updated 8/26/2004 10:37:02 AM ET 2004-08-26T14:37:02

Guests: Bob Kerrey, Bob Dole

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Tonight on SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, will the latest swift boat ad sink John Kerry‘s presidential campaign?  Bob Dole and Bob Kerrey, decorated veterans from two different generations, weigh in on the controversy, while the president condemns the ads. 


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I can‘t be more plain about it.  And I wish—I hope my opponent joins me in saying—condemning these activities of the 527s.  It‘s—I think they‘re bad for the system. 


SCARBOROUGH:  Some politicians with distinguished records of their own still want more. 

And John Kerry reprises his familiar battle cry. 


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  If he wants to have a debate about our service in Vietnam, here is my answer.  Bring it on. 


SCARBOROUGH:  Can the truth die in battle?  For how long will we refight the conflicts of the 1960s?  And what does it mean to be a war hero?  We‘re going to be asking two men who really know tonight on SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  

ANNOUNCER:  From the press room, to the courtroom, to the halls of Congress, Joe Scarborough has seen it all.  Welcome to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.


SCARBOROUGH:  I‘m now joined by former presidential candidate, majority leader and war hero, Senator Bob Dole. 

Senator, good to see you again.

BOB DOLE ®, FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Hey Joe, how are you doing?

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, doing OK.  Now 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:  Senator, let me ask you a more general question along these lines.  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 5000 or 6000 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, and I think—heck, I sent a signal.  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.  You know that, as a respected public figure, as a war hero yourself, that that statement was going to make news.  What—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 these—somebody called Vice President Cheney a coward.  They‘ve called Bush a deserter, President Bush a deserter, that he was AWOL, that he‘s condoned torture, that he‘s poisoned pregnant—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.  And I think all that—and 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, you know, “I‘m very disappointed.”

I said, “Well, John, I‘m disappointed, too, in all these, you know, undeserved attacks, attacks, personal 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‘m not—I haven‘t”—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.

And I don‘t—I don‘t know.  It‘s—and 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 like to know some of the negatives in 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 fund-raisers 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 talked about on the—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, some—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.  I

·         if you added up the value of all “The New York Times” propaganda, it would probably be $3 or $4 million.

SCARBOROUGH:  Senator, let me read you something that I know “The New York Times” is going to be reporting about tomorrow.  It‘s part of a letter that Senator Max Cleland, who was dispatched by John Kerry, has delivered to President Bush‘s ranch today, calling for him to specifically condemn the swift boat ads.

He says this: “We senators and congressmen who wore the uniforms, served in different branches of the military, and belonged to different political parties, but we joined together today to defend a fellow veteran from attacks we know to be false and politically motivated slander that has no place in our democratic process. 

“Mr. President, as commander in chief of the armed forces, we believe you owe a special duty to America‘s combat veterans when they are under false and scurrilous attacks.  We hope you will recognize this duty and speak out against this group and their efforts to smear the reputation of a man who has served his country nobly.”

Is this a P.R. tactic, or do you think there may be real substance to this request?

DOLE:  Max Cleland knows what he‘s doing.  He‘s a bright guy.  He suffered serious injuries in Vietnam, and he‘s a friend of mine. 

But this is all propaganda, and they‘ll get a big, big play on CBS, on ABC and NBC and “The New York Times” and “The L.A. Times,” all the usual suspects.  And then they‘ll talk about all the media bias in favor of Republicans, the fear and the smear campaign.

If Max wants to be honest and truthful about it, let‘s include all these other organizations: MoveOn.org, the Media Group and the other group you mentioned earlier.  Then I‘d say, “Max, you‘re right.  Let‘s stop all the 527s.”

But this is total—total politics, going after Bush because they know they‘re going to get a good ride from “The New York Times” and the liberal media.

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, John Kerry‘s obviously talking about how he wants to talk about the future, how he doesn‘t think we should be focusing on what happened 30, 35 years ago.  But a lot of Republicans are saying that he brought this on himself by making his—his service in Vietnam the focal point of his campaign.

Do you agree with them?

DOLE:  You know, when you write a book and call it “Line of Duty,” not “My Work in the Senate” or anything, but it‘s all about Vietnam, all about John Kerry and all about his heroism. 

And then you go to the convention and his hands up and he salutes America, it‘s all about Vietnam.  I think there were 73 words in his acceptance speech about his work in the Senate.  And he‘s been there 20 years.

And so he doesn‘t want to talk—he doesn‘t have anything to talk about except Vietnam.  He can‘t—he can‘t discuss what he did in the Senate, except voting to raise taxes, 50-cent gasoline tax, voting to cut intelligence, voting to cut defense spending.  And it‘s not something voters want to hear, in either party, and independents.

So he‘s going to stick to this “I‘m the big, big, big Vietnam veteran, and I did all these things.  And all these other guys are a bunch of liars.  And if you don‘t believe it, we‘ll get ‘The New York Times,‘ the ‘Washington Post‘ to prove it.  And they‘ll go after them and, you know, sully their character and everything else.”


SCARBOROUGH:  Now, when we return, I am going to continue talking to Bob Dole about John Kerry‘s war record and his record in the Senate.  And later, former Senator and decorated war veteran Bob Kerrey weighs in.  You are not going to want to miss that.  I will guarantee you. 

Much more SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY straight ahead, so don‘t go away.


SCARBOROUGH:  We‘re talking about John Kerry and the swift boat controversy with former Senator Bob Dole.  More of that interview and also an interview with Bob Kerrey when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns.


SCARBOROUGH:  Now, in the last segment, Bob Dole was talking about media bias.  He has concerns about it, just like I do.  And, of course, I said that nobody had written about 527s.

But, actually, Jim Rutenberg wrote a great article in “The New York Times” this morning about 527s and how they are being used improperly by both sides.  It was great reporting.  And it‘s not the first time that Rutenberg has actually turned his attention on the Democrats, as well as the Republicans.  You may want to check that out online tonight. 

Now back to Bob Dole.  He and John Kerry served together in the Senate for more than a decade.  I asked him for the view from the other side of the isle and asked him what John Kerry was really like in the Senate. 


DOLE:  He‘s a decent guy.  We got along fine, never had a—I can‘t remember any time I ever got up and had a big argument with John Kerry over something.  But he was—you know, he was one of the—one of the so-called club, this 100-member club we have in the Senate.

But I don‘t remember, and I‘m trying to be very honest, any major legislation that had Kerry‘s name on it, you know, that he was the real leader of it.  He may have been a co-sponsor, but the—the guy that led the effort.  But if he‘s got something that I‘ve missed, he can certainly talk about it.

But he supported the Sandinistas when President Reagan wanted to give these people freedom and democracy instead of communism.  He was on the wrong side.  He was on the wrong side of intelligence cuts and defense cuts.  You know, he believes in this philosophy, and so that‘s, you know—we‘re going to—it‘s going to be a close race.  The American people are pretty well evenly split.

But I would say, again, as a friend of John Kerry, and we‘ll be friends when this is over, you know, John, stop talking about what a great veteran you were.  There are 25 million of us still around, and every one of them and a lot of their families and others that provided a lot of service to America. 

And don‘t berate your fellow veterans as you did when you came back in 1971 and testified before the Senate about baby-killers and war crimes and murders and all these things that you heard were happening.  You didn‘t have any evidence but you went up there and stated it, which I thought was a big, big mistake.

SCARBOROUGH:  Would it make a difference and these other veterans that have been so offended by what he said when he came back from Vietnam if John Kerry stepped forward and apologized for it and said, what I did was wrong, I was over the top, I was irresponsible and it was just passing it off as a youthful discretion?

DOLE:  I‘m not sure I want to give John Kerry advice, but he and John McCain are good friends.  What he should do is listen to John McCain.  I think he wanted John McCain to be his running mate.  And John McCain said all these ads ought to go off, all the ads, not the Max Cleland approach, but all of these ads ought to go off.

And I think McCain is exactly right.  And here‘s the difference between I guess two heroes.  You‘ve never heard John McCain running around talking about all of his heroic exploits.  I think the American people admire the quiet heroes of all these different conflicts.  And I think it pays to not talk about yourself so much.

SCARBOROUGH:  You talk about quiet heroes.  I‘m struck, obviously as you know, I‘m from northwest Florida.  We‘ve got, I think, more military retirees and vets down here in my district—former district than anywhere else.  A lot of war heroes from Vietnam, from World War II, from Korea, what I‘m struck with is two things about these men. 

First of all, they never calls themselves heroes.  Secondly, they don‘t like to talk about it.  We saw that in “Band of Brothers.” If you read “Band of Brothers”, these guys never talk about themselves as heroes, never.  And I know a lot of your friends that were war heroes don‘t talk about it.  Is that part of the problem too, that‘s offending a lot of these vets and war heroes?

DOLE:  Well, let‘s take a good Democratic friend of mine, Bob Kerrey.  You don‘t hear Bob Kerrey—he‘s a Medal of Honor winner, you don‘t hear Bob Kerrey around patting himself on the back.  Dan Inouye, we served in Italy together.  We were wounded a week apart, a hill apart.  We were in the hospital together for a couple of years.  You don‘t hear Dan Inouye running around talking about all of his exploits, he doesn‘t have to.

I mean, and John Kerry ought to be proud of his record.  I‘ve never questioned his Silver Star, never questioned his Purple Heart.  I‘ve tweaked him a little on the Purple Hearts because he never spent one day in the hospital.  He doesn‘t draw one dime in disabilities so they weren‘t disabling injuries at all. 

But I think we look—we‘ve got examples in both parties of men and women who have been heroes and you‘d never know it because they don‘t talk about it.  They don‘t try to confront you every day with what—I did this and I did this and I‘ve served my nation da-da-da.

You know, the National Guard is an honorable place to serve and President Bush served in the National Guard as have millions of other men and women in America.

SCARBOROUGH:  But Senator, both sides are saying that the facts are supporting their story.  For instance, in his biography, “Tour of Duty”, this is what Doug Brinkley writes: “Just as they moved out to Cua Lon at a junction known for unfriendliness in the past, kaboom, PCF 94 had taken a rocket-propelled grenade round off the port side.  Fired at them from the far left bank, Kerry felt a piece of hot shrapnel bore into his left leg.  With blood running down the deck, the swift boat managed to make an otherwise uneventful exit into the Gulf of Thailand.”

Do you believe that Doug Brinkley got it wrong on that particular Purple Heart?

DOLE:  I don‘t know.  I mean, I‘ve got to stay out of all those little specifics.  I think Doug Brinkley ought to release all the logs.  I think Kerry ought to say, you know, I‘ve got this contract but I want to get this issue behind us and I‘m going to release all the logs. 

But more importantly what he needs to do is to stop defaming President Bush and call off the Wesley Clarks and the Stansfield Turners and the Al Gores and all of the others and pull all of those negative ads try to convince the swift boat guys to pull their ads. 

They don‘t have to pull their ads.  President Bush can‘t force them to do anything.  We live in America.  This is a free country.  You have First Amendment rights.  So if I—again, I don‘t want to get Senator Kerry any advice, he wouldn‘t take it anyway. 

But I didn‘t defend a couple of times in the primary, which he appreciated when he was being attacked by Wesley Clark for no experience.  I told General Clark I thought that Kerry had quite a bit of experience. 

So I hope—I think Kerry is a lucky guy.  You know why, because the Republican Convention starts Sunday and it will be another story all next week.  And this story will be off the front page.

SCARBOROUGH:  Senator, there are some Democrats and some editorial writers that are claiming that the White House put you up to going out and talking and criticizing John Kerry, that you‘re nothing more than a pawn of Karl Rove in his mad scheme to win re-election. 

Have you gotten a call from Karl Rove or the president asking you to go out and attack John Kerry?

DOLE:  No, you know, I think people that know me know that I don‘t take orders very well anyway.


DOLE:  But no, I didn‘t call anybody, I didn‘t say, what should I say?  Should I do this?  Da-da-da.  This is all—this is not the truth.  Wolf Blitzer will tell you how I got there.  He kept bugging me and I finally showed up. 

They even have a little conference that you can call in a certain number on a Sunday morning if you‘re going on a talk show, the campaign, to get the message.  I didn‘t call that number.  I didn‘t—I don‘t know, I haven‘t seen President Bush in six months and I haven‘t talked to Karl Rove in, I don‘t know, maybe a year.

SCARBOROUGH:  Senator, how do you—we‘ve got the Republican Convention coming up.  What do you think President Bush needs to do as he moves forward throughout the fall to win reelection and to avoid the pitfalls that his father ran into as he was attempting to run for reelection?

DOLE:  I‘m probably a poor guy to give advice since I lost.  But you‘ve got to stay on your message.  You‘ve got to be steadfast in your leadership in Iraq and Afghanistan.  There can‘t be any pulling back.  You can‘t—you know, John Kerry is a great example there where he voted for the war and then against the money to fund the war.  I mean, that‘s—talk about a double-take. 

But I think President Bush—people are beginning to see—in this instance it happened in Russia with these two planes disappearing or crashing, one-two minutes apart.  That‘s going to play into that strength of President Bush because people are going to be reminded again that terrorism is global.  It can strike anywhere and the process—in this case, 100 innocent people were killed.

SCARBOROUGH:  Senator, do you think—let me ask you just one more question, do you think that these ads could possibly backfire on the president, these swift boat ads?  Or do you think that this is really something that Americans are interested in and want to focus on in the coming months?

DOLE:  I think right now they‘re hurting Kerry or he wouldn‘t have “The New York Times” and all the liberal media out trying to go after the other guys and find little inaccuracies and all this stuff.  And that‘s fine, that‘s what reporters ought to do.  But they ought to check both sides, not just that side. 

If there is ever any tie between Bush and this group, I would say, yes, that probably would backfire.  But there isn‘t any tie.  These people have only spent a couple of million dollars.  You talk about having an impact for a little amount of money.  The other side has spent $65 million to $70 million smearing President Bush. 

And I don‘t think these swift boat guys are going to go away.  I don‘t know their party affiliation.  John O‘Neill said he voted for Hubert Humphrey, who‘s sort of leading the effort.  So I think most Americans think, I don‘t agree with you at all, you‘re a terrible guy, da-da-da, but you have a right to speak and I‘ll defend your right to speak in the United States of America.

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Senator Bob Dole, we‘ll leave it there. 

Thanks so much for being with us.  We greatly appreciate it.


SCARBOROUGH:  Now, we just talked to one presidential candidate, former presidential candidate, and war hero named Bob.  We‘ve got another one coming up, a senator, a war hero.  We‘re going to be talking to Bob Kerrey about the John Kerry that he knew in the Senate and also about the swift vet ads that could threaten his campaign.

That‘s straight ahead.  You‘re not going to want to miss it.  It‘s a fascinating interview. 

We‘ll see you in a second.


SCARBOROUGH:  Vietnam War hero Bob Kerrey talks about his friend and former Senate colleague John Kerry when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns. 

But, first, let‘s get the latest headlines from the MSNBC News Desk. 


ANNOUNCER:  From the press room, to the courtroom, to the halls of Congress, Joe Scarborough has seen it all.  Welcome back to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.


SCARBOROUGH:  For 12 years, our next guest served in the Senate with John Kerry.  And like Kerry, he saw combat in Vietnam.  Bob Kerrey earned a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and the Congressional Medal of Honor for his service there. 

Senator, thanks a lot being with us.  It‘s a great honor to have you here tonight.

BOB KERREY (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR:  Thanks.  Nice to be with you, Joe.  I like your show. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Thank you. 

I want to start with some news that was made over the weekend, before we talk about the swift boat controversy.  You have Pat Roberts, the head of the Intelligence Committee, talking about abolishing the CIA, doing away with the CIA as we know it.  You obviously served on the 9/11 panel.  Do you support that or do you think it‘s a move in the wrong direction? 

KERREY:  Well, I think the boldness of it is in the right direction.  I haven‘t seen the details.  I talked to Senator Roberts on Monday.  And he is going to ship up it to me.  But I haven‘t had a chance to read it yet. 

But I‘m going to read it carefully before I say anything—certainly say anything negative about it.  I don‘t actually see it as abolishing the CIA, as so much as it is trying to recreate an agency based not just upon threats today, but based upon the technology.  In a very real way, the model of a central intelligence agency is not what we need today.  We have really a decentralized intelligence agency with a relatively small group of people in charge that have authority over budget and personnel.  That‘s really what the 9/11 Commission itself is proposing. 

I do think that Congress needs to not just examine our recommendations, but examine very carefully what it is that they‘re doing.  And, Joe, at the top of my list is, I think that the congressional oversight committees need to be restructured.  And not a lot of talk is being given to it.  But the committees under congressional resolutions are too weak. 

I favor a joint committee, House and Senate, written in statute, with the authority to give full and complete accounting, a requirement to fully produce a declassified report every year, describing the condition of the Intelligence Committee.  And I favor it to be specified that it is going to be nine people, House and Senate, with a member of the Foreign Relations, Armed Services, Defense, Appropriations, and Judiciary Committee.

I think you will get senior people on it.  I think you will get much better oversight because it‘s a much more powerful committee.  Congressional oversight is weak not because of its members, but because coming out of a congressional resolution it just doesn‘t have the power that this committee needs to have. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, Senator, the 9/11 Commission report was a fascinating read.  I‘ve never read a government document like that.  And Congress did take a pretty hard hit in there.  I‘m surprised the media hasn‘t keyed on that aspect of your work any more than that.

But let me ask you this.  Going into an election year, when the war on terror is a central issue, would you feel comfortable tonight assessing blame between, say, George W. Bush‘s administration and Bill Clinton‘s administration for 9/11?  Because that really is—as people go to the voting booths, that‘s one of the things they‘re going to be looking at.  Was George Bush and this administration asleep at the switch on September 11? 

KERREY:  I would not feel comfortable making that kind of a declaratory. 

My own feeling, Joe, is that we‘re better off if everybody involved in this the last 10 or 11 years would join hands and have a press conference and say, we were all a little bit at fault.  That‘s what the commission concluded.  There were a series of mistakes made over the last 10 years, beginning with a failure to recognize that this was a real strategic threat, and Osama bin Laden had declared war on us, and we simply weren‘t deploying the resources and taking it nearly as seriously as we should have, from President Clinton all the way through President Bush. 

And, unfortunately, it took 9/11 for the American people to respond.  Thank God we have.  And I think we have substantially reduced the threat of the consequence in particular of finally taking up a sanctuary in Afghanistan. 

SCARBOROUGH:  These are critical issues.  Obviously, though, that‘s not the issue that people are talking about right now as we go into the fall campaign.  I want you to take a look at part of the latest swift boat ad and then I want to get your response. 


JOHN KERRY, VIETNAM VETERAN:  They had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The accusations that John Kerry made against the veterans who served in Vietnam was just devastating. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  John Kerry gave the enemy for free what I and many of comrades in North Vietnam in the prison camps took torture to avoid saying.  It demoralized us.  He dishonored his country and more importantly the people he served with.  He just sold them out.


SCARBOROUGH:  Senator, you‘re a highly decorated Vietnam vet.  What do you think when you see these decorated vets attacking a decorated vet like John Kerry? 

KERREY:  Well, Joe, it makes me very sad when I see an ad like that. 

Look, first of all, the ad misrepresents what John said at the hearing.  It leaves out that he‘s describing some statements that were made at an unfortunate hearing in Detroit, Michigan.  And John said—you know, he was a young man.  He came back and he said some things that he in some ways regrets. 

But the problem here is that it reopens the Vietnam War.  This is not just another issue.  This was the most unpopular war in the 20th century.  We finished second.  We lost it.  It‘s not fair or accurate to say that John Kerry produced that loss.  The loss was produced by political leaders from Lyndon Johnson to Richard Nixon. 

And when I hear Bob Dole say that John needs to apologize to veterans, look, John‘s not asking for the political leaders of that era to apologize to veterans.  He‘s got a right to.  He met with President Nixon and forgave him.  He led the—along with John McCain, the POW/MIA Commission that required us to come to terms with our worst foreign policy mistake and enabled in fact us to establish a road map, with the first President Bush‘s help, that allowed us to normalize relations with Vietnam and achieve a great foreign policy victory. 

I know how badly people felt about that.  I heard people say to John McCain and John Kerry, you‘re traitors.  You have betrayed us.  People are dying over there because you have sold out these prisoners that are there in Hanoi.  They weren‘t there.  And the only way we could get a full accounting, an honest, full accounting was to normalize.  And it was a terrible political issue.  I‘m sure you remember it from the 1990s, how hard it was. 

John McCain and John Kerry took a lot of lumps.  But we achieved a victory because we are the United States of America.  We get over our hatred.  We get over our bad feelings.  And we try to do the right thing.  And that is exactly what we did.  And to reopen this whole damn thing now is a very bad thing to be doing. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, Senator, you know, there‘s still a lot of hatred out there, and it seems like it all goes back—you know, because I bring on some of these guys, some of these swift boat vets.  And I say, are you more angry with what John Kerry did in war, where they‘re claiming he exaggerated and lied to get his medals, or what happened when he came back home, testified in 1971?

Almost to a man, they all say it‘s what happened when he came home.  Do you think John Kerry should apologize?  Do you think he has any reason to apologize to these people? 



Look, if apology is going to be given, it should be the policy-makers and the senior military officers in the late ‘60s and the early 1970s who screwed this thing up.  The Republican Convention, the Democratic Convention in ‘68 called for expeditious withdrawal from Vietnam.  When Johnson said he wasn‘t going to run for reelection, that war was over.  And we continued to fight it for another five years. 

If there is an apology that‘s going to come, it ought to come from the senior people who were responsible for the damn war in the first place.  But John Kerry is saying, I‘m not going to ask for an apology from Richard Nixon or for others.  We have got to get over that.  We got to figure a way to forgive one another and get on to the business of trying to make this a better world.  That is exactly what he and John McCain did. 

I mean, I know that a lot of these guys are angry with what he and John McCain did to try to deal with this POW/MIA issue and to create a road map to normalization.  I‘ve heard that anger.  I‘ve been in its presence.  You have got to get over it if you‘re going to create the kind of foreign policy—hate doesn‘t lead you anywhere. 

I don‘t care if it‘s hating John Kerry or hating George Bush.  Bad thing to do, but on Vietnam especially.  Joe, we have got an unpopular war going on right now.  What does it say to our young men and women?  You better be careful not to go fight in the doggone war because you could find yourself suffering politically as a consequence of having served.  It‘s not a good thing to be doing.  This is not another political issue. 

And we need to just cool this thing down.  I hope—I wish the president would say to Perry and these other guys that are putting their money in, put your money into some other 527.  I don‘t mind you sliming John Kerry, because the nonprofit—the guys that are on the 527 on the other side are sliming the hell out of me every single day, but don‘t do Vietnam.  It is going to take us where this nation doesn‘t need to go. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I obviously talked to Bob Dole earlier.  And Senator Dole talked about how he had given John Kerry a call several months back, saying, quit talking about your military service.  Quit talking about how you‘re a hero.  Quit making it the centerpiece of your campaign. 

And Senator Dole talked about, what I‘ve noticed in veterans from war heroes, especially—and I‘ll be quite honest with you.  I remember reading a “New Republic” cover story when you were running for president talking about the quiet dignity, the way you carried yourself, how you didn‘t like talking about the war much, that you had to peel away, and in fact how your political advisers wanted you to talk more about the war because they thought it would help you. 

You didn‘t do that.  Senator Kerry, though, has made Vietnam the centerpiece of his convention and his campaign.  Has there been anything that he‘s done in that that‘s given you pause, that made you think, you know what, maybe John shouldn‘t be out there quite so much talking about his war hero status, talking about his service in Vietnam? 

KERREY:  Yes, there was in the beginning. 

But the thing that I‘ve come to see with John, he‘s sincere about this.  He‘s not doing it for political advantage.  His Vietnam service and his tour of duties with his band of brothers was enormously important.  This is not the first time.  Indeed, many of the people that are now criticizing John were up in ‘96 when he was being attacked defending him. 

So his military service is enormously important.  He‘s for real when he says we got to take care of our veterans and we got to provide the kind of support if you‘re going to start a war.  You know, that‘s why—he didn‘t—he‘s gotten in trouble with Democrats because he‘s been unwilling to say that, I would have voted differently based upon knowing things, know things—what I know today on the Iraq war.  You can say that he‘s trimmed a bit on that, but he hasn‘t altered. 

In fact, he said we ought to ramp up the commitment that we‘re making, not to popular thing to be saying in a Democratic Party when 90 percent of the people say that we shouldn‘t be in that Iraq war.  And that comes from the Vietnam experience and saying we‘ve got to finish what we start.  So it‘s sincere.  It‘s legitimate.  Would I have done it?  No, I wouldn‘t have done it.

I was uncomfortable with it.  But, you know, everybody is a little different.  For John, it was a defining moment of his life.  It was enormously important for him.  He got a lot out of it.  And, by the way, it carried him and John McCain to be able to go through the hell they went to get this normalization done over a seven or eight-year period.  It was an enormously important victory. 

In fact, John Kerry continues to in the United States Senate work on the war crimes trials in Cambodia, as a consequence of knowing that the job really has to be completed.  So it‘s a sincere effort on his part.  It carries him I think into good policy conclusions, not bad policy conclusions.  He‘s gotten over Vietnam.  He‘s not angry and bitter any longer.  He‘s not all tied up in knots.  He got over Vietnam as a consequence of a lot of things that happened in the 1990s.  And so I think it‘s important for him to talk about it. 


SCARBOROUGH:  More of my fascinating conversation with a great man, former Senator Bob Kerrey.  You‘ve got to hear what he has to say about the day he forgave Richard Nixon.

That and much more coming up next.

ANNOUNCER:  You‘re watching SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  Now here‘s some Hotwire travel trivia.  How many lakes are actually in Minnesota, known as at land of 10,000 lakes?  Stay tuned for the answer.


ANNOUNCER:  You‘re watching SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  And in today‘s Hotwire travel trivia, we asked you, how many lakes are actually in Minnesota, known as at land of 10,000 lakes?  Give up?  The answer is 11,842. 

Now here‘s Joe. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Good Hotwire travel trivia quiz. 

Welcome back to the land of 10,000 pickup trucks.  I‘m Joe Scarborough. 

Now, we also have the fastest runner in the world in Pensacola, Florida, too. 

Anyway, last night, I talked to Tom Oliphant, who covered John Kerry since the 1970s.  And he said he thinks the Democratic nominee should start using the swift boat ads to his advantage. 

Now, I asked former senator and Vietnam vet Bob Kerrey if he thought this swift vet controversy could actually backfire on the Bush administration.  And this was what he said. 


KERREY:  I don‘t know. 

This is one of those issues, Joe, where the problem isn‘t, is it going to help or hurt one of these guys?  The problem is, it is going to hurt the United States.  Our foreign policy was tied up in knots as a consequence of the Vietnam syndrome.  We don‘t want to go back to those days.  We don‘t want bitterness and anger and hate to dominate our foreign policy. 

We just don‘t want it.  We‘re on a different mission now.  We‘re on a different sense of purpose now.  We need that unity of purpose that we had after 9/11 that we used to great advantage.  And it‘s not just in foreign policy, but it‘s in other areas as well.  But we do not—I‘m much more worried about the damage this could do to the United States of America‘s foreign policy than I am about the political damage it could do to John Kerry or George Bush. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, you know better than almost anybody that bad things happen in war.  I want to read something that you wrote about your experience in Vietnam:  “We returned a tremendous barrage of fire.  I saw women and children in front of us being hit and cut to pieces.  I heard their cries and other voices as we made our retreat into the canal.”

Have you gotten over Vietnam?  How difficult is it for John Kerry to get over what he saw in Vietnam?  How tough is it for all of these guys that have come back out, these swift boat vet ads that they have put out, how difficult—do you think maybe some of these guys still haven‘t gotten over Vietnam and that‘s why they‘re fighting John Kerry right now? 

KERREY:  Oh, I don‘t think—in my case, you never get over it.  I mean, I‘ll carry it to my grave. 

So, you know, I have said before, in some ways, killing for your country is a lot harder than dying for it.  So, yes, my guess is all those guys have some wonderful memories, some good memories, some joyful memories, but some really bad memories that they carry with them all the way.  That‘s why, to me, if you‘re going to blame somebody, if you want to ask an apology from somebody, ask the politicians who were in charge of the darn thing. 

But even that doesn‘t take you anywhere.  Even if you carry it with you and you feel sad and terrible, you‘ve still got to—you‘ve got to try to do something with it.  You‘ve got to try to turn it into something good, because, if you can‘t, all you do is destroy yourself. 

I remember the moment I forgave Richard Nixon in 1987.  He didn‘t know I hated him.  He didn‘t know I was mad at him.  The relief came to me, not to him.  I was the one that was helped by my forgiveness of him, not the other way around.  And you‘ve got to recognize that.  Otherwise, these things can just tear you up, eat you up, and ruin your life. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, that‘s remarkable advice, not only for war veterans, but for everybody out there that‘s listening. 

I want to ask you a final question.  It‘s a political question.  It‘s a question regarding strategy.  What do you think John Kerry and his campaign should do to put this behind them?  Do you think they should put out these swift boat vets who were on the boat with him and who support him or do you think they should just continue laying low on this issue? 

KERREY:  Well, look, I think you‘ve got to—I think you‘ve got to recognize the—John has got to recognize the common bond that he‘s got with George Bush. 

I haven‘t seen “Fahrenheit 9/11.”  And I don‘t intend to.  But from what I heard about it, it‘s dishonest.  Maybe Democrats say this is wonderful because it‘s dishonest about George Bush and it‘s making him look bad.  But it‘s dishonest.  And so if it‘s dishonest, if we‘re going to be criticizing a dishonest television ad against John Kerry, we have got to do the same thing against an ad that is criticizing George Bush. 

You‘ve to do it, because you may not be able to stop it by the way.  It may still go on because the law allows it to do that.  But you‘ve got to create some unity of purpose even when you‘re disagreeing.  George Bush and John Kerry disagree on issues.  They have got a different vision for America, a different plan for America.  Let them debate that.  They are going to have a difficult time unless both of them are able to see that, in certain ways, they‘re both suffering the consequence of these kinds of tactics. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, Senator Bob Kerrey, thanks so much for being with us. 

And I‘ll tell you what, seriously, it‘s a great honor to have you here, not only because of the service you gave to this country in war, but just as importantly because of the service and the statesmanship that you showed in peacetime in the United States Senate.  We greatly appreciate you being here tonight. 

KERREY:  Thanks, Joe.  Keep your sense of humor.  I like your show. 


SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Thanks a lot.  I will. 



SCARBOROUGH:  And we‘ll be right back with more SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY straight ahead.


SCARBOROUGH:  Tomorrow night in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, we are going to be talking to somebody that worked on the Bush campaign until the Bush campaign found out he was in the swift boat ad.  He got canned.  And we‘ve got him tomorrow night in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY. 

But we will be back tonight in just a minute.


SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, late-breaking news. 

I was just told by Leah (ph) that “The L.A. Times” just put out a new poll that has George Bush up 49 to 46 percent.  The headline of that poll is that the swift boat vet ad actually is hurting John Kerry.  But you know what?  Three points is within the margin of error.  That means still a very, very close race.  It‘s deadlocked. 

Now, by the way, you can get a transcript of tonight‘s interviews with Bob Dole and Bob Kerrey from the front page of MSNBC.com.  And you can get our newsletter by going to Joe.MSNBC.com.  I will give you a daily update on what‘s going on in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY and in your hometown. 

We will see you tomorrow night on SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.


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