is if we're headed there.

Where are we headed here? We're headed to our children having to pay for something that doesn't work. If you're going to take a step in the right direction, make sure it's where you want to go. And make sure you don't have on shoes too tight to walk in.


BROKAW: Reverend Sharpton, I can't resist the opportunity to say that if you and I left this building with a common destination, we'd have a lot of people trying to figure out what that is.


SHARPTON: That's if you have on some comfortable shoes to get there.

BROKAW: That, too.

Governor Dean, over the weekend your friend, Congressman Gephardt, had some pretty tough things to say about you, in this very area, about what happens when push comes to shove.

Let me just read back, as if you didn't know.


"Time after time, when faced with budget shortfalls, Howard Dean's first and only instinct was to cut, and the cut needed the least, among poor people. There's no place for government without compassion."

He's calling you a cold-blooded governor and yet today you agree with him on Medicare.

DEAN: Well, Tom, Dick Gephardt's a good guy. I worked for him in 1988.

But when you're the governor, you've got to make tough decisions. Now, as it turns out, over my time as governor, we increased human service funding by 33 percent; increased education funding by 25 percent.

But we ran the state properly.

Today there was an editorial in the Des Moines Register talking about the cuts that are going to have to be made in Iowa. We didn't have to make any of those cuts, we didn't cut higher education, we didn't cut health care, and we didn't cut anybody off our health care rolls. We didn't cut K-12 education, we didn't cut money to the counties and the towns, because we ran the budget properly.

Executive experience matters when you're running budgets. Dick's a good person. I like Dick Gephardt and I worked for him in '88, as I said. But I think we need new leadership in this party. And I think we need new leadership in this country, so we don't end up doing what 46 of the 50 states have had to do, which is to cut critical programs.

The people of Vermont were better off when I left the governor's office than they were when I got there. They had-one-third of all our seniors had prescription benefits. We're still waiting for the Congress to do anything about that today.

BROKAW: Congressman Gephardt, you just heard Howard Dean respond to your charges over the weekend. He also said that he agrees with you on Medicare.

Did you go too far?

GEPHARDT: Well, I think the campaigns are about bringing out differences. Howard is a good man and he's a good friend.

BROKAW: He's "a man without compassion," you called him.


Well, now how do those two add up there?

GEPHARDT: We have a difference on how to get budgets straightened out.

At the very same time, in the mid-'90s, I was working with Bill Clinton, Al Gore, the Democrats in Congress, leading a fight to get the budget straightened out. And we did it in a different way than Governor Dean did it in Vermont.

We cut spending that went to mining subsidies and that went to the nuclear industry.

We didn't cut the most vulnerable, as he did in Vermont. He cut Medicaid. He cut the prescription drug program. He tried to eliminate it three times in the mid-'90s that he had in the state of Vermont. He cut funding for the blind and the disabled.

Now, I have a different version of how to do this. And I think that's what we did in the middle '90s at the federal level. We got the budget in balance. We even supplied a surplus.

And we did it by raising taxes on the wealthiest. We had a holistic set of ideas to get the economy to grow. We built jobs. We raised the minimum wage. We did a variety of things to get the economy to grow.

That's the way you get rid of deficits. You don't just cut the most vulnerable in our society.

BROKAW: We want to move on to another subject, but in fairness, Governor Dean, you get 30 seconds for a rebuttal. Do you still think your friend Gephardt's a good guy?


DEAN: I think he's a good guy, but his research folks need a little help.


We did not, of course, cut Medicaid. What we did do was make sure that we could keep the people on Medicaid. Not one person-unlike almost every other state in the country, not one person lost their Medicaid when I was governor of the state.

Look, all our kids under 18-years-old, 99 percent of them have health insurance. Everybody under 150 percent of poverty, all our working poor people have health insurance. A third of our seniors have prescription benefits. Nobody in Congress has done anything like that. We did it in Vermont, and I'm incredibly proud of my record in Vermont.

GEPHARDT: I've got to have 10 seconds.

The reason Governor Dean and other governors has a program for children's health is because we passed it in the Congress. And I helped put it into the law.

Finally, some of the cuts came back-and Governor Dean is right-but because he was sued by the Legal Defense Fund in Vermont to make him put the funding back in.

DEAN: Well, now I'll take my 10 seconds.


The truth is that we put our children's health care program in before Bill Clinton came into office. So, in all due respect to Dick, nothing that they have done benefited our state or any other state, because nothing's been done on health care for a long time in the Congress of the United States.

And that is why it is time for new leadership in this country and in this party, so we can win again.

BROKAW: The people in the control room who've got the striped shirts and the whistles are saying the two of you have gotten a little more time than the others and we do have to move on.

Go ahead, Senator Kerry, you want to talk about this particular issue? Or do you just want to say...

KERRY: No, I want to talk about it, because Dick Gephardt is absolutely correct. And it's important to look at the record here.

The fact is that Governor Dean raised prescription costs for seniors in his state when he needed to balance the budget.

He called himself a "balanced budget freak"-those are his own words. And what he did was raised those costs, as well as take money out of a teachers' pension fund in order to balance it.

Now, I have a different approach. I've asked the governor several times at several debates: Will he still try to reduce the rate of growth in Medicare? He's said several times he's going to cut the rate of growth in Medicare.

And I think it's important for people-I've laid out a very specific plan. Governor Dean has no plan for actually balancing the budget or reducing the deficit.

And I'd like to know if he still intends to reduce the rate of growth in Medicare as one of the ways in which he's going to balance the budget.

BROKAW: Governor Dean, I know-and this will be the last word on this.

DEAN: I most certainly appreciate all this attention that I'm getting.

We have never taken money out of the Teacher's Pension Fund. That is grossly irresponsible. It has happened in other states, one of which I happen to have to say is Massachusetts though I don't think Senator Kerry had anything to do with that.

We have never taken money out of the Teacher's Pension Fund. And we have the best health care record of virtually any state in the country. So a lot of these accusations are the kinds of things people go through to pick up little pieces of this and little pieces of that.

Look at the big picture. We've (inaudible) great job on health insurance.

KERRY: But you still haven't answered my question.

DEAN: We've done a great job on kids.

KERRY: But you still haven't answered my question.

DEAN: And Tom Beaumont (ph) wrote in the Des Moines Register weeks ago that Medicare is off the table.

BROKAW: Congressman?

KERRY: Now the question is will you slow the rate of growth. Do you intend to slow the rate of growth in Medicare because you said you were going to do that?

DEAN: Well, what I intend to do in Medicare is to increase reimbursements for states like Iowa and Vermont, which are 50th and 49th respectively.

KERRY: Are you going to slow the rate of growth, Governor? Yes or no?

DEAN: We're going to do what we have to do to make sure that Medicare lasts...

KERRY: Are you going to slow the rate of growth, Governor?


KERRY: Because that's a cut.

DEAN: Well, I'd like to slow the rate of growth of this debate, if I could...


DEAN: ... but we're going to make sure that Medicare...

KERRY: Well, I'm sure you'd like to avoid it altogether, but...

BROKAW: OK. Let me ask you, Senator.

DEAN: Medicare is off the table. We are not going to cut Medicare in order to balance the budget. I've made that very clear. I'm going to do it one more time.

KERRY: That's not the question.

DEAN: We will not cut Medicare in order to balance the budget.

BROKAW: All right. Congressman Kucinich?

KUCINICH: I would say that there is another issue here that isn't being addressed, although Dick Gephardt addressed it somewhat, and that is the private control of our health care system.

I mean, as long as insurance companies control the health care, the cost of health care in America is going to keep going up, and that's what Ambassador Moseley Braun was talking about.

Tom, I have a bill in H.R. 676 with John Conyers that establishes universal, single-payer Medicare for all. And you know what? Until we transfer from a for-profit system to a not-for-profit system, we're going to keep having debates like this and more and more Americans will lack the health coverage they have a right to expect.

We're paying right now for universal standard, but we're not getting it because of the insurance company profits and the high salaries paid to executives and stock options. That's where our dollar goes. It should be going into health care for people.

BROKAW: Senator Edwards in Washington, D.C., this whole issue of growing Medicare. It can't continue to grow at an exponential rate. Everybody knows that. Because the country at some point is going to have to draw the line in terms of means testing and how we're going to make Medicare available to people-a program, after all, that was designed originally as a safety net for the people who were middle income and poor seniors.

Is it possible to just continue growing Medicare at its current rate? And is it fair to say if you slow the growth rate, that's really a cut?


There are a number of things we can do, Tom. For example, we can allow more competitive bidding for supplies and equipment within the Medicare system.

We can be more efficient by having somebody supervise chronic care.

But I want to go back. I have a fundamental difference with a number of these people who've been speaking for the last 10 minutes.

The American people are hungry for us to lead.

And if you look at what's happened over the last week, the RNC and Bush are running an ad in Iowa criticizing basically anybody who disagrees with Bush about his policy in Iraq. And now, the Democrats are all at each other's throats.

People are tired of listening to politicians yell at each other. What they want from us and what we have to offer in order to win is something other than anger and something other than criticism.

We have to offer a positive, optimistic, uplifting vision for this country. The American people are hungry for it. They are looking for it. They're tired of our complaints about each other. They want to know what we are going to do for their lives. And I, for one, I intend to offer them that positive vision.

BROKAW: Reverend Al Sharpton?

SHARPTON: Hi. I'm Al Sharpton. I want to run against George Bush, not against Dean, not against Gephardt. I think that we need to deal with the fact that this president has served big business.

And what is happening in Medicare is only indicative of this administration that has delivered to the wealthiest, that has delivered to these major corporations.

And I think that while we go to the debates and we should show our differences, rather than trying to pin the donkey on each other, we ought to slap the donkey and get it ready to defeat George Bush next November by registering the voters...


... by addressing people's needs and by showing that this president is worse than anybody up here. Nobody fights with Dean more than I do. Nobody fights with Gephardt more than I do. But all of them in their worst night's sleep is better than George Bush wide awake that I know.


BROKAW: OK. We're going to end the debate about Medicare right there, and move quickly to another subject that we'll get back to after our break, as well.

But it's been in the news a lot, and a lot of people are thinking about it and worrying about it.

When the Massachusetts State Supreme Court directed the legislature to within 180 days to find a solution to the proposition of gay marriages, saying, in effect, make this happen.

The court ruled that a gay marriage would not in anyway be threatening to a traditional marriage. Do you agree with that? Do you think that Massachusetts, the legislature, should go ahead and pass law that will make gay marriages between same sex possible in the state of Massachusetts.

MOSELEY BRAUN: Yes, and I'll tell you why.

Because I believe this is a civil rights issue. My relative, my aunt, married a white man in the 1950s when their marriage was illegal in half the states of this country.

Indeed, my uncle, had he taken his wife across the wrong state line would have been guilty of a criminal violation.

It seems to me that if people want to marry a person of a different race that's no different than somebody wanting to marry someone of the same sex.

And, indeed, we should be celebrating the fact that these people are talking about forming solid relationships, families, because families, in the end, will keep the community stable and are the basis upon which our country has been built and will survive.

And so I think rather than allowing the panderers to fear and division to use this as a wedge issue in this election, I think, and I believe the American people will rise to a level of saying, "Wait a minute, it's no skin off my back in terms of the law if somebody marries the person they love and that person is of the same gender." I think the religious issue is different, of course, than the issue before the government.

And civil unions falls short. It's not the same thing. It doesn't give the same rights. We ought to allow people of the same sex to legitimate their relationships.

BROKAW: General Clark, if a gay couple gets married in the state of Massachusetts, if that becomes possible, and they move to the state of Iowa, Iowa has a law on the books that the only marriage that this state will recognize is between a man and a woman. Is that fair? And could it be successfully challenged in the courts, in your judgment? And should it be?

CLARK: Well, I think that what you're talking about here is civil rights. And what I favor is everybody being treated equally.

What I learned in the military is that we want the right for every person to serve. And if it's your children and you love them, you want them to have the same rights regardless of their sexual orientation. So that's why I said I welcomed the decision of the Supreme Court in the state of Massachusetts.

I think we need to move forward with this issue. I think that people who want same-sex relationships should have exactly the same rights as people who are in conventional marriages. I'm talking about joint domicile, rights of survivorship, insurance coverage and all those rights. I think that's essential in America today.

BROKAW: Thank you very much, General Clark.

We're going to continue with this subject and many more to come, including the Ten Commandments. And we're going to get to Iraq, and we're going to get to the economy as well.

We've got about 90 minutes left here in Des Moines, the site of the Iowa caucuses come January. Back with more, right after this.



BROKAW: We're back in Des Moines, Iowa. Democratic candidates for the presidential nomination of their party on stage here; 90 minutes to go.

Reverend Al Sharpton, as we broke off, we were talking about this move that seems to be moving inexorably to the idea of legalizing gay marriages, if not in Massachusetts, in some state at some point.

Do you have any trouble with that idea?

SHARPTON: I think it's a human rights issue.

When I'm asked, "Do I support a gay marriage?" Do I support Greek marriages? Do I support Latino marriages? Do I support black marriages?"

Are we prepared to say that gays and lesbians are less than human? If we're not prepared to say that, then how do we say that they should not have the same human rights and human choices of anyone else?

Even if you have a disagreement with it in terms of your own personal life, you cannot limit the humanity of others unless you're prepared to say they are less than human.

And not only were people of different races one time-at one point in this country were people of different races may be illegal if they married, people of the same race, when we were slaves, couldn't marry.

I would not support any limitations on human and civil rights for anyone in the country. Whatever my view is, I think my view I have the right to personally. I do not have the right to impose that on others.

BROKAW: Senator John Edwards in Washington, D.C., what's going to be the political effect of all of this in a state like North Carolina-or across the South for that matter, at a time when the Democratic Party is trying to gain its old foothold in the South again-this issue of gay marriages?

EDWARDS: Well, I can tell you what my own personal experience has been. I have an almost perfect or perfect voting record, I believe, with the Human Rights Campaign. And when I have gone back to North Carolina to campaign in town hall meetings, and this issue has been raised, my answer has been very straightforward.

I grew up in a small town here in North Carolina. In the community where I grew up, we believe in everybody being treated the same and everyone having equality, everyone having the same kind of opportunities and everyone being treated with the same level of dignity and respect.

And I think so long, Tom, as we talk about these issues in the basic context of equality, dignity, treating same-sex couples with the same dignity and respect that we treat other Americans and providing them with the same kind of equal rights that we provide other Americans, I think this is not-should not be able to become a wedge issue for us.

BROKAW: If you become the presidential candidate of your party, would you then make it a primary human rights plank of your own platform in running for president in the primaries?

EDWARDS: I can tell you that I have, during the course of this campaign, talked about the importance of equality for all Americans, no matter what their race, no matter what their ethnicity, no matter what language they speak, no matter what their sexual orientation.

I think this has to do with a bigger issue, which is bringing America together, making sure that we're all moving in the same direction and that we embrace and lift up everybody. It's really a pretty basic thing at the end of the day.

BROKAW: General Clark, let me ask you a question about the Democratic Party's connection to the so-called faith community in America.

The "Economist" recently quoted some statistics from the last election: 63 percent of the people who said they attended church weekly voted for George W. Bush for president; 61 percent of those who said they never went to church voted for Al Gore.

Is that any kind of a commentary on the Democratic Party and its connection to the growing influence of the so-called faith community in American politics?

CLARK: Well, I know that there are concerns about the connection. And I know that the Republican Party is working as well as it can and doing as much as it can to try to strengthen this connection.

But the Republican Party does not have the monopoly on faith in this country, and there are just as many Democrats who believe in religion, they go to church, they read the Bible, they say their prayers, they believe in God as there are Republicans. And I think that you'll see that in this next election.

I think what you had in 2000 may have been unique. And I think maybe the president, President Bush, had a compelling personal story about that.

But, you know, there are a lot of people who have compelling personal stories. And I think that we as a Democratic Party have got to appeal and recognize the importance of a spiritual dimension.

And I certainly do. I do pray. I do believe in the good Lord. And he's been a very important influence in my life. And I'm not afraid to say that.

BROKAW: Senator Kerry, in Washington, D.C., it is in your state of Massachusetts that they'll have to make a decision about what they're going to do about gay marriages. Will you urge the legislature to as swiftly as possible to make it legal for gay couples to be married in the state of Massachusetts?

And will you try to head off those efforts by the governor and others there to come up with a constitutional amendment or some other means of derailing any effort to do just that?

KERRY: I would urge the legislature to do precisely what the Constitution requires, and I would congratulate each of the candidates who have already spoken. I think each of them has spoken eloquently about this.

It is a matter of equal protection under the law. And the court in the decision drew a distinction between church-sanctioned marriage and what the state has to provide in terms of rights.

And what we're talking about is somebody's right to be able to visit a loved one in a hospital, somebody's right to be able to pass on property, somebody's right to live equally under the state laws as other people in the country.

I think the term "marriage" gets in the way of what is really being talked about here.

If I could just take one instant, I don't want people to think that the discussion about Medicare is silly or somehow small. It's a values issue.

We're going to have so many seniors in the baby boom generation retiring that if you do what Newt Gingrich did in 1995 and cut the rate of growth of Medicare, you're going to be cutting people's benefits significantly.

It is a major value issue of the Democratic Party; it's what we're fighting about here in Washington right now. And I think it's a critical point with respect to where our nominee comes from, and what they're committed to.

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