Q&A: John Kerry

With the presidential election just 34 days away, Democraticcandidate Sen. John Kerry is on a grueling schedule that hassometimes taken him to three states in the same day. Kerry, who wascommencement speaker at Portland State in 1971, agreed to take sometime out of his schedule to answer some questions via email.

When you were commencement speaker at PSU in 1971, an articlein the Vanguard in May of that year reported that you had nointention to run for President. When and why did you decide to getinvolved in politics and, more specifically, what changed in youpersonally that made you want to run for president?

My parents inspired me to serve, and when I was a junior in highschool, John Kennedy called my generation to service. It was a timeto march for civil rights, for voting rights, for the environment,for women and for peace. We believed we could change the world -and we did.

Since I returned from my tours of duty in Vietnam, I’ve been astate prosecutor, a lieutenant governor, and a U.S. Senator since1984. After having these experiences, I made the decision to runfor president because the country is in need of real leadership.And I think the world is waiting for the United States to step upto bat.

I’ve been involved in public life all my life – and I can’t justwalk away without fighting to realize the goals that I set out toaccomplish. We have to restore fairness in the country. Forexample, it’s just astonishing to me that we’re cutting taxes forthe wealthiest Americans and abandoning kids in schools.

You said in August at the Grand Canyon that you would havegranted the president the authority to enter Iraq, even given whatwe know now. No WMD, no link to al- Qaida. Many political observershave commented that this statement may be the weakest link in yourcampaign. Why would you have made that decision, and why did yousay so in August?

I voted to authorize the use of force if necessary to disarmIraq in order to hold Saddam accountable for defying UN disarmamentresolutions, and to strengthen our efforts to get weaponsinspectors back in Iraq. Congress was right to give the presidentthe authority to hold Saddam Hussein accountable, but thispresident misused that authority.

The president rushed to war without letting the weaponsinspectors finish their work. He went without a broad and deepcoalition of allies. He acted without making sure our troops hadenough body armor. And he plunged ahead without understanding orpreparing for the consequences of the post-war. None of which Iwould have done.

Yet today, President Bush tells us that he would do everythingall over again, the same way. Is he really saying that if we knewthere were no imminent threat, no weapons of mass destruction, noties to al-Qaida, the United States should have invaded Iraq? Myanswer is no – because a Commander-in-Chief’s first responsibilityis to make a wise and responsible decision to keep Americasafe.

It wasn’t until recently that pre-emptive war became acommonplace military strategy. Do you believe in pre-emptive war orattack as a valid maneuver in preserving national security?

American presidents have always had a right of pre-emption toaddress imminent threats. I support the right of pre-emption in theface of an imminent threat and as president I will never hesitateto use force when it is required. Any attack will be met with aswift and certain response. But the Bush doctrine of pre-emptivewar is a dangerous departure from the time-tested principles ofAmerican foreign policy that have kept us safe.

With the rising cost of higher education in each state -Oregon has seen an approximate 10-15 percent increase in statetuition in the past three years – what would you do as president toaid students? Is that why they should vote for you?

Every young person who works hard ought to have the chance to goto college. Making college affordable is about America’s promise -that all people should have the chance to make the most of theirabilities. It’s also about America’s future, since our ability tocompete in the economy of tomorrow depends on our ability to secureskills and training today.

But in the last three years, tuitions have risen by 35 percent,and as a result, some 220,000 young people have been priced out ofcollege. At the same time, many students don’t go to collegebecause they just don’t think it’s realistic for them.

We can do better. I would offer a College Opportunity Tax Crediton up to $4000 of tuition for four years of college. This creditwill be fully available to families having trouble with the costsof college and to young people who are paying their way throughschool. I will also make a new deal with hundreds of thousands ofyoung people: If you will serve America for two years – working ina school, a health center, or strengthening America’s security – wewill make sure you can attend four years of collegetuition-free.

As someone who has experienced the horrors of war first hand,do you empathize with those who may be experiencing similar thingsnow, and does that affect your decisions in regards to the Iraqwar?

Because of my experience in combat, I know what kids go throughwhen they are carrying an M-16 in a dangerous place and they can’ttell friend from foe. I know what they go through when they’re outon patrol at night and they don’t know what’s coming around thenext bend. I know what it’s like to write letters home telling yourfamily that everything’s all right when you’re not sure that’strue.

And as president, I will wage this war with the lessons Ilearned in war. Before you go to battle, you have to be able tolook a parent in the eye and truthfully say, “I tried everythingpossible to avoid sending your son or daughter into harm’s way. Butwe had no choice. We had to protect the American people,fundamental American values from a threat that was real andimminent.” That is the only justification for going to war.

Many have said that the media, specifically TV News, haveskirted the major issues such as health care, education and evencomprehensive coverage of the war, opting instead to focus on moretrivial subjects such as personal issues and character attacks. Andyet, politicians of both the left and right have rarely spoken outon this issue. What is your opinion in regards to the mediacoverage of this election and on the issues in general?

The media has their job to do, and I respect that. My job is totell the American people my specific plans for getting this countrymoving in the right direction and to explain the clear differencesbetween myself and George Bush.

The stakes are high. We are a nation at war – a global war onterror against an enemy unlike any we have ever known before. Andhere at home, wages are falling, health care costs are rising, andour great middle class is shrinking. People are working weekends;they’re working two jobs, three jobs, and they’re still not gettingahead.

We’re told that outsourcing jobs is good for America. We’re toldthat new jobs that pay $9,000 less than the jobs that have beenlost is the best we can do. They say this is the best economy we’veever had. And they say that anyone who thinks otherwise is apessimist. Well, I believe that there is nothing more pessimisticthan saying America can’t do better. John Edwards and I will makeAmerica stronger at home and more respected in the world.