Former U.S. Senator Bob Dole spoke with MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough about John Kerry’s war record and the swift boat veterans ad controversy, in an interview scheduled to air on tonight’s “Scarborough Country” 10-11 p.m. ET.
Dole tells Scarborough that Senator Kerry called Senator Dole after his statements on Sunday to tell him he was “disappointed.” Dole also says that he thinks Kerry should stop talking about what a “great veteran” he was, that he thinks the American people admire the “quiet heroes” and it pays to “not talk about yourself so much.”
Following is a partial transcript from tonight’s interview, which will telecast in its entirety on tonight on MSNBC.
JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST: I want to ask, you’ve been through one of these presidential campaigns. You know what it’s like on the campaign trail. Are you surprised, as a guy who is a war hero, that John Kerry’s war record is playing such a central role in this presidential campaign this year?
DOLE: Well, I am a little surprised because I remember in ‘96, of course, Clinton didn’t have a record and the liberal media didn’t want to say much about my record. So it never really became—you know… I guess “The New York Times” may have said I was a veteran, that’s about as far as they went.
So this time you’ve got a candidate named John Kerry who had a good record in Vietnam, came back from the service, denounced the war, in effect, trashed the Americans who were still fighting there. Went before a Senate committee in April of 1971, threw away his ribbons or his medals or whatever and now is standing before the American people and saying you’ve got to elect me because I’m this Vietnam hero.
And it’s kind of hard to reconcile all of these things. So it does sort of bring up focus that I don’t think we’ve had in the past.
SCARBOROUGH: Do you think it’s important for a president to have a war record or to be a veteran?
DOLE: I don’t know. I was asked that in ‘96. You know, I said, “Well, I think I learned a lot obviously being in the service.” I think if I’m John Kerry, I’m proud of my service. Some days he’s proud, other days he’s denouncing his service. But I was proud of my service. I thought people were proud of my service.
But it’s a very fine line you walk when you’re standing before a crowd of 5,000 or 6,000 people to make a speech because out in that audience, there are going to be a lot of men and women and mother, father, whatever, who make not have served or may not know much about service in World War II, Korea, Vietnam.
And so you don’t want to go out there and say, you know: “Vote for me. I did this, this, this, this, this. I got all these medals. I got all these Purple Hearts.”
I think you can do it in a different way, John Kerry’s a friend of mine. I sent a signal about two or three months ago on television, “John, back off. You know, cool it. Don’t make the Vietnam War the centerpiece of your campaign.”
But he’s got a problem, because he spent 20 years in the Senate and doesn’t have much to show for it.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, you sent a signal a few months back, and then, of course, a couple days ago you had this to say about John Kerry. Let me read the quote:
“Three Purple Hearts and never bled, that I know of. They’re such superficial wounds. Three Purple Hearts and you’re out. I think Senator Kerry needs to talk about his Senate record, which is pretty thin. That’s probably why he’s talking bout his war record, which is pretty confused.”
Obviously, that’s a very strong statement. As a respected public figure, as a war hero yourself, that that statement was going to make news. What compelled you to make it?
DOLE: I don’t know. I’m not out trying to stir up a lot of trouble.
Wolf Blitzer is a friend of mine on CNN. He’d asked me three weeks in a row to come on the program. I ducked him. I finally said, “OK, I’ll go.” I knew what he wanted to ask me.
But this is after we’d had somebody called Vice President Cheney a coward. They’ve called Bush “a deserter” that he was AWOL, that he’s condoned torture, that he’s condoned poisoning of pregnant women. I mean, all these nasty, nasty, over-the-top attacks.
And they spent $65 million trying to defame President Bush. I told John Kerry on the telephone the next day. I said, “John, President Bush is my guy. And when I see all the people dumping on him, and all the misstatements and—and untruths, it kind of riles me up a little.” So maybe I expressed that on Sunday.
SCARBOROUGH: So you spoke with John Kerry. Did he call you, or did you call him?
DOLE: He called me the next day and said “I’m very disappointed.”
I said, “Well, John, I’m disappointed, too, in all these undeserved attacks on President Bush. If you want to question Dick Cheney’s deferment, that’s fine. If you want to question the National Guard, that’s fine. But John, these other guys, these swift boat veterans are a lot of them that have a different view of what happened than you have, and they have a right to speak. We live in the United States of America. It’s a free country. You may not like what they say, but they have a right to say it.”
SCARBOROUGH: And what did Senator Kerry say to you in response?
DOLE: He said, “I haven’t spent one dime in my campaign on a negative ad.”
Well, he doesn’t have to. He’s got George Soros, who put in $15 million. He’s got Harold Ickes up there cranking out millions of dollars of ads. He’s got his former campaign manager in Boston in another group called Bringing America Together.
President Bush to his credit, and I wish John Kerry would follow suit, said, “Let’s stop all these so-called 527 ads, all these soft money ads that have been so critical. Let’s talk about the issues.”
And the American people, they like to know that you’re a veteran, or not a veteran—you know, they actually don’t like some of the negatives and all this. But they also like to know what’s going to happen next year, not what happened 30 or 35 years ago.
SCARBOROUGH: You know, Senator, we’ve been talking for the past week now about the fact that Harold Ickes was holed up in the Four Seasons in Boston with Democratic fundraisers and John Kerry’s top contributors for an entire week during the Democratic National Convention.
And yet, nobody wrote about his 527 ad and the $20 million that he raised for ACT. Nobody talked about the fact that John Kerry’s former campaign manager is running this Media Fund, which also is spending millions and millions of dollars.
You ran for president. It’s easy for me to talk about media bias, but did you see media bias in 1996? And if so, how widespread is it?
DOLE: It’s widespread. I mean, you look at the number of stories written about or on the three big networks at night and “The New York Times,” “The L.A. Times,” “The Washington Post,” all the big newspapers. How many dozens of stories they’ve reported about George Bush and the National Guard, and now they had to rush to the defense of John Kerry.
“The New York Times” last Friday had a front-page story, trying to discredit all these other Vietnam veterans, some who’ve been wounded seriously, all of whom served honorably. And many were decorated. And they’re cast as a bunch of liars or paid off by the Bush people. And that’s the kind of coverage you would get from the so-called mainstream media.
President Bush is going to go out and rebut this, for the most part, with paid advertising. He doesn’t have “The New York Times” every day. if you added up the value of all “The New York Times” propaganda, it would probably be $3 or $4 million.
Watch the full interview on 'Scarborough Country,' Wednesday, 10 p.m. ET.