updated 8/10/2004 12:22:50 PM ET 2004-08-10T16:22:50

The wife of the soon-to-be Democratic presidential nominee sat down with NBC's Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert in Boston.  This is the transcript of their conversation.

Tom Brokaw: We’re joined now by Teresa Heinz Kerry, who is going to be speaking to the convention here tonight. There’s been so much talk of toning down the language, and I know you’re well aware of the stuff that’s been going on, about the confrontation you had with the reporter in Pennsylvania. Your husband said, 'I think she spoke her mind appropriately,' that must have been kind of reassuring, right?

Heinz Kerry: I told him last night at the game, and he said, “Good for you.”

Brokaw: The question is, did you not remember saying that? Because other people did hear you say that there were un-Pennsylvanian, and maybe even some un-American, things creeping in.

Heinz Kerry: No, he quoted “activities.”

Brokaw: Oh, activities.

Heinz Kerry: And the word “activities” is a very specific word in this language. “Un-American activities,” which is what he said to me, is particularly specific. And I said, I didn’t use the word “activities,” and what I was talking about is kind of a tone and language of politics, generally, that was becoming, not in Pennsylvania, but the country, this-and-this, un-Pennsylvanian. That was a flattering thing to Pennsylvania, meaning Pennsylvania’s had a lot of dignity about its politics, by and large. And that’s what I meant and that’s the tone that people took it, and I have it on film.

Brokaw: But let’s just be absolutely clear about it. Did you think you used the phrase “un-American traits”?

Heinz Kerry: No “un-American tr” —oh, “traits.”

Brokaw: Right, T-R-A-I-T-S

Heinz Kerry: Un-Pennsylvanian, and sometimes un-American, traits.

Brokaw: And what did you mean by that?

Heinz Kerry: American, to me, American politics, means the art of the process, it means discussion, for lack of a better word, a Socratic behavior. And looking at, and having studied, politics for the British system, where each party has a party line, and there’s no inter-party discussion, to me the beauty of American politics is that within a party there is always room to maneuver on one issue or another. The Southern Democrats are different from other Democrats, and likewise the Republicans. It’s now not allowed for most in the Republican party to have that kind of difference, and I think that’s very sad. It’s really becoming not American in the old context of politics; it’s becoming something different. And maybe it will become like the Europeans, I don’t know.

Brokaw: Is it fair to speculate that you won’t use that phrase, but you may address those themes in your speech to this convention?

Heinz Kerry: Not particularly those themes of the way the party systems work, or what I found so interesting about American politics, theory of government—I studied it—but the idea of what this country has had to offer, and has to offer in terms of growing every perfecting capacity to be inquisitive, to change, to interchange, is being something the world doesn’t know, at least not the world I came from or studied. And I’d hate to see it go away. So that’s the tone, and I spoke very civilly, I had a great reception, I had a polka. You know, Pennsylvania people are wonderful, very warm, and on my way out, I got stopped and told that I had said this, and I said, ‘No, I didn’t say that,’ because I hadn’t. And certainly hadn’t meant that, which is what they wanted me to say.

Brokaw: You were the wife of a Pennsylvania senator before you became the wife of John Kerry, the late John Heinz, who tragically died in a helicopter crash. You’ve been living in the public arena for a long time. You must have thought you were prepared for being the wife of a presidential candidate, but has it been much more of a spotlight, much more of an examination than anything you could have anticipated?

Heinz Kerry: It’s been wonderful, it’s been fun. The people of America are warm, they’re genuine, they care about important things. They’ve been, um, very kind. I’ve had great press out here in the country, talking about important things. I’ve been campaigning very heavily since the beginning, in September, and, you know, if you like people, and you talk with them and respect them, and talk to them about important issues, they are grateful for that, and they let you know that. And that’s all I have to offer, is my integrity and my thoughts, and I’ll continue to do that. That’s who I am.

Brokaw: Tim?

Tim Russert: When people talk to you about Iraq, do they think that John Kerry could make things better in Iraq, immediately?

Heinz Kerry: I don’t know that anyone could, actually, I think if John had been there, we would not have gone in under the same circumstances, in terms of allies and support. And also an understanding by the people of this country, and our army, our armed services. I think, today, it is hard. So if you say ‘John would be in January,’ could he do what he wants to do, immediately, it depends on what happens between now and January. Do we have a responsibility to leave the place in better shape than it is now? Absolutely, at least infrastructure and the capability to resume normal life. But I could not, in all honesty, say John could do this today or tomorrow, any more than anybody else. But I think he would ask the right questions, and I think he would have greater credibility, and probably greater respect from the allies that we need to make these changes.

Brokaw: If your husband is elected president, would he change the American healthcare system, in a short period of time?

Heinz Kerry: I believe, absolutely, yes.

Brokaw: In a short period of time?

Heinz Kerry: Oh, in a short period of time? I don’t know what that means. I know that his plan is a very interesting plan because it uses market principles, it uses cost-cutting, it uses incentives for wellness and prevention, and it uses something that’s very important, which is a catastrophic federal account of $25 billion, a third of the cost of his health plan, which will make sure that no company, no hiring person, no individual, if they have an incident of illness that puts them beyond $50,000, either goes to the poorhouse, or so hikes premiums that corporations end up not being able to afford, and start laying people off, and putting them on poverty — you know, on hard time, with no benefits. Healthcare should not be viewed as anything more than a companion to wellness, after prevention and access. And we have to make sure that there is no waste in the system, we have to make sure that nobody, who has insurance, cannot receive the treatment that their doctors suggest, or the pills that doctors suggest, because an HMO says “sorry.” And some of us get given all kinds of tests, that sometimes we don’t need to pay off. So there’s, you know, it’s like housekeeping. There’s work to do, there’s good work to do, and if you use the partnerships of the marketplace—incentives, cost-cutting, and technology—I think we can do it.

Brokaw: Final question: I know you’re a keen student of American history. Of all the first ladies that you have studied over the years, who strikes you as the best model?

Heinz Kerry: You know, I think that—model, I don’t know. I respect, very much, Abigail Adams, because of what she was able to do under tremendously difficult circumstances, with great mind, great moral courage, and tenacity. I don’t know what the history of this country would have been without Abigail. And I have great respect for Betty Ford, for what she went through in such a short time, with so much dignity, and at a difficult time in history. And I respect what Roslyn Carter tried to do, coming from a small state, without the kinds of benefits and preparations, for instance, that I have had, of being older and having done some of my work. I think there are amazing people like Hillary, who’ve always been interested in being politicians themselves, and they’re very good at that. And there are people like Mrs. Reagan, who remind me a bit of my mom at that age, who are totally supportive of their husbands—intelligent, strong, but supportive of their husbands, and I understand that. They’re feminine and they’re strong, and I see Mrs. Reagan, I think of my mom very often.

Brokaw: Mrs. Heinz Kerry, thank you very much. Good luck in speaking.

Heinz Kerry: Thank you, thank you, thanks so much.

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