© 2024 | Jefferson Public Radio
Southern Oregon University
1250 Siskiyou Blvd.
Ashland, OR 97520
541.552.6301 | 800.782.6191
Listen | Discover | Engage a service of Southern Oregon University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

John Kerry Reflects On Smear Campaigns And Not Taking Anything For Granted

Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with the media after attending the Mideast peace conference in Paris on Jan. 15, 2017.
Alex Brandon
Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with the media after attending the Mideast peace conference in Paris on Jan. 15, 2017.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry says that partisan politics are harming America — and they have been for a while. In fact, when he ran for president in 2004, Kerry, then a Democratic senator from Massachusetts, contemplated naming Republican Sen. John McCain as his running mate.

"I considered it," Kerry says, "because I thought that our politics were broken. ... We needed a jolt to try to figure out if there was a way to bring the parties together and restore the kind of bipartisanship and the values-oriented politics that makes a difference to America."

Ultimately, Kerry picked Democrat John Edwards as his running mate instead of McCain, but Kerry says the problems of 2004 persist today. Though he calls President Trump "ill-equipped to do the job that he is in," Kerry does not believe that it is time to talk about impeachment.

"What you need to do is let the Mueller investigation run its course," Kerry says. "You need to see if there are sort of a baseline of prima facie impeachable offenses there, not just your dislike of the president or your belief that he's not equipped to do the job."

In his new memoir, Every Day Is Extra,Kerry looks back on his life and the current state of American politics. He notes that political falsehoods were used against him in 2004, when opponents smeared both his character and his record of military service in Vietnam.

Interview Highlights

On the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attack ad , which aired during Kerry's 2004 presidential bid and claimed that he was lying about his military record in the Vietnam War

They just made things up. They made them up right, left and center. And people [in the ad] said, "I served with John Kerry." That means they served in swift boats, but it didn't mean they were on my boat. It didn't mean they were on the mission. It didn't mean they knew what had happened, and they weren't, in those cases. And the guys who were [on my boat] contradicted them. ...

It was skillfully done as an attack ad, obviously. I remember being in Ohio and listening to that ad and I called my campaign headquarters and said, "Guys ... if I heard that ad, I wouldn't vote for me."

On the Trump administration pulling out of treaties that Kerry and the Obama administration were instrumental in negotiating, like the Paris climate agreement

Well, regrettably, this is part of the transformation that has taken place in our nation. The right wing has made it orthodoxy within their party that treaties are a relinquishing of American sovereignty, and that somehow a treaty is going to contribute to "world government." So the highest standards that we try to apply to one thing or another — even if they're the best thing in the world and America is the only country that does it and we want other countries to raise their standard — if it's in the context of a treaty, people seem to oppose it nowadays.

On his knowledge of Russian interference in the 2016 election and on President Obama's handing of that information

We weren't aware of the election interference in a major way until sometime in the late spring or early summer of 2016 when the intel community laid it out. ...

I think the president handled it as effectively as he could at the time, and later in the summer I was involved in some of those conversations, which took place in the White House. I absolutely guarantee you, having run for president and having been in elected politics for a period of time, that given Trump's continued attacks against the legitimacy of the election system, given the degree to which he was already labeling it rigged ... I guarantee you that if President Obama had stood up and said, "The Russians are hacking our system, they're gonna do this and that," you would have had a Trump campaign on steroids arguing about the rigging and the game that was being played. ...

And so the president did, I thought, the most credible thing possible, which was turn it over not to the politicians to define but to the intel community, that is apolitical and nonpolitical, and that's what he did.

On naming his memoir Every Day Is Extra

It's something that we talked about in Vietnam ... those of us lucky to come back and be alive when others didn't. You've got to look at life like every day is an extra and be happy about it, because a lot of guys didn't come back, and that's the baseline, if you will, and you don't have to go to war to feel that way — you escape cancer, you escape an accident, whatever it is that happens. I view myself as lucky.

Sam Briger and Seth Kelley produced and edited the audio of this interview. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Meghan Sullivan adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2020 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

Terry Gross
Combine an intelligent interviewer with a roster of guests that, according to the Chicago Tribune, would be prized by any talk-show host, and you're bound to get an interesting conversation. Fresh Air interviews, though, are in a category by themselves, distinguished by the unique approach of host and executive producer Terry Gross. "A remarkable blend of empathy and warmth, genuine curiosity and sharp intelligence," says the San Francisco Chronicle.