John Kerry: The Rolling Stone Interview

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Why has environmental policy disappeared from the radar this election cycle?

I don't think it has.

But why do we hear so little about it?

Well, you have Iraq blowing up on the front pages of newspapers every day. But every speech I make, wherever I go, I talk about energy independence. I've talked about energy independence every single day of this campaign.

Will you communicate to the American people the size of the crisis we face?

I'm doing it in the course of this campaign. I'm already talking about it – and I will as president. Look: I'm a person who has always believed that you tell people the truth and they'll make reasonable decisions. Truth is powerful.

This administration disrespects the truth, because they have a different credo. The truth unfortunately works against their interests, because their interests are in keeping power and in making money. And so they feed the drug industry, and they feed the oil industry, and they feed the big power companies.

And that's the difference between us. I'm fighting for the middle class – he's fighting for a tax cut for people who earn more than $200,000 a year. He won't raise the minimum wage – I'm going to raise the minimum wage. He won't give people extended unemployment benefits – I will. He cut job training – I'm going to restore job training. He's made it more expensive for kids to go to college – I'm going to raise the Pell grants and the Perkins loans. He gave the drug industry a windfall profit of $139 billion – while he was shutting down the ability of people to bring drugs in from Canada and shutting down Medicare's ability to negotiate a lower price for drugs. That's wrong – morally and economically.

People say this is the most important election of our lifetime – do you agree?

I believe it is. And I want your readers to stop in their tracks and consider what's at stake for them. Because not enough people connect the things they hate, or feel or want, to the power of their vote. And they've got to be willing to go out and work in these next couple of weeks.

How do you yourself feel? What burden does it place on you?

You know, I've been in public life all my life – with one brief exception, when I was a lawyer and started a small business. I accept the weight, but I don't feel it. I've lived out so much frustration over the last few years that this is a liberating experience for me. I feel excited by it. I feel energized by it. I welcome it. And I just want other people to understand what's at stake here.

I mean, the next president may appoint three of four justices to the Supreme Court. The rights of Americans may be affected for the rest of our lives by what happens on November 2nd: whether or not we're going to have equal opportunity; whether we fight against discrimination; whether we're going to have equal pay for women; whether we protect women's right to choose; whether we're going to have a country in which people can grow up and live out the full measure of citizenship.

Why do you think you'd be a good president?

Because I'm a good executive, I'm a good leader, and I know what we have to do. I'm tough, I'm strong, I'm decisive. I know exactly what this country needs to do to move forward. All my life I've never shied away from standing up and telling people what I think, and what I think is true – and I've taken the consequences of it. I'm even hearing about what I said in 1971.

What have you learned about yourself in this campaign?

That the intrusiveness is greater than I thought it would be. And there are parts of me that dislike that more than I thought I would, but it's something I have to put up with in order to achieve what I want to get done. I always knew that I was tough enough to do it; I always knew there'd be tough moments and I'd be tested – because everybody is tested on the road to the presidency. But I think the intensity of it is greater than I could imagine. It is, actually, beyond description. you have to experience it to know what that is.

How did you feel when you first saw those Swift-boat ads?

Disappointed – a sense of bitter disappointment. That people will stoop to those depths of lying – for their personal reasons.

Did you get angry at Bush personally?

Look, I know politics is tough, and I don't spend a lot of time worrying about what they do to me. But I do worry, and I am angry, about what they do to the American people. That's what this race is about. It's not about me. I can take it – I don't care. I've been in worse things. I was on those boats – I got shot at. I can handle it.

What I worry about is that they lie to America. What I worry about is that they tell the middle class, "We're giving you a tax cut," and the top one percent of America gets more than eighty percent of the rest of the people. I worry that they are unwilling to do anything about the 5 million Americans who have lost their health care.

I worry that there are twenty-eight states in America where you can't go fishing and eat the fish, because of the quality of the water. I worry that they've gotten us into a war where young kids are dying, and they haven't done what's responsible to protect them. That's what I worry about. The rest of it is small pickings.

You don't get angry when Bush outright lies about you?

No, I don't get angry at it. I think it's sort of pathetic.

Were you surprised by how the Swift-boat thing blew up?

I was surprised that the media, even when they knew it was lies, continued to cover it and treat it as entertainment.

Looking back, do you think you handled it correctly?

I think so. Look, when people hold up something that's a complete and total lie, it takes a few days to show people and convince them. We did. They've been completely discredited.

How do you stay normal during a campaign?

Eat a hearty meal.

How do you stay fit?

I'm not. I'm in the worst shape I've been in in a few years. I'm not getting enough exercise.

You were criticized for wearing a windsurfing outfit.

It shows how pathetic and diversionary they are. They can't talk about having created jobs for America; they can't talk about giving people health care; they can't talk about having protected America and made it safer.

Did anyone say, "Senator, you shouldn't be wearing windsurfing clothes"?

Yeah, a few people said …

And you said, Fuck it?

You're damn right, I said, "I'm going to be who I am" – I think people care about authenticity. There are much bigger issues.

What do you think of Karl Rove? Is he an evil genius?

I don't know him. I've met him once. I'll tell you November 3rd.

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