Image: Sen. John Kerry Speaks About Aftermath Iraq War
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry (D-MA)
By
msnbc.com
updated 10/21/2003 4:50:32 AM ET 2003-10-21T08:50:32

Sen. John Kerry joined in the special series, ‘Hardball: Battle for the White House.’ Oct. 20, Monday, 7 p.m. ET

JOHN KERRY is a fighter. His experience leading others under fire in Vietnam and his nearly twenty years as a Senator and years as a prosecutor, attest to his determination in battles both literal and figurative.

And now, nearly thirty-five years after earning a Silver Star, Bronze Star and three Purple hearts, this war veteran turned anti-war activist is in another big battle: He needs all the fighting strength he has for the primary fight ahead.

Those who know him personally say he performs at his best when he is behind. That is precisely where the Senator finds himself, contrary to where many thought he would be. Nearly one year ago, he was considered the frontrunner to beat, now he is trailing Wesley Clark, another decorated Vietnam war hero with a “General” in front of his name in national polls—and trailing Howard Dean, a New England rival in New Hampshire, a state once considered Kerry’s for the taking.

John Kerry says he’s not concerned, that his campaign “is growing and has momentum.” He said recently, “I’m running on my life’s experience and all that I bring to the table in terms of leadership.”

Kerry’s campaign is counting on voters to realize that he may be the best candidate against George Bush in 2004, in terms of domestic policy experience and the national security credentials. But the current electoral climate doesn’t seem to care about these. Instead, the electoral mood is angry and anti-establishment— two things that Senator John Kerry is not. Will John Kerry be able to reach voters and convince them that he is the best candidate?

The Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government hosts the series. The audience, which will be comprised mostly of local college students, will also ask questions of the candidates. Admittance to these forums will require a ticket. While most tickets will be distributed to Harvard and other local college students, some tickets will be reserved for the general public. Instructions for obtaining tickets will be available on the IOP website.

LINKS:

Kerry campaign site

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READ THE COMPLETE TRANSCRIPT

Guest: John Kerry

ANNOUNCER: Live, from the John F. Kennedy Institute of Politics at Harvard University, HARDBALL’s “Battle for the White House.”

Tonight, the second of our interviews with the Democratic candidates for president.

Here’s Chris Matthews.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: For the next hour, a Vietnam combat veteran who later opposed the war. Now, with America again at war, he’s a four-term senator running for president. My guest tonight, John Kennedy-I’m sorry, John Kerry, senator from Massachusetts.

Let’s play HARDBALL.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS: How did I make that mistake? Here we are at the John F.

Kennedy Institute of Politics.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have to tell you -

” make you feel better. Ted Kennedy, one day, was introducing me somewhere an he got really wound up and he got going, as, you know, my colleague can do. And he got to the great puration (ph) and he said, Ladies and gentlemen, it’s my honor to introduce to you, my colleague, my friend, John Kennedy. So if he can do it, you can do it.

MATTHEWS: I don’t mind. Vanessa Kerry sits among us.

KERRY: That’s my daughter, Vanessa.

(APPLAUSE)

KERRY: She’s-she’s one of all of you. She ‘s here learning how to be a doctor. So if anybody needs anything tonight...

MATTHEWS: Speaking of doctors, you’re running against one. Let’s talk in a minute here. I hate to start so rough, but this is HARDBALL.

(CROSSTALK)

KERRY: America should not lose another doctor. We should keep him where he is.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS: My second question concerns Howard Dean. Let’s to go my first question. It is so abrupt. Were we right to go to Iraq?

KERRY: Not the way the president did it. Clearly, no, because he didn’t plan for how to win the peace. He didn’t build the kind of coalition he said he would. He didn’t keep his promises to the American people.

He promised he would respect the U.N. He promised he would, in fact, build an international coalition and he promised he would go to war as a last resort. And, Chris, one of the great lessons I learned in Vietnam is the meaning of the words “last resort.”

I think the test for a president as to whether or not you send young men or women anywhere to fight is whether you can look in the eyes of parents-if you lose one of them-and say to those parents, I tried to do everything in my power to avoid this happening to your child. But we had no choice for the security of our country. I believe the president of the United States fails that test in Iraq.

MATTHEWS: Would you have gone to war with Iraq if the U.N. had supported it?

KERRY: Well, we...

MATTHEWS: Well?

KERRY: The answer-the answer is very simply yes. If the U.N. had supported it, there was a very...

MATTHEWS: Would you have gone to war if the U.N. had not supported it?

KERRY: If I were president at the time?

MATTHEWS: Right. Right.

KERRY: I would have made the judgment of whether or not to go to war, which is what a president is supposed to do.

The United States of America should never be perceived as or never should go to war because we want to. We should go to war because we have to.

MATTHEWS: Did we have to go to Iraq?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Did we have to go?

KERRY: ....until you’ve exhausted the remedies of....

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you. Howard Dean is opposed to going to Iraq.

He’s simple. Absolutely, bottom line, against the war.

KERRY: Well, he’s not, actually....

MATTHEWS: Joe Lieberman is for the war. Dick Gephardt is for the war, John Edwards sat right there last week and he is still for the war despite the bad intelligence he got. He says, “I’m still for the war.” How are you different than Dean on this issue?

KERRY: Let me correct you. Howard Dean is not clear and he is not simple. He has, in fact, embraced several positions. One of which is the Biden-Lugar amendment which, in fact, gave authorization to the president but under a slightly different wrinkle than the one we passed. Howard Dean also said he believed there were weapons of mass destruction. He believed that Colin Powell was correct.

Now the question that has to be asked is, once you’ve come to that conclusion, what are you going to do about it?

What you should do about it is precisely what I and Tom Harkin and Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden and a whole bunch of us thought we should do. Which is, go to the United Nations. Properly go through the inspection process. Build a legitimate international coalition and, in fact, exhaust the remedies available to you. And if you need to go to war, you go to war because you have a sense that the country has come to the point where it has no other option.

I don’t believe the president did that.

MATTHEWS: Would you have gone to war if the French had said under no circumstances we would go to war with you?

KERRY: I would do whatever is necessary to protect the security of the United States.

MATTHEWS: We’re going in circles here.

KERRY: No, we’re not going in circles.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: In retrospective, Dean says, I think it was wrong to go to war. In retrospect, Lieberman says we were right to go to war. Dick Gephardt says we were right to go to war. John Edwards says we’re right to go to war. General Clark says we’re not right to get to war-go to war. Where are you in that-with that kind of clarity?

KERRY: I just answered-I answered your question.

MATTHEWS: Were we right to have gone to war?

KERRY: I answered your question right up front. I said to you....

MATTHEWS: Well, yes or no?

KERRY: I said no. Not under the circumstances he went. I told you that, Chris.

MATTHEWS: So were we wrong to go to Iraq in war?

KERRY: The way the president did it, yes.

MATTHEWS: What was the right way to go to war?

KERRY: As a last resort, when you exhaust the remedies available to you and you have proven that you have to do it because there is no other alternative.

In other words, in Iraq, we had a legitimate threat, according to every intelligence indicator we were given. But we hadn’t built the coalition. We didn’t have a plan to win the peace. The president rushed to war. I said so at the time. I said I would have preferred that he did more diplomacy. I don’t know how you can be more clear than that.

MATTHEWS: Well, because, you know, when you came back from fighting in Vietnam, so nobly and courageously, and you had been honored for your service to your country, and you come back and-you said you were leading up Vietnam veterans against the war. You were clear cut then.

I don’t hear that clarity in your answer right now-the clarity of being for or against the damn war.

KERRY: Well, Chris, God bless you, but I have to tell you, man, sometimes in foreign policy, certain things are complicated. Life is complicated. And the fact is, that there was a legitimate rationale for the United States to hold Saddam Hussein accountable, but there was every reason in the world to hold him in the world to hold him accountable properly.

Now, you know, Joe Lieberman was prepared to go under any circumstance. I wasn’t. The president evidently was too. I wasn’t. I thought we had to build the consent and legitimacy of the American people and I remember that because of my fight in Vietnam. I remember it because we had a divided nation. I remember what happens when you lose the consent of your nation fighting a war.

MATTHEWS: Right.

KERRY: But it is perfectly legitimate too-in fact, in 1998, when Bill Clinton was president, and Saddam Hussein brought the wall down on the inspectors and Clinton brought them out so he could bomb, I said at that time, together with Chuck Hagel and John McCain, that the president should have taken the issue to the United Nations; that we should have been prepared to have a legitimate force in order to get him to live to his agreements.

So there was always legitimacy to living up to the agreements. And it was appropriate for a president, and that’s why I voted for him...

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you this....

KERRY: ..to hold him accountable.

MATTHEWS: To try sharpen your position so we all come out of this room knowing your position. Had you been president earlier this year when they went up against the blank-the stonewall at the U.N.. and the U.N., and the Security Council, the Russians and the French, did not go along with the war, what would you have done differently than the president did? At that point, would you have said another two months I’ll argue with you guys? I’ll try to hold a carrot or a stick out to you and the French and try to get them to board? Or would you have finally said, I’m tired of waiting for the French. We’re going alone in our national interest.

What would you have done?

KERRY: I would have done exactly what I said at the time, which is we should have pursued more diplomacy at the time to exhaust the remedies. And Chris...

MATTHEWS: It’s now October. How-would you still be exhausting the remedies now?

KERRY: Why not?

MATTHEWS: OK. That’s a position. I didn’t know you would go this long.

KERRY: Why not?

MATTHEWS: Would you have gone all these months?

KERRY: Why not? Absolutely. It’s cool in the fall as much as it is in the spring.

MATTHEWS: So you would have waited at least a year.

KERRY: I would have done-no, Chris, I would have done what was necessary to know that you had exhausted the available remedies with the French and the Russians.

MATTHEWS: The French said this week they will not send troop or spend a dollar in Iraq. It’s clear the French don’t go along with this war.

KERRY: And I understand why they won’t right now. And I’m not going to give them a veto, Chris. And I wouldn’t have given them a veto then.

But I talked to Kofi Annan on the Sunday before the president decided to go to war. And I knew at that moment in time that the Russians and the French were prepared to, in fact, make a further offer. And the administration, in fact, informed Kofi Annan, Sorry, the time for diplomacy is over.

Had I been president of the United States, I would have explored what those possibilities were.

MATTHEWS: Let’s take a look at your position. Because of all the candidates, you were the most foresightful, I thought, in seeing the troubles of occupation.

This is what you said a year ago when we sat around a group like this at the Citadel.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: I’m prepared to go. I think people understand that Saddam Hussein is a danger. But you want to go maximizing your capacity for victory, not beginning with deficits. That’s one of the lessons of Vietnam. The war will not just be the military operation to move the regime out and to take Baghdad. The war will be an ongoing process of how you then rebuild the country. How you build the democracy in a place that’s never had it, in a place where violence is the tradition. And that is the challenge for awful us. I want to think it through, Chris, so no one has to ask the question, was this a mistake?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: You saw, sir, the violence coming.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS: You recognized that this would not an lickety spit war, blitz war. That even after the aircraft carrier and all the celebrations, there would be fighting at us, there’d be people shooting at us, and American soldiers being killed as they were just yesterday, two more guys.

Knowing all that, why do you have a complaint now in the way that the occupation is being handled? Since you perhaps more than the president saw the hell to come.

KERRY: Because the president is not putting in place a policy that most, exactly what I just said, maximizes our ability to be successful. Maximizes the protections of the American troop. Look I remember what it is like to be in a country with an M-16 where everybody around you is looking at you and you can’t tell whether they’re about to kill you or not. Whether there’s a kid going to walk out and throw a satchel of explosives in your boat or car or whatever it is. And I foresaw this. And I said to the president in January, Mr. President, don’t rush to war. Take the time to build a coalition. Take the time to have countries with you. Take the time to have our nation with you. Because if the going gets tough, that’s when it is most difficult. My judgment is that the president rushed this with all the wrong assumptions, with all the wrong conclusions, and didn’t lead in the way that a president is supposed to lead.

Now my position, I know what people say. My position could not be more clear. For 7-1/2 years, we found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. For 7-1/2 year, we destroyed them with Ambassador Butler. We found more chemical and biological weapons than we thought he had. We found he was further down the road to the creation of nuclear weapon than we thought he was. Then the wall come down and for four year, there are no inspections. We’re given information by our CIA, that says here’s what’s happening in this building, senator. Here are the photographs much this is what our intelligence is telling us. I thought the responsible thing to do for our country was to force Saddam Hussein to accept the inspectors and to have the threat of force. It was right vote but the president did it in the wrong way and he is still doing it in the wrong way.

MATTHEWS: More on Iraq when we come back and whether it might have been an historic mistake or not. And big question about North Korea and Iraq. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: Being flown to an aircraft carrier and saying mission accomplished doesn’t tend war. And the swagger of a president saying, bring them on, will never bring peace or safety to our troop.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We’re back with John Kerry, the senator from Massachusetts.

I must say, the only man running this year who actually did fight a war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How long would a Kerry administration keep U.S. forces in Iraq?

KERRY: My hope would, first of all, I hope that this will be resolved before I become president in January of 2005. But if it isn’t, I will go immediately to the United Nations with a greater sense of purpose and humility than this president was prepared to. And to engage in a real way with these countries. And I will transfer, because I think this is the only effective way, the most effective way.

Could we be successful the way the president is going? The answer is yes. The question is, at what cost? At what cost in lives? At what cost in our prestige and our influence in the region? At what cost in term of money to the American people?

So what I want to do is maximize, as I said at the citadel. The way you maximize is to get the maximum number of countries involve. Maximize your leverage. Maximize the sharing of burden and risk. Minimize the sense of American occupation in the country. And minimize the targeting of American soldiers. That require us to take the humanitarian, civil infrastructure and governance pieces and transfer them to the United Nations, which is the precursor to our ability to have a true multilateral force on the ground. That train the Iraqis rapidly and the police and military which is the precursor to setting a date for the full transfer of power to the Iraqis. I would want to make that happen as fast as possible.

MATTHEWS: Next question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator, my name is Larry Harris. I’m a student of the Kennedy School of Government and a united leader. Let’s play some HARDBALL.

KERRY: I want you to know, this is the only place in Boston sadly we’re still playing HARDBALL. To bad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Out of a $87 billion spending package in order to rebuild Iraq, my understanding is $65 billion is for the current commitments that can’t be debated.

Out of the $87 billion, can you break down what you support, what you don’t support and just for general knowledge, what’s going on there?

KERRY: I don’t support the structure. I voted against the president’s $87 billion because it doesn’t do any of the thing that I just said we should do to answer that gentleman. We have to have a different approach to this. To maximize America’s leverage and to minimize the risk to our troops, the American people. So, I believe that the president is on the wrong track in terms of doing. That more over, Joe Biden and I brought an amendment that asked the wealthiest people in America to bear some of the sacrifice of what we’re doing in Iraq. If the president can go to New Hampshire and in turn to reserve troop and say to them, they have to spend another year in Iraq. I don’t think it is asking too much of the wealthiest people in the country to go from $690 billion of tax cuts over the next 10 years down to $600 billion. We couldn’t get the president’s or his party’s support for something as reasonable as that. That’s why I voted against the $87 billion.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS: Senator, 40 percent of the American people in a recent poll said it was wrong to go to Iraq. The war was wrong. Who should they vote for? I mean, who’s their option?

KERRY: I think they should vote-well, obviously, I think I’m the option.

MATTHEWS: But you weren’t against the war, clear and simple.

KERRY: No, they said-that’s wrong.

MATTHEWS: They are saying...

KERRY: The poll-it’s the other way around.

MATTHEWS: ... now the poll question was, were we wrong to go to war with Iraq?

KERRY: Well, “The Washington Post” carried a story two days ago, written by Dan Balz, that said that the American people want somebody who voted for the war, but who has the sense of how to do it properly. Now, that’s my sense is the American people will vote for the person who is most qualified and ready to be president of the United States.

MATTHEWS: How many people in this room think we were wrong to go to war with Iraq?

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

KERRY: How many people in this room think John Kerry would make a terrific president of the United States?

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS: OK, we’ll be right back. We’re coming back, we’re coming back, we’re coming back (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: During the fund-raising quarter that ended last month, President Bush raised nearly $50 million for his reelection campaign. All nine Democrats combined raised only $34 million. We’re coming back with more from Senator John Kerry on HARDBALL’s “Battle for the White House.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We’re back at Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with the Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. Next question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, Senator Kerry. My name is Morgan Kruger (ph) and I’m a freshman at the Harvard University. I was wondering, how fast do you think we can realistically return political power to the people of Iraq?

KERRY: It depends on how effectively they put together the transitional process. I believe that at their current rate, they’re making it harder, rather than easier. If we were to have this more internationalized so that we had more troops on the ground so we could provide greater security and safety to the rebuilding, as well as to the guarding of those areas that are critical. For instance, those ammunition dumps.

I mean, how is it that you can pick up the newspaper two weeks ago and read that the United States of America is not adequately guarding ammunition dumps, and those materials are being used to blow up American soldiers, even though we knew those dumps were there? I mean, this is absurd. This is the worst planning that I’ve seen for a major military operation of this kind in years. And I think Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, the president ought to be held accountable for it.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS: Do you think the president-do you think this president is making all the big decisions, or are the neoconservative ideologues around him encouraging him so strongly to do certain things, like go to war with Iraq, that he can’t resist their counsel?

KERRY: Chris, I don’t have a clue. That’s all the inside baseball of Washington.

MATTHEWS: What’s your hunch?

KERRY: What I know is...

MATTHEWS: Was this his idea to go to Iraq, or was it Wolfowitz’s idea, was it the neoconservatives’ idea?

KERRY: I think it was the neoconservative and Wolfowitz and all the...

MATTHEWS: Well, why was he so weak-minded to go along with them?

KERRY: Do I have to answer that? Do I have to answer that?

MATTHEWS: We’ll be right back. We’ll be right back with Senator John Kerry.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL’s “Battle for the White House.” This half-hour, Senator John Kerry and what he thinks of the Democratic Party, President Bush, and what combat is really like.

But first, the latest headlines right now.

(NEWSBREAK)

MATTHEWS: We’re back. We’re back with Senator John Kerry.

I’ve got some really tough questions, but I want to start with Dean Joseph Nye.

Sir, it’s great to have you here.

JOSEPH NYE, DEAN, KENNEDY SCHOOL OF GOVT.: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: It’s good to have you have yes here. Thank you.

NYE: Welcome.

Senator, you mentioned that had the administration took us into Iraq on the fear that there were weapons of mass destruction which turned out not to be there.

But in the meantime, North Korea actually was making nuclear weapons, according to the CIA and Iran was enriching uranium to weapons-level, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. What do you think of the way the administration has handled the Korea and Iran cases and when you’re elected president, what would you do about those two cases?

KERRY: Well, Dean, first of all, thank you for all of your extraordinary work in this field, which we all have enormous respect for.

Secondly, you asked me how they’ve handled it. They’ve handled it miserably. Abysmally. This has been one of the greatest abdications of foreign policy that I’ve seen in all the years that I’ve been in the Senate. And it began with a disastrous decision by the president to reverse the decision of Colin Powell to engage the North Koreans and pick up where Secretary Perry and Bill Clinton left off.

We should have been engaged in bilateral negotiations from the get-go, from the beginning. And it was obvious that when you announce a policy of preemption and you invade another country, and you begin to build bunker-busting nuclear weapons, that Kim Jong Il was going to find a way to get the attention of this administration and he did.

We are less safe today because this administration has allowed the rods to be pulled out of the reactor, Pyongyang; allowed the television cameras to be taken away and the inspectors to be kicked out. That makes America less safe.

Now what we need to do-I wrote an article maybe a month-and-a-half, two months ago, urging this administration to engage in a full measure of negotiation. The administration’s approach was simply to say to the North Koreans, Don’t do this. And if you don’t stop, there will be trouble. Well, given all the other things I said, they weren’t going to stop.

So what we needed to do was engage in a legitimate dialogue with the North Korean in order to move us towards a full discussion about whole range of issues with North Korea-the human rights issues, the economic issues, the reunification with South Korea and the-obviously, the important proliferation issues.

I believe it’s possible to create a freeze, where we are, of our intentions, and their intentions, and then go back and pick up where Secretary Perry left off. Now it’s good what happened in the last day where the president says he is willing to sign a nonaggression pact. That’s the precursor to the rest of it, and it should have happened two years ago.

In Iran, the irony is that in Egypt and in Saudi Arabia, the populations hate us and the governments love us. In Iran, i’s the exact opposite. The population likes us, the government hates us. We’ve had an opportunity to encourage change and to begin to pressure and push for change with respect to Iran for some period of time. But once again, this administration’s hard ideological view has precluded them from doing that. And we have not engaged in the way even that the British and the Germans now are about to. We should have been doing that over the last few years.

But we’ve lost some of our credibility in the world and our ability to bring the United Nations and other countries with us, which is why I believe so deeply that to restore America’s place in the world, it will require a new president. And one of the first things I will do as president is go back to the United Nations, stand in that well where presidents have embarked on great journeys on behalf of our country, and I am going to turn over a proud new chapter in America’s relationship with the world that lives up to our highest valley and standards. And that’s what we need.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Dean. Yes, miss? You’re next.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator Kerry, you’ve been highly critical of Governor Dean’s lack of foreign policy experience. However, you were a supporter of the Clinton presidency and, in fact, you were on the short list for his vice president in 1992. How do you reconcile your criticism of his lack of experience when President Clinton had the exact same credentials in 1992?

KERRY: Well, I could make a joke out of it and tell you he was going to make me vice president and so that —- but I’m not going to do that because that wasn’t the reason. That-that was not the reason.

You know, President Clinton and I had a conversation maybe a couple of months ago in which he expressed to me that he thought that in this current climate, he might have had a lot harder time getting elected president than he did. And the reason is that the issue then was not post-September 11. It was not after we had all seen a very different world.

I wrote a book about six year ago now called “The New War.” And I drew that book on the experience I had as chairman of the Narcotics Terrorism Committee in which I learned about this international criminal activity and the interchangeability of all of these criminal activities — arms running, drug running, nuclear proliferation, regular proliferation, all interconnect. And so I set out a series of things we needed to do. That was 1996.

President Clinton was elected in 92. The major issue then was the economy. Today, another Bush has presented us with a twofer; the major issues are the economy and America’s relationship to the rest of the world. And I believe we need a president now, as George Bush has proven, beyond any reasonable doubt, the presidency is not the place post 9/11 for on-the-job training. I think we need somebody who has experience.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you...

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS: There are three guys running for president this year who all went to Yale. I think Harvard may have run out of its string. But three Yale guy-you and Howard Dean and the president. I’m going to ask you-you were quoted in “Vogue” magazine. I’m surprised you gave them an interview. But-and you once said, “I know this guy,”-you were talking about the president. “He was two years behind me at Yale, I knew him and he’s still the same guy.”

What did you mean?

KERRY: I think that....

MATTHEWS: Did you mean that positively or-I mean, you still think he’s a swell guy the way you did back then?

KERRY: No, I think-I think that the president then was not particularly interested in a lot of the issues that I was interested in and the major issues of our time.

MATTHEWS: So he’s sort of a Henry V character that grew up...

KERRY: Well, you define him. I don’t want to characterize him.

MATTHEWS: ...and became serious in his middle years?

KERRY: Chris, I don’t want to characterize the president personally.

MATTHEWS: In other words, is he still all that serious (ph)?

KERRY: I don’t want to characterize the president personally. But I will characterize as president.

I think he is missing the opportunity of a generation to define the agenda for our nation in a way that lifts our country, that begin to challenge people to go somewhere.

For instance, young American men in uniform and women in uniform should not be held hostage ever to America’s dependency on fossil fuel oil for the Middle East. We need to declare America’s energy independence and move to a new period.

(APPLAUSE)

KERRY: We need-we need to, you know, change this willingness of America to pay $50,000 a year to send the kid to jail for the rest of his life and be unwilling to spend $10,000 a year on HeadStart, early start, early childhood education.

(APPLAUSE)

KERRY: I think, the president-the president....

MATTHEWS: There’s something about his character I want to get to, though, but I think it’s-you might even-you might admit to this.

There’s a character question. We’ve got a leak coming out of the White House. A law was broken apparently in term of exposing a CIA person, undercover. The president acts like, Well, I’ll just turn it over to Ashcroft and I’ll step back. If you were president and there was a leak of this kind that was potentially criminal, would you take charge of it as the country’s chief law enforcement official and get to the bottom of it yourself or would you turn it over to the A.G. and just step back?

KERRY: I’d do both. I wouldn’t turn it over to the A.G. if I had a an A.G. who had a personal relationship with Karl Rove who was in my White House the way this one does.

MATTHEWS: But in general terms, would you get on top of it yourself?

KERRY: Look, the requirement-I used to be a prosecutor. And I understand the requirements of the law with respect to the appearance of conflict of interest. I believe there is an appearance of a conflict of interest. There are two ways for the president to get at it. Number one, have a special prosecutor so the country has confidence that they’re really going to get it a. Number two, get at it himself as you just said.

MATTHEWS: Would you do the latter?

Would you call him in and your staff and say who did it?

KERRY: I would find out who did it and I’d ask people take a certain standard to do it.

MATTHEWS: Why do you think he’s not doing it?

KERRY: They can’t find Osama bin Laden, they can’t find Saddam Hussein.

MATTHEWS: There’s one difference. I don’t think bin Laden and Saddam are in the West Wing. This guy is. I’m just curious why they’re not looking for him.

KERRY: And is what I was about to say. And they can’t even find the leaker in the White House. So, I think the bottom line, Chris, is that the president and his-look. Look at every aspect of this administration. They’re turning being wealthy in America into an entitlement. They’ve accepted an unfairness in the workplace in our country. It is not laughable. It is deadly serious. There are countless numbers of people in our country living off social security who cannot even pay their prescription drug bills month to month. And this president’s priority is to give people earning more than $200,000 yet another tax cut. I don’t think the choices in this country could be more clear than they are today and the president has a very different vision than do I of what his responsibilities are.

MATTHEWS: Back with more with senator John Kerry, candidate for president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KERRY: Every single day of this campaign, I intend to go right at him and make it clear that the one person in the United States of America who deserve to be laid off is George W. Bush.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: David Gergen. Professor David Gergen, in addition to being a frequent guest at HARDBALL, he is also professor and director of the Kennedy School for Public Leadership.

DAVID GERGEN, KENNEDY SCHOOL CTR. FOR PUBLIC LEADERSHIP: Thank you, Chris.

Senator, thank you for coming here tonight. You’ve spoken extensively on the issues, we appreciate that.

But could you open a window on your soul, could you tell us who is John Kerry down deep?

What is it that moves you as a human being?

What is your journey that has brought you here and what would you bring to the White House?

KERRY: David, I think I appreciate that question. And from a fellow Yale man, I might add. Oh, come on! You guys, I thought you were so great tonight. I thought, your spirit was so large here. And you were all-let me say that I’m a kid who transitioned between generations. My dad was the greatest generation. Born in Massachusetts, raised here, Army Air Corps volunteer. My mom was the original wonderful white-haired tennis sneakered activist organizer. And they drew me into public life. The world they created for me. My father was in the foreign service for a period of time, introduced me early on to choices about life and then, of course, when I was an undergraduate, President Kennedy ran for office. We were all excited as a generation about the nobility of politics. About making a difference as individuals. I wanted to start serving. And so, I started by going into the military and serving my country. Then patriotism became defined by opposing the war.

And by trying to do other things to make life more fair in this country. I think if anything, I’m a person with a huge sense of loyalty, with an enormous sense of purpose about public life and how we can make life better. And just a very, very deep commitment to the notion that each of us as individuals have a responsibility to leave this world of our in better shape than we were given it. I think we can do better than we’re doing today on almost every choice in front of this country. And I want a better conversation in America, David. I want a conversation that elevates our politics. Doesn’t drive wedges between people. Doesn’t try to look for the lowest common denominator of American politics but rather the highest common denominator. And I am convinced there is a great journey ahead of us, all of us, if we’ll have this conversation and make better choices. And that’s what motivates me. That’s what drives me. And I’m could convinced we can get there.

MATTHEWS: Next question, up top.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Kerry, if you’re portrayed as a Massachusetts liberal, how can you possibly win the Midwestern and Southern vote?

KERRY: Well, labels don’t mean anything.

MATTHEWS: Are you Matt Damon?

(APPLAUSE)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I know he’s from up around here.

KERRY: He is. And so is Ben Affleck. Maybe he looks like him.

The labels are not what are important. What’s important is what do you fight for? What do you stand for? What is your vision for the nation? Now, I’m a former prosecutor. I’ve sent people to jail for the rest of their life, but I’ve also proven that I know how to be fair and I know how to have common sense. I think with respect to fiscal matters, I’ve been fiscally conservative. I voted for welfare reform, because I thought we had to change what was happening in America with respect to welfare reform.

I’m a hunter. I’m a gun owner. I’ve been a hunter since I was a kid. I understand some of the cultural transitions between different parts of the country, and I think in the end, what people want is somebody who will offer America the truth and common sense. And it’s common sense not to pile debt onto our children, drive deficits up as far as these people are. Be irresponsible in our dealings with the world. Ignore the environment, not try to bring businesses to the table and find the common ground. Abandon children by the millions every day. Not provide the full measure of economic and education opportunity in our country.

I’m going to offer this nation of ours common sense, mainstream American values. And in the end, I’ll tell you, anybody who was part of the Dukakis campaign knows he didn’t lose because he came from Massachusetts, or believed what he believed-he believed he didn’t need to fight back, and he will tell you today that was a mistake.

I’m a fighter. And I will fight back, and I am going to go right at this president and remind him that I know something about aircraft carriers for real. And landing on an aircraft carrier...

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS: Back with more with Senator John Kerry (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: A naval officer in Vietnam, John Kerry received the Silver Star, Bronze Star and three Purple Heart awards for his service. We’re coming back with more from Senator Kerry on HARDBALL’s “Battle for the White House.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We’re back with Senator John Kerry. You know, Senator, you are the second person to sit in that seat. Last week, we had John Edwards of North Carolina, who is also running for president.

I asked him the question I am going to ask you now. Was it a fair question to put to the president that was running as a candidate four years ago to name the heads of government of Chechnya, Taiwan, India and Pakistan? And Senator Edwards very I think discretely said he didn’t think it wasn’t a fair question to ask, so I didn’t ask him. I am going to ask the same question to you, do you think it was a fair question to ask candidate Bush the heads of those governments?

KERRY: I don’t think-fair maybe, but I don’t think it’s an important question. I don’t really think it makes that much difference.

MATTHEWS: Would it be fair to ask you now, given your tremendous knowledge of foreign affairs? No, I am going to ask you one that I think is fair...

KERRY: I don’t think that...

MATTHEWS: No? Do you want me to ask you or not? Would it be fair to ask you to name the heads of the G-8 right now? You can do it, can’t you?

KERRY: I think, Chris, yes, I could, but I don’t think it proves anything. I don’t think it makes that much difference to this process.

MATTHEWS: You can do all eight? I have got them here. If you want to do it, here’s your chance, Senator.

(CROSSTALK)

KERRY: ... so little time.

MATTHEWS: You don’t want to do this?

KERRY: No, but I want to do something important.

MATTHEWS: OK.

KERRY: I want to invite people who want to ask me questions who haven’t had a chance...

MATTHEWS: OK, fine, that’s very...

KERRY: I want you all to go to Johnkerry.com. I want everybody listening to go to Johnkerry.com...

MATTHEWS: And he will tell you the heads of the G-8 nations. He will have it-it will be on your Web site.

KERRY: You can run through it-Putin, Chirac, and Blair and so forth. But what do you want to do?

MATTHEWS: The Italian, who is the Italian head?

KERRY: Oh, Berlusconi. Come on. I’m not doing that.

MATTHEWS: Who’s the Japanese guy? OK.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS: By the way, I’ve got to ask you the easy stuff, we’ll get to that in a second. What’s your favorite movie?

KERRY: You know, the honest answer is-when I was 8 years old, when

” I loved movies, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Name your favorite.

KERRY: I’m going to date myself.

MATTHEWS: No, this is not like are you for or against the Iraq war.

This is not hard. This is not hard. This is easy. Name your favorite movie. Adlai Stevenson can name his favorite movie. Come on.

KERRY: I don’t have one favorite movie. I love a bunch of them.

“The Blues Brothers,” “Animal House.”

MATTHEWS: Favorite book. Favorite book. I mean, who’s asking about your (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

KERRY: My favorite novel is “Trinity” by Leon (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

MATTHEWS: Oh, that was good. Yeah. My mom loved that, too.

KERRY: But my favorite-but my favorite...

MATTHEWS: You are Irish.

KERRY: No, I’m part. My favorite book, though, biography is Edwin Morris’ (ph)...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: And you do have a favorite philosopher, because John Edwards doesn’t?

KERRY: I do. Yogi Berra.

MATTHEWS: You are such a regular guy. It’s a battle of regular guys.

KERRY: How can you beat “I came to a fork in the road and I took it?”

MATTHEWS: How about “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.”

Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, Senator, my name is Andy Lipinski (ph), I am a senior at Harvard College, and you said if elected president, you’d be more diplomatic and work through the United Nations, but the people who flew planes into our buildings on September 11, the only language they understand is force. So my question to you is, should we be speaking with these people, or should we just be smoking them out of their caves like President Bush says?

(APPLAUSE)

KERRY: Well, if the president had smoked them out of their caves when he had a chance, we’d be a lot better off. But he failed at Tora Bora, when he had 1,000 people, all al Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden, in the mountains and he didn’t do it.

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you. We’re out of time.

KERRY: My answer is, you have to do both.

MATTHEWS: OK, Senator, thank you very much.

KERRY: Btu you have to do it smart.

MATTHEWS: Thank you very much. It’s great to have you. Senator John Kerry. (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

END

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