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Teresa Heinz Kerry on what her husband would have done on 9/11

Teresa Heinz Kerry speaks with Chris Matthews about her views on what her husband would have done if he were president on 9/11, why her husband wants to serve the country and the potential of being a foreign-born First Lady.
Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, listens during a discussion on health care Thursday, July 15, 2004, in Seattle. Elaine Thompson / AP

Teresa Heinz Kerry sat down with Chris Matthews about her views on what her husband would have done if he were president on 9/11, why her husband wants to serve the country, and the potential of being a foreign-born First Lady on Sunday's “Hardball with Chris Matthews” 7-8 p.m. ET.

Following are excerpts:

Heinz Kerry on what her husband would have done if he were president during 9/11

Chris Matthews, host: If it was 9/11 and your husband were president of the United States; remember how you imagined, we all saw a bit of how the President behaved. He was in a school room, there was some hesitation and then they tried to protect him and then by two or three days later he seemed to be in charge; how do you think your husband would have behaved on 9/11?

Teresa Heinz Kerry: I think the President behaved correctly in terms of being quiet amidst stunning news like that. I mean, a classroom of kids— what can you do? It takes you a couple of minutes to digest what you’ve just heard. And then, he was not in his White House with all of his people, he was in a school in Florida. I know that there are all these people always available to the President— it must’ve been terrible. I mean, I don’t know that anybody would have done what they normally do perfectly and under those circumstances. John is a soldier though, someone who has to have quick reactions, probably would have reacted a little differently, because as a Captain of his swift boat it was his job to protect his men, physically to protect them. That’s a good question— I’ve never asked him what would you do. I think he would have gone to the site immediately and if he was persuaded not to by other people or tried to, I think he would have persuaded them that he had to.

Matthews: Be more aggressive.

Heinz Kerry: He would’ve gone there immediately.

Matthews: Why do you think that he would have done that?

Heinz Kerry: I think it comes from that thing, protecting, "Have to go, have to see my men, I’ve got to see the people." But that’s how he is; now, you know, in hindsight how can you tell? I don’t blame the President for being stunned at all as we all were— almost paralyzed— on that day. But, I remember John’s feeling that I hope he goes, I hope he goes, I hope he goes—quickly.

Heinz Kerry on not knowing John Kerry that long

Matthews: Let me ask you, why does he want to be President?

Heinz Kerry: Why does he? John has always wanted to serve, from what I understand; I’ve only known him a short time, 10 years or 11. But certainly, his idea of public service is an idea that’s much broader than one would normally think. And, he believes for instance that Peace Corps volunteers are public servants.

Teresa Heinz Kerry on the potential of being a foreign-born First Lady

Matthews: Let’s talk about you for a couple of minutes, which, I find you fascinating. First of all, if you win this election, you’ll be the first lady who wasn’t born in America; what is the significance of that to you, the way you look at it?

Heinz Kerry: If I may correct you, I think the second first lady of America was not born in America. But born in England.

Matthews: Abigail Adams.

Heinz Kerry: No, not Abigail, her daughter-in-law. She was born in England.

Matthews: Oh really.

Heinz Kerry: But she was.

Matthews: John Quincy Adams, from Massachusetts.

Heinz Kerry: Yeah. She was born in England. But I’m certainly the first one from, say, South of the Equator.

Matthews: In modern times. You know, I know you grew up in Mozambique which was under Portuguese rule of course. Which was colonial. And I was in the Peace Corp at the time. I left there in 71. When did you leave that area?

Heinz Kerry: Well my parents left finally in '76 but I went away from Africa in 1960 when I went to Graduate school abroad and then I went to America in 64.

Matthews: What do you bring to the table in terms of that kind of experience that different from other first ladies.

Heinz Kerry: You know, in a world that is as globalized as it is, and I mean by that communications, travel and economies, it’s probably not a disadvantage to have lived in other countries and have other yard sticks. I certainly do and I feel comfortable with different peoples. Maybe I size up people a little differently. I’m less afraid of being with people who are different from me than some people are. And, in fact, I find it interesting. And, it is, in a sense, a surprise that in a country that bases its richness and its wealth on diversity, and the ability to live with diverse groups, that issue of someone of being slightly different or from somewhere else, shouldn’t be an issue. Our country’s full of immigrants, first, second, third, fourth generation immigrants—and here’s one more.

Heinz Kerry on intellectual curiosity in other countries

Matthews: Well, let’s flip it around, the President of the United States, whatever his strengths are, and we can argue about that as the election goes on, is certainly not a kid who grew up with a tremendous curiosity about the rest of the world, he had all of the financial and home advantage of being able to travel, see the world, go to Europe, go visit his father when he was Ambassador to China, never showed much interest in the world, as a kid growing up. In fact, right through his presidency, hadn’t really done much world travel—is that a handicap? Has it been a handicap in this war, not being familiar with the rest of the world?

Heinz Kerry: I always think that not knowing is not as good as knowing. Whatever the reasons. You know, I’m not going to blame him for not knowing, but I think he probably felt a little more comfortable in the initially in the beginning of his presidency in terms of understanding what isolationism means, and understanding what making good foreign policy means— being preemptive in peacetimes, therefore being proactive. You know, people's understanding is cumulative and certainly reflect.

Matthews: During the early course of the war when the French were vetoing our position on the war and the Germans were not in the Security Council questioning us and the Russians, there was a lot of this foreigner bashing— I thought it was stupid. Freedom Fries, things like that. What was your feeling when you heard that French Fries were now going to be called Freedom Fries? Is that a phobia, this anti-foreign attitude?

Heinz Kerry: You know, when you come from poor countries and you come from countries whose only standing is the respect with which they deal with other people, you don’t call people names. Period. And, if you further know of Mediterranean people, particularly Mediterranean men, whether they be Arabic, or Greeks, or Portuguese or Spanish, or any of them— you don’t insult or hurt the pride of these men. They can’t deal with that and that’s the way it is. If you know that, you deal with it differently. So there are a lot of little simple things, they just, humanity rules, and wisdoms of knowing, and certain things, beyond being counterproductive, are dangerous. And so, you know, the old saying is that "you don’t catch flies with vinegar," Well, you don’t. You don’t have to give them honey, but you at least have to invite them in.

And I was scared when I heard those statements about old Europe generally. You know, old Europe has a lot of things to teach us and has and we have things to teach them too. And that kind of comfort zone for knowledge and for respect is necessary if other countries are going to respect you.

Heinz Kerry on the war with Iraq

Matthews: Why do you think the rest of the world, and I was just lucky enough to be in France, and I didn’t catch a lot of on the street hostility but certainly when you read the papers, a lot of other countries in the world don’t respect our position on Iraq. There’s a sense that we went it alone, that we were cowboys about it. You must be hearing that a lot from other people. What do you think that we did wrong in terms of the way we went to war? Were we right to go to war with Iraq?

Heinz Kerry: I think before we even went to war, I think we set the whole thing on a bad premise, on a bad platform, and then adding insult to the injury, which is calling other people old or incompetent or whatever, doesn’t help make friends. And I think part of the animosity today is a respect one. How can people this powerful treat those of us who have less, but are wise, differently and arrogantly? That is offensive to these people and I understand that.

On the other hand, the issue of terrorism, the issue of danger, is very close and has been throughout time to Europeans— you know the Irish, English, the French with all of the North African problems they had, the Basques in Spain— so this is not something that’s alien to them. And they don’t generally go out and blame other people; they just deal with it.

To me, this whole terrible thing of 9/11 was America’s first loss of innocence in terms of real ugly politics that were in our own home turf-and it was awful, it was awful for the world. And what I said once in Iowa, someone in the room asked me, "Why are people abroad so mad at us?"

I tried to see how I could explain that in human terms, and I said, "Well imagine you had three or four kids and one kid is really a star, just things come naturally, whatever it is. And then they do something very foolish, that hurts them, hurts their chances, whatever it is, and you’re especially mad and especially disappointed with that child whereas if another child did that thing you’d have a talk and figure it out, right? Well it’s like that." For a lot of people in the third world, and for a lot of people who’ve never had, in the other countries, not just the third world, who’ve never had liberty, who’ve had members of the family who have died for the sake of freedom, the sake of votes... who don’t have enough health, schooling, etc— for those people, the idea of America of this possibility of America that you will never reach. The idea of it is very, very important— it’s a beacon, it’s a potential. And when you see that besmeared, when you see that diminished, far away as if may be, then you hurt, and you get mad, it’s the child you really get mad at. "How dare you do something like this when you have so much going for you and we need you to be this beacon of hope?" So I understand how people who’ve always thought of America as hope in the world and as hope as an example, how disappointed and scared they must be, scared for us, scared for us. What’s happening in our country. So I understand that.

Matthews: Do you think we should have gone to war with Iraq? After listening to all this it sounds like we’ve made more enemies than friends.

Heinz Kerry: Oh, we certainly have. I think the world’s less safe today than it was then. No questions about it. We’ve basically given scholarships to potential terrorists, to be terrorists by creating this situation—they are so angry. Now, the problem with the world is not that we created the terrorists... initially, we didn’t. But doing this doesn’t diminish it. And, as we now know, from what was said, certain things were said that were not the truth, and the Congress of the United States was led down, in my view, a path believing one thing and acting on one thing. But what I think it’s important for people to know, in my book anyways, is the motion and the bill to allow the President to go to war as a last resort was one that meant  "last resort." Particularly in the case when the President of the United States did not need that to go to war, could have gone to war anyway. People don’t realize that.

Secondly, what that did was to create a forum and the demand for diplomacy to take place. And we did, we had five months of peace, Colin Powell to the UN did some part of the war and when the war came about at the end of February, it came about as a decision over a weekend like that. And it was not because anything extraordinary that happened. So it was a war that was going to happen because that’s what they wanted to do. So what I think that those senators did and took a lot of blame for was creating a process that didn’t exist, forcing a process to take place and then hope that peace would prevail— it didn’t. So I would not have gone to war ever that way, and I know from all the soldiers that talked, and all the generals, anyone I’ve ever talked to, military people don’t like to go to war, because they know what happens. They don’t like to see the men killed and the women today and they don’t want to kill. And also, you never go to war without an exit strategy and you never go to war without the ability to tell a parent of a child that died, "I did everything I could."