A CONVERSATION WITH JOHN EDWARDS
WITH SENATOR JOHN EDWARDS AND TOM OLIPHANT AS MODERATOR
SUNDAY, MAY 4, 2003
JOHN SHATTUCK: Good afternoon, and welcome to the John F. Kennedy Library. I’m John Shattuck,
the CEO of the Kennedy Library Foundation. And on behalf of Paul Kirk, the Chairman of the Board of
the Kennedy Library Foundation and Deborah Leff, the Director of the Kennedy Library, we’re very
pleased to present our third in our series of Kennedy Presidential Candidate Forums. Our guest, of
course, and we’re very honored to have him, is Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, who has made
a special effort to be with us here today. As many of you know he was a star participant in last night’s
first presidential candidate debate in South Carolina. And to come up here on a beautiful spring day in
New England, we’re very glad to have you here, Senator.
I want to thank the sponsors of our Kennedy Library Forums: Fleet Financial, Boston Capital, the Lowell
Institute, and our media sponsors, who help project what our speakers say far beyond these walls. I’d
also like to urge all of you who are here today to visit our museum, the Kennedy Library Museum, to learn
more about the most powerful office in the world, that President Kennedy, of course, occupied, and that
Senator Edwards now aspires to. Please pick up your coupon admission tickets and treat yourself and
your family and friends to a visit to the museum before you leave this afternoon.
Let me set the stage briefly for our distinguished speaker this afternoon by saying a few words about
John F. Kennedy’s campaign for the presidency. Two years before he announced his presidency, the
then-junior Senator from Massachusetts spoke to a Gridiron dinner in Washington about the 1960
campaign. He said, and I quote, “We have lots of candidates. A recent survey asked each Senator about
his preference for the presidency, and 96 Senators each received one vote.” [laughter]
When he finally announced his candidacy, John F. Kennedy spoke about the awesome nature of the
office he was seeking in words that still, and perhaps now more than ever, reflect the challenges that
Americans face as a nation. He said, “The Presidency is the most powerful office in the world. In it are
centered the hopes of the globe around us for freedom and a more secure life. For it is in the Presidency
that the most crucial decisions of this century must be made in the next four years, giving direction to our
moral purpose and awakening every American to the dangers and opportunities that confront us.”
John Edwards was elected to the United States Senate from North Carolina in 1998. And he has built a
national reputation as a champion of ordinary citizens. He grew up in a small town where his father
worked in a textile mill, and he went to the local public schools and then worked his way through college
as the first member of his family to get a college education. He became a successful lawyer, and
achieved many victories on behalf of those who had been injured by economic forces more powerful than
In the Senate, he’s noted for his populist politics and his bipartisan approach; his many accomplishments
include his chief sponsorship of the patient protection act, which was signed into law in 2001 after he
helped guide it through a deeply divided Congress; his leadership on campaign finance reform and on
legislation to fight corporate corruption; his work to modernize the nation’s banking system; and, his
efforts on behalf of public education and his support for strong anti-terrorism measures.
Senator Edwards has been described by the Raleigh News and Observer as “smart, disciplined, and
hard-working with a down-home manner.” The Washington Post notes that he has the ability to think on
his feet and master complex situations and communicate in plain language to ordinary people. And while
he’s known as a populist, he’s also known, as The Wall Street Journal notes very importantly, as a
Senator who “impresses his colleagues in behind-doors deliberations.”
Senator Edwards also, I believe, takes a page out of Tip O’Neill’s book, and acts on the proposition that
all politics are local. He has made a point of visiting, I’m told, all of North Carolina’s 100 counties. And
every week that the Senate is in session, he hosts a town-hall-style meeting open to all North Carolinians,
Tar heel Thursday. And I think that in many ways is one of his signal examples of the relationship he has
with his constituents and with people in a very personal way.
To moderate our forum this afternoon, we are very fortunate to have with us a great friend of the Kennedy
Library, Tom Oliphant, the national political columnist for The Boston Globe. Tom has covered every
Presidential campaign since the election of Richard Nixon. You wouldn’t know by looking at him how
young he is, of course! [laughter] One of our country’s finest representatives of the fifth estate, Tom is an
acute commentator on national political and economic trends. And he was part of the team of The Boston
Globe that won a Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of Boston’s school desegregation crisis. He also
appears frequently on national news programs such as the NewsHour on public television.
So please join me in welcoming Senator John Edwards and Tom Oliphant to the stage of the Kennedy
JOHN EDWARDS: Thank you very much. It is an honor and a privilege to be with you. If I appear
bleary-eyed, it’s because I arrived in the middle of the night back in Washington from the debate in South
Carolina last night. But it is an enormous honor to be here with you, and that’s why I’m here.
Let me start by saying a little bit about the campaign. What I see as my responsibilities as a candidate for
the nomination of my party. And what I see as the important issues that face this country.
First, let me talk about some simple things. I believe it is my responsibility to give the American people
what I think they are desperately hungry for, which is a real choice, a real alternative in the 2004 election.
As I travel the country, I hear it over and over and over. So if I am the Democratic Nominee, this will be
the choice that the American people have. First, somebody who comes from them. You know, my dad
did work in a mill all his life. My mother’s last job was working in the Post Office. Because of them and
their hard work, I was able to be the first person in my family to go to college. I worked my way through
college and then I worked my way through law school, and then I spent almost 20 years fighting for
exactly the same people that I had grown up with. People like my own family, the people who worked
with my father in the mill, these were the people I’d known all my life. They’re the people I fought for
during almost 20 years as an advocate.
I’m proud of the work that I did, always will be proud of it. My view about it is it is a good and noble thing
to fight for people who can’t fight for themselves, to give voice to people who need a voice. And it is
actually the reason I ran for the United States Senate. Because my belief then, and it’s still my belief, is
the great masses of America are forgotten and left behind every single day. It’s the reason I want to be
President. I want to be a champion for those people in America who make this country great.
And if I could just be personal about it for a minute. People like my dad, he does not, I promise you, have
a single lobbyist in Washington, D.C. His only hope is that his President will stand up for him. That his
President will fight his fight. That his President will have the backbone and courage to fight against
anything that stands in the way of making his life better.
Now, that’s one alternative. Compared with the President we now have, who as you all know better than
anyone comes from a completely different place. Among other things, his father was President of the
United States. I hope I still believe in America that actually the son of a mill worker could beat the son of a
President for the White House. I hope we still believe that in America. [applause]
But if you’re where I am, and you’re looking up close at the way this government is being run and the way
this administration runs it, it’s a frightening thing. Because what we’ve got is this (and a lot of you know
this already): we’ve got a small group of people who are running our country. They look down on all the
rest of us. They tell us what they think we need to know, when they think we need to know it. I believe
this administration gives us government of the insiders, by the insiders, and unfortunately for the insiders.
So let’s just take a minute and think about what we’ve gotten for it in a little over two years: 2.6 million
jobs lost, 4.5 trillion dollars lost in the stock market, a 5.6 trillion-dollar Federal budget surplus gone; we’re
in deficits. And it’s important for all of us to remember that it took a Democratic President, President Bill
Clinton, to get rid of the deficits created by two Republican Presidents. And now it’s taken a new
Republican President a grand total of two years to put us back in deficit. Who’s the party of fiscal
responsibility? That’s what I want to know. [applause]
Workers have lost over $400 billion in retirement savings. I want to be on a stage with George Bush in
2004, and here’s why. I’ve got a question for the American people. Are you better off than you were four
years ago? I’m telling you, I spent 20 years as a lawyer; this is the easiest case I ever had to argue. We
have so much to work with. But it’s not going to work to just say what he’s doing wrong; we have to talk
about what we’re going to do to make it right.
So here’s what I’d do. First, about the economy. I’d spend some money in the short term to try to give
this economy a serious shot in the arm, which I think it desperately needs. $50 billion at the national level
to help state and local governments that are facing the worst budget crisis since World War II. The last
thing we need is to be cutting spending on education, laying off firefighters. To keep this economy
moving we need to be doing just the opposite. Investing in education. Making sure that we have first
responders in place.
The second thing I would do is give business an incentive to put money back in this economy. I’d give
them a write-off on their taxes, a bonus depreciation for those that are willing to make capital
expenditures that they otherwise would just put off to the future.
Third, help every family who’s facing increased energy costs by giving them a $500 refundable energy tax
And last, widen the availability of unemployment coverage for all those Americans who’ve lost their jobs
because of the Bush recession, because of the Bush deficits. Which is exactly what they are. And it’s
what we ought to be calling them.
But none of that will work unless over the long term we go back to operating this government in a
responsible way. And there are two components to that. One is I do believe we can reduce the size of
the Washington bureaucracy by ten percent over the next ten years. But the most important component
is to stop this tax cut for this top one to two percent scheduled to go into effect in 2004! [applause]
So where would we invest? What matters to us? What are our priorities? I’m on the Senate Education
Committee. It is so frustrating to me to drive by that education building in Washington and see that big
sign going across the top, “No child left behind.” This administration is leaving millions of children behind
every single day. You will never hear this President say what everyone in this room knows to be reality,
which is we still have two public systems in America. One for the haves, one for the have-nots. You live
in an affluent community, the odds are pretty good your child can get a good public school education. If
you don’t, the odds are they will not. So what would we do?
Here’s what I’d do. First, I’d pay teachers better so we can attract good people to the teaching profession
and keep them there. Second, I would give bonus incentive pay to good teachers to get them to the
places we need them the worst: schools in chronically disadvantaged areas. Right now, teachers
actually have a disincentive to go to those schools. Third, I’d give scholarships to young people who are
willing to commit that when they get out of college, they’ll go locate in a school in a chronically
We have to continue to invest in early childhood programs. It’s the place where we can have the most
impact on the lives of young people. We need to invest in after-school programs. My wife Elizabeth is
with me today; the two of us helped start an after-school program in North Carolina. We’ve now started a
second one down in Eastern North Carolina. It’s amazing what impact these programs can have on the
lives of young people.
But this is just another example of where the President’s completely out of touch with people’s lives. It
would never occur to him why a family would need somewhere for their kids to go in the afternoon to be
safe, off the streets, and productive. He never had to think about that. Why would anybody have to think
about that? Well, here’s why, Mr. President. Because 40 years ago, 70 percent of our families had at
least one parent at home all the time. Today, 30 percent of our families have one parent at home all the
And the other problem we face in America, we’ve got about a half a million young people who are
deciding not to go to college because of rising tuition costs, and they don’t think they can afford it. Here’s
my idea. College for everyone. Any young person who’s willing to work ten hours a week their first year
of school and is qualified to be in college should be able to go tuition-free to a state university or a
community college. [applause] Every young person in America should have exactly the same
opportunity that I’ve had; this is very personal for me.
Health care. I’m also on the Senate Health Committee with Senator Kennedy, who’s been an
extraordinary leader. And I will mention in passing, Senator Kennedy, Senator McCain and I, the three of
us worked very hard together on the Patients’ Bill of Rights, to get it through the United States Senate.
You don’t need me to tell you this, you know it very well; he’s been such an extraordinary leader. Both for
your state, for this country and in the United States Senate. Having worked up close and personal with
him on this issue, on the Patients’ Bill of Rights, he is such a force in the Senate, and a force for good.
And we got a great vote on the floor of the United States Senate for our Bill, Senator McCain, Senator
Kennedy, and myself. Senator McCain and I, by the way, were latecomers to this. Senator Kennedy, of
course, as usual, had been working on it for a long time.
But we have not been able to get it signed into law. Why? Because the President is married to the
insurance industry, to the HMOs. He can’t say no to his friends. These are the kinds of problems we face
over and over and over. He won’t say anything about the national embarrassment of 41 million
Americans who have no health insurance at all. We’ve had exactly the same problem. We tried to bring
down the cost of prescription drugs by closing some of these loopholes that the pharmaceutical industry
uses to keep generics out into the market. Great vote on the floor of the Senate. Not the law. Why?
Because the President’s married to the pharmaceutical industry.
By the way, I was in an event in Iowa just a couple of weeks ago, and I said what I just said to you, and
an elderly gentleman walked up to me afterwards, he had his overalls on, and he leaned up to me and
said, “Senator, I’m going to tell you something. If the President’s married to the pharmaceutical industry,
he’s a bigamist, because he’s married to a lot of other special interests at the same time.” [laughter] I
promised him I’d use that line. It’s not a bad line, actually!
The President is driving us deeper and deeper into dependence on oil from the Middle East. Energy
independence is not just an environmental issue now. This is a national security issue. Nothing could be
clearer after September 11 . We need to move to cleaner alternative sources of energy. It’s very much in
the national interest. I am even now fighting the administration to try to prevent them from gutting our
Clean Air laws. [applause] They do this administratively; they think it’s below the radar screen. Just to
put this in simple terms, if they get their way, we’re going to have thousands and thousands of children
who have severe asthma attacks. And we’re going to have thousands and thousands of seniors who
have severe respiratory problems.
I want to say a word about the war, Iraq, an issue that I know has been of great concern to the country. I
supported what we did in Iraq. Some of you probably have questions about it, I’d be happy to tell you
why and why I still believe it was the right thing to do. But what we do now is enormously important.
Because we have an opportunity now, right now, to show the world that we were not in Iraq for the wrong
reasons, that it was not about the expansion of American power. The United Nations, the European
Union, NATO, have all offered to be involved in both the reconstruction effort and helping legitimize the
establishment of a transitional government. They should be involved! We should reach out to them.
[applause] We should reach out to them, and then bring them in.
We need to make it clear that those oil fields, and the revenue from those oil fields, do not belong to
America; it belongs to the Iraqi people. The money can certainly be used for the reconstruction effort.
But the world is watching very carefully to see what we do.
And also, I’ll just add, with respect to Syria and Iran. There’s no doubt that Syria is a serious issue. No
question about that. Their support of terrorism, particularly Hezbollah and the Palestinian terrorist groups,
their development of chemical weapons, their potential harboring of fugitives from Iraq, those are all very
serious problems. And their hostility to Israel. All very serious problems, no question about that. Same
thing’s true with Iran, on a different front. They’re moving forward with a serious sophisticated
development of a program of weapons of mass destruction. And they also have been the largest state
sponsor of terrorism in the world. So they’re obviously both serious problems. But they’re problems that
can and should be, as Secretary Powell has said, dealt with diplomatically. And that’s exactly what we
ought to be doing in North Korea right now.
The one thing I have no question about, no question about, having visited in all of these places over the
last year and a half and met with people in Pakistan, to Afghanistan, to Turkey, to the Middle East, to
Europe, nobody doubts how strong we are. No one has any question about that. Here’s what they want
to know. They want to know whether we care. Do we care about the peace and prosperity of the rest of
the world? And this is not an academic discussion. It used to be these sort of discussions took place in
Washington and in universities around the country; no more. This goes right into the lives of the
American people. Because I am completely confident in saying that we, every family in America is safer
and more secure in a world where America is looked up to and respected.
And we have enormous opportunities in front of us. Not just in Iraq. The things that we could have and
should have done in Afghanistan, the AIDS crisis in Africa. We have huge opportunities to show the
world. Our European friends? They want us to talk to them. To consult with them. So we have important
work to do, very important work to do, going forward.
And I want to finish on a subject that is very important to me personally, for a lot of reasons. I hope it’s
important to some or most of you. I sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee. The result of that is that I see
the judges that are coming out of the White House for lifetime appointments to the Federal Bench. If I
can just put this in simple terms, this is not about numbers. It’s not about how many judges were
confirmed in the Clinton administration, how many judges have not been confirmed or confirmed in the
Bush Administration. Some of these judges are right-wing ideologues, and they will take your rights
away. That’s the simplest way I know how to say it.
And it is so important that we stand up. I grew up in the South. I grew up with the Civil Rights movement
going on all around me. And I watched people suffer and struggle and some even lose their lives in the
cause of civil rights. We cannot go backwards. We cannot let that happen. [applause] Which means that
we have to have judges that we know will enforce our civil rights laws. I, by the way, believe the
President is dead wrong about the affirmative action program at the University of Michigan. [applause] I
am one of the Senators who files a brief in support of the University of Michigan’s position in the United
States Supreme Court. I feel very strongly about this issue.
Again, on a personal level, it is so important to me that people have the right perspective on what I
believe is mainstream thinking in the South. I grew up in a small community of about 800 people out in
the country, out in the rural area of North Carolina. I was raised to believe in an America where we
embrace and lift up everybody. And, that we give real hope and opportunity to people who today, not 40
years ago, today still suffer the effects of discrimination every minute of their lives. African-Americans
earn about half of what white Americans earn.
And it’s not just civil rights that are at stake, by the way. Equal rights are also at stake. A woman’s right to
choose is in jeopardy every minute George Bush is in the White House. [applause] You never hear the
President talk about what I think is a fundamental issue of equality: women making 78 cents on the dollar
for doing the same work men are doing. We can’t have equality in America until we have pay equity in
America. Women are entitled to be paid the same thing that men are paid. [applause]
And the subject that all the political advisors will tell you not to talk about, because this is politically
dangerous, radioactive, you need to be careful, this is so important. Because it goes to the heart and
soul of what makes America great. We cannot, in the name of protecting ourselves, in the name of
fighting a war on terrorism, allow people like John Ashcroft to take away our rights, our freedom, and our
And I’ll just leave you with one last example, because it’s something I’ve personally experienced myself. I
was in a hearing with the Judiciary Committee about eight or nine months ago. And the attorney general
was there to testify. He was there at the time to testify about a subject that was fairly obscure to me. I
knew very little about it. Something called enemy combatants. And I listened to him testify. And I
honestly thought, I know I’m not understanding this right. I thought, “This can’t be true. This can’t be our
country’s policy, the administration’s policy.” But basically, there was not a lot of challenging going on.
And it came my turn. And I’m paraphrasing now -- I don’t remember precisely what I said -- but I said
something to the effect, “Mr. Attorney General, I want to make sure I got this right. This is what you’re
telling us. You could walk into any room in America, label an American citizen an Enemy Combatant, and
you could put them in jail, keep them there forever, they’d never see a lawyer, they’d never see a judge,
they would not even get an opportunity to show that they were innocent, that they did nothing wrong.”
And his answer basically was, “Yeah, that’s right.” And I said, “Well, this sounds familiar to me, but it
doesn’t sound like the United States of America.” And the answer was to the effect, “Trust us.”
Well, these issues, my view about this is these issues go to the heart and soul of what makes America
great. It’s what should give us the moral authority to lead around the world. And if we, as Democrats,
cannot stand up for core values like civil rights, equal rights, civil liberties, those are the things that we
believe in. And I believe, by the way, they’re the things that mainstream America believe in. [applause]
You know, people can see what’s happening. People can see what’s happening. They’re concerned
about the loss of their privacy. They’re concerned about the possibility of their constitutional rights and
civil liberties being protected. They understand this. This is enormously important. It is ingrained into the
culture of the American people. And it’s something we have to be willing to stand up and talk about.
So it is an honor and privilege to be here with you. I look forward to our conversation. Thank you all very
THOMAS OLIPHANT: Far be it from a writer, Senator, to make a suggestion to still photographers, but
there is something on the bottom of your right shoe that I haven’t seen in 50 years of national politics. An
alert Associated Press photographer 50 years ago won the Pulitzer Prize for capturing the essence of
Presidential campaigning: a picture of Adlai Stevenson with his legs crossed and a big hole right about
where it is on my shoes. This is the first time I’ve ever seen it. [laughter] [applause] So it appears you
ARE running for President!”
JOHN EDWARDS: Thank you, Tom, for pointing that out; I really appreciate it.
TOM OLIPHANT: On behalf of my colleagues, if I could try to get you to make a little news,. First of all,
many of us have been spending the last few days trying to understand a 1600-page appellate court
opinion issued in Washington on Friday on the new campaign finance law. And. of course, when it was
on the floor of the Senate, you were McCain and Feingold’s point person on legal issues. The
Republicans have already made clear they’re going to begin raising these unlimited amounts of cash right
away. Do you think the Democratic Party should also, or do you think the Democratic Party should not go
back to raising money that way in the interim?
JOHN EDWARDS: You mean until the final decision? Since I’ve been on the road since Friday, I’ve not
even seen the opinion. Can I ask a simple legal question: has the ruling been stayed, or…?
TOM OLIPHANT: No. The appeal will include a request that it be stayed. But the court ordered its
decision into effect at once.
JOHN EDWARDS: Well, I think first of all, I haven’t read the opinion. It sounds like a very complicated
opinion. What the news reports indicate that there’s a chart at the beginning to try to explain what they
found constitutional and what they found not constitutional. And as you know, Tom, I was very involved in
arguing the constitutionality of a lot of these provisions on the floor of the Senate.
I haven’t thought this through. But my gut reaction is that it is important for … Did you say the
Republicans have already announced they’re going to start raising money? I mean, I’m not for unilateral
disarmament. And I think that we, the future of the country is at stake. And we have to be able to
compete with the Republicans. Now, it would seem to be a logical course to get some sense of the
likelihood that the ruling was going to be stayed in the interim. And it’s obviously fraught with risk for both
sides, depending on what the United States Supreme Court does.
TOM OLIPHANT: Thanks. Last night was quite an interesting meeting for those of us who do this for a
JOHN EDWARDS: You and the three others.
TOM OLIPHANT: [laughter] That’s right! Shut-ins, insomniacs … [laughter]
One thing struck me in a regional sense. Two of the Yankee candidates seemed like they wasted fifteen
minutes biting each other in the ankles. [scattered applause] And you asked Bob Graham of Florida a
very interesting question about the South: whether pride in being a Southerner also carried with it
obligations. And in this building, named after the last Democratic President who was not from the South,
what do you think Yankees need to know about the South in the 21 Century, as they consider you?
JOHN EDWARDS: Well, first, the question you’re referring to, which there may be two other people in
the room – my wife’s here anyway, so I’ve got one – who heard the question. Let me just remind people
who may have seen it and others who haven’t what the question was. My question to Bob Graham was,
as the other Southerner in this debate, do you believe we carry a special responsibility to lead on issues
of civil rights? Not to just follow, but to lead on issues in civil rights and to stand up for minorities and
African-Americans. And he gave a very good answer, by the way.
Here’s what I think. I think that it’s important to understand the culture of Southerners. What it is that
they care about. They’re fiercely independent. They have an enormous amount of pride. As my father
always says, he can tell when someone’s talking down to him in about fifteen seconds. And that’s very
important to them. Because the Democratic Party, which should be the natural ally of people like my
father, who I think represent a lot of the swing voters in the South, but sometimes they feel that they’re
sort of not given the respect that they’re entitled to. And I think it’s enormously important to understand
them, to know how to communicate with them, to understand their culture even if you disagree with them
about a substantive issue, to treat their feelings with the kind of dignity that I think they’re entitled to.
And I think for us to be successful in elections in the South, what we have to do is make sure that
Southern voters believe that we understand their lives, we understand the problems they face. Not just
on an academic level, but on a personal level. And I think a lot of voters, everywhere in the country but
certainly true in the South, who decide elections vote with their gut. And they have to feel in their gut that
whoever the Democratic candidate for President is, is somebody who connects with them and
understands their lives. That’s what I think it takes to be competitive in the South electorally.
TOM OLIPHANT: Well, speaking as someone who married a Mississippi girl, there are two other
elements in this that I think are important to the politics of 2004. And part of it is security at home and
security abroad. Patriotism is certainly part of that, open patriotism is part of the culture of the South,
which is a long way of getting to the Patriot Act to which you made allusion a few minutes ago. And one of
the things that confuses me sometimes about moderate politics, as somebody who’s used to looking for
black and white distinctions, the Patriot Act is often criticized, sometimes supported. You happened to
vote for it. And as you said last night, your quarrel is with its implementation rather than its statutory
language. Could you give me an example of some aspect of the Patriot Act where you don’t have a
problem with the language of the law, but in Attorney General Ashcroft’s administration?
JOHN EDWARDS: Well, I’ll give you some examples of things that are going on with the Attorney
General, some of which are connected either directly or indirectly with the Patriot Act that I think are
troublesome and should be troublesome to all of us. And if I can, at the end of that say what I think ought
to be done about it.
For example, there is a significant amount of data mining being done on individual people around the
country who don’t know it’s going on. Done under the auspices of the Federal Government. And there
are no controls on it of any kind. As we sit here now, there could be a Federal agent in the room. Are
you here? [laughter] And we would have no way of knowing it. They’re not required to identify
themselves. They can go into political meetings, into religious facilities -- a mosque, synagogues,
churches. They’re not required to get any approval to do it, and there’s very little in the way of
accountability to make sure that people’s rights aren’t being violated.
I think it’s a perfect example of where we don’t have to give up doing what needs to be done to protect us
and to be secure, but to have checks and safeguards in place to make sure that people’s rights aren’t
being violated. What I have specifically proposed myself is that we take away from the FBI the
responsibility of fighting domestic terrorism. I think they’ve not done a good job. All the revelations about
what happened before September 11 -- I was on the committee that investigated what happened with
September 11 , and all the revelations were, starting with the Moousaoui case and the Phoenix memo,
which some have heard about it … The problem with the FBI is it’s a law enforcement agency. It’s linear
in its thinking; it thinks in terms of arrest, indictment, prosecution, or conviction instead of, what is
necessary to infiltrate terrorist cells that exist here in this country and make sure that folks and Americans
are protected? So I’d take that responsibility away from them, give it to a separate agency, would not
give them any additional authority. I’d just take it away from the FBI.
I would simultaneously set up an independent watchdog office of civil rights and civil liberties to oversee
what they’re doing and put some structural safeguards in place. So that if they’re in fact going to go into a
synagogue, that they’re required to actually get authority from a Federal magistrate or some independent
authorizing authority. That if they’re getting and gathering information on an individual American citizen,
that they actually have to make a record of it and provide that information to this independent watchdog.
So the whole purpose of this being that we have a monitor and oversight in place to make sure that
people’s civil rights and civil liberties are not being violated.
And there’s always … Just in a historical context it seems a lot of things happen in times of risk and
danger. The interment of Japanese-Americans during World War II being something that was probably
enormously popular then and we’re all ashamed of today. And I think this falls in this category. We have
to have a long view of this and understand how important this is to the construct of America.
TOM OLIPHANT: Thank you. Now, something else that comes up a lot, not just in the South, but all
over the country, is national security, the military, and, of course, the just-concluded war. And I noticed
that last night, you got a little guff as you sometimes get because of your age and your resume. And, you
know, you should know that this is the perfect building to be in as a young Senator who hasn’t made any
huge waves running for President. But I was wondering if you have any sense of the threshold you need
to clear so that people can feel comfortable with you making national security decisions on the first day of
JOHN EDWARDS: Yes. I think it requires three things. First, for people to have a personal comfort level
that you have character, strength, good judgment, so that they believe you have the capacity to lead and
that they feel comfortable with that on a personal level. Second, that you have a clear view of America’s
role in the world. And which I would be glad to talk about if you want. And third, that you know what
needs to be done here at home, to make sure the American people are safe. I think those are the tests.
The one thing that should be abundantly clear from the last 40 years, starting with John Kennedy, is we
don’t elect resumes in America; we elect human beings. And I think that most voters will make that
judgment with their gut based on all the information they have. They’ll decide whether they have
confidence that any particular candidate meets that threshold. But I do think those are the three
components of it. That you have to have the characteristics of leadership, that you have to have a clear
understanding of what America’s role in the world is, and that you have to know what needs to be done to
keep people safe at home.
TOM OLIPHANT: Well, to pick on your point, let’s try a little bit with America’s role in the world. As most
people know, your work helped make possible the large bipartisan majority in the Senate that authorized
the use of force in Iraq. And now it’s happened, and Baghdad is occupied. Could you give an outline of
what you think we ought to be doing in the post-Iraq reconstruction phases? And what do you think the
implications of that work are for our somewhat tattered relations with the rest of the world?
JOHN EDWARDS: Well, what we ought to be doing in the very short term is more practical. We have to
stabilize the country and make it secure. We have to make sure that humanitarian aide is being made
available in Iraq. We have to sort of get the infrastructure back in place and operating. Those things are
all things I think that are just practical, that need to be done in the very short term.
Over the longer term, and particularly with respect to the way the rest of the world views us, I think we
have to make it very clear that whatever transitional government comes into place, that we’re not about
the business of making them a puppet of the United States. That at the end of the day, the Iraqi people
are going to have to decide for themselves how they’re going to be governed. And secondly, because of
the concern that people have around the world about this being a war about oil, we have to make it very
clear that that’s not true. And the way to do that is to have transparency in the contracts that are being
entered into with respect to the oil fields. Revenue from the oil fields needs to be, it needs to be
absolutely clear that that revenue is being used only for the Iraqi people, and, if anything, for the
And I think it’s enormously important for us -- I mentioned this -- for us to get the international community
involved in this process. I think it should be viewed as an opportunity, because it is an opportunity. And
the United Nations, NATO, the European Union, they’ve all offered to be involved; they want to be
involved. Well, we should welcome their involvement.
TOM OLIPHANT: Is it your impression that we’re not welcoming it? From your vantage point?
JOHN EDWARDS: It’s not entirely clear. But based upon the information we have right now, it appears
that they are not being brought in. Certainly not being brought in as quickly as they might be.
TOM OLIPHANT: But you would welcome it and encourage it?
JOHN EDWARDS: Absolutely. Not only would I welcome it, I think it is exactly the right signal to send to
the rest of the world. One of the things that we have to do, going forward, is make it clear to the world that
we care about our relationships, that world problems such as terrorism and proliferation, those being the
most serious threats that our nation faces, can never be solved by us alone. It is impossible. As a
member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, there are terrorist cells, besides here in this country, there
are terrorist cells in countries all over the world. Now, how in the world are we going to stamp out
terrorism if we don’t have the help of our allies? It’s impossible. Exactly the same thing’s true with
proliferation. Because if we can’t go and put pressure on countries, North Korea being a great example, if
we don’t have the help of our friends in putting pressure on other countries that are engaged in
proliferation, we’re never going to be successful in stopping proliferation. And the former Soviet Union is
a great source of potential danger in that regard.
TOM OLIPHANT: Now, we journalists are famous oversimplification freaks, Senator. So a lot of us were
on the lookout for great lines last night in the debate. And one of them from Howard Dean has been
heard many times before this year around the country, where he says that “I come from the Democratic
wing of the Democratic Party.” [applause] And your colleague, Bob Graham, had the first response in
kind that I’ve heard so far this year, last night, when he said, “I am from the electable wing.” [applause]
[laughter] So where are you at? [laughter]
JOHN EDWARDS: Do I have to pick one or the other?
I think that what Howard’s saying -- and he’s repeating a phrase that I heard my great friend and my late
great friend Paul Wellstone say many times -- I think what he’s saying is that we as Democrats have to
stand for something. We have to be strong. Republican right won’t work. On those fronts, he’s right.
[applause] I don’t believe that we can be successful versus George W. Bush by presenting an alternative
that’s right up against him. I do believe that, and I also believe and this goes to the point Bob Graham’s
making, in places that we have to win to be successful, I think we can take strong principle stands. If
people down in, like, for example, where I grew up, if they believe you’re doing it out of conviction, and if
you believe it’s the right thing to do -- I’ll take protection of civil liberties being a great example we’ve
talked about some already -- I think they would give you room. If they think you’re doing it for political
purposes, they’ll react very differently.
So my friend John McCain, who worked on the Patients Bill of Rights with me, is a perfect example. I
think one of the things that happened in his campaign for the Presidency was a lot of Republicans
disagreed with him. I know I as a Democrat disagree with John about a lot of substantive issues. But you
can’t help but respond well to somebody who you think is speaking their mind and standing their ground.
And I think there’s enormous value. In fact, I happen to believe that’s one of the things people in this
country are looking for. So I think those two things are not mutually exclusive is what I’m trying to say.
TOM OLIPHANT: Well, why don’t we look at it in a practical way on a couple of issues before beginning
to encourage people to go to the microphones and ask you really rough questions. One of the things
that’s hard sometimes, from where I sit, is listening to the specifics of issue discussions and trying to
decide if anything meaningful is ever going to happen after we’re done parsing all the positions and the
policy takers. So that my first question in introducing, say, health care and taxes is, say, like it’s four
years from now. And President Edwards is running for re-election, how would people know in their lives
that you had been President?
JOHN EDWARDS: Because I would have economic policy, health care policy, that instead of just
helping people at the top, instead of helping the powerful groups that are so prevalent in Washington,
D.C., lifted up and gave real hope and opportunity to everybody. In the area, for example, in health care,
we have nine million children in America who have no health insurance. I believe we could solve that
problem tomorrow if we had the will to do it. In the area of economic policy and tax policy, it just seems to
me that working families need all the help they can get. People making $35,000, $40,000, $50,000 a
year, who are the people who built this country and make it what it is, I think the heroes of America, they
deserve real opportunity, which is they shouldn’t be carrying an unfair share of the tax burden. They
ought to have a chance for kids to get as good an education as the richest parent in America can give to
their children. They ought to have access to quality health care. I mean, I think the way you would see it
is in the lives of average people.
TOM OLIPHANT: Let me pick up, my ears perked up when I heard you mention the nine million kids, but
maybe not for the reason most people would think. Because what occurs to me is, is Senator Edwards
really saying he’s going to focus on the nine million kids, and that means we have to be more patient than
we want to be about ending the other 32 million people who don’t have health insurance at all who
happen to be adults? There was an interesting back and forth last night in the debate particularly
because of what Congressman Gephardt has done in the last two weeks. I was wondering if you could
tell us, is this unfair? How many of the 41 million can be covered by health insurance over the next four
years? And how?
JOHN EDWARDS: I can tell you what I am doing right now. We are literally in the middle of finishing my
health care plan, the details.
TOM OLIPHANT: We won’t tell anybody. [laughter]
JOHN EDWARDS: But it should be out in just a few weeks. But I can tell you the principles that I believe
in. I do think we can cover all kids and do that right now. I think we can provide more choices and
access, and I’m talking about something that’s completely achievable -- more choices and access to all
Americans through a variety of mechanisms, including expansion of the public health service. I think we
ought to, for businesses, particularly small businesses that are not providing health care to their
employees, give them the tax credit that they need in order to be able to do that.
I don’t think any of those things are going to ultimately work, though, unless we do something about the
cost of health care. And very little discussion is heard about what we’re doing about the escalating cost
of health care in America. And at least in my mind, that’s largely driven by culture in Washington, that, for
whatever reason, is opposed to taking on the interest that’s going to be necessary to bring down the costs
of health care -- the pharmaceutical industry, the health insurance companies, and the big HMOs. They
are a powerful presence in Washington. And they’ve consistently been able to stop efforts to bring down
the cost of health care. And at least in my own life experience, I’ve spent most of my life taking those
people on. So I’m perfectly willing to do that.
TOM OLIPHANT: Well, let’s take them on, in effect, right now. You mentioned, appropriately, that the
cost of health care and insurance is often not discussed. That’s an issue not just for the 41 million people
who have no health insurance, it’s everybody who has it right now. Co-payments going through the roof,
people being dropped. Specific procedures and everything are being dropped. How does a turn-the-page
Presidency specifically address the issues that are both driving up the cost and eliminating coverage all
JOHN EDWARDS: I could tell you several things we could do. If we had the will to do it, we could do it
quickly. I mentioned one when I was speaking a few minutes ago. It’s to close down these loopholes that
are being used by the pharmaceutical industry to keep their monopoly power. Basically, what they do is
they file one patent after another after another on the same product. Most people who don’t follow this
debate would be flabbergasted by what’s going on. They’ve had the product on the market for 10-15
years, they’ve had monopoly power, there is no generic, no competition, price is sky-high. And then they
file a new patent because they’re now putting the pills in a brown bottle. Same pills. Or they file a new
patent because instead of the pills having one line across them where you can cut them in half, they put
two lines across them. And the result is, they keep generics, with no competition, they keep generics out
of the market. This is something that should have been fixed a long time ago. It’s just a flaw in the way
the law’s been written. But everybody in this room pays more as a result.
Some of the marketing techniques. We can have a crackdown on some of these marketing techniques
that are being used by the pharmaceutical industry to drive up demand for high-priced pharmaceuticals
that are just not necessary. Completely unnecessary. The advertising in many cases can be deceptive.
Third, the insurance industry enjoys something that almost no other business or industry in America
enjoys, which is anti-trust exemption. So they can literally collude to drive prices up for everybody. I don’t
think any thoughtful person in America would think any of those things make sense. They’re there for a
simple reason: because of the powerful presence of the insurance lobby, the pharmaceutical lobby, the
HMO lobby. And this culture in Washington that avoids taking them on. We have to take them on. It’s the
only way we’re going to bring costs down.
TOM OLIPHANT: Yet tomorrow morning, my employer can what? Raise my premium through the roof.
Tomorrow morning the employer can double the co-payment for some procedure you depend on. Cut in
half the coverage for a prescription drug that I need to take. And I’m wondering if between the lines here
you’re saying that there’s some aspects of the status quo that we have to tolerate?
JOHN EDWARDS: Here’s the way I think about this. I think about it as health care for 41 million
Americans who don’t have health care. And rising costs for everybody are very, very serious national
problems that this President’s doing nothing about. Absolutely nothing. And I think we need to do both
things to deal with the problem, including some of the things that I talked about today. But we can’t give
up everything else that we need to do at the same time.
I mean, we have to, I think a President has to recognize that he has lots of responsibilities. And those
responsibilities include, for example, investing in our schools. You know, to have some of the public
schools that we have in America is just unacceptable. And it’s never going to be fixed unless we’re willing
at a national level to make a serious effort to do something about it. This President’s into sloganeering,
but he’s underfunding his own educational plan by ten billion dollars this year.
This college for everyone proposal that I talked about a few minutes ago, I have another idea which gives
every parent of a newborn a $2500 refundable family leave tax credit so that they can spend time with
their kids when they’re born. Now they can take leave, which is a great thing, but a lot of families can’t
afford it because they don’t get paid. Those are just examples.
Yes, healthcare is in a crisis in America. There is no question about it. There are clear, bold things we
can do to address the problem. But we can’t give up all those other things that we need to do
simultaneously to help our people.
TOM OLIPHANT: Understood. Of course, one of the limiting factors here in the real world, where I don’t
live, [laughter] is taxes. And I don’t want to reprise last night’s discussion, particularly with Congressman
Gephardt, who essentially would get rid of all the already-enacted income tax rate cuts, keep some
things. But the question of how you relate to taxes is, of course, central to the question of what you’re
prepared to offer in the way of new initiatives to address problems that you’ve cited. And, again, from my
perspective, trying to figure out where people stand on this is not as easy as …
JOHN EDWARDS: I think sometimes it’s not accidental that it’s hard to figure out. I can tell you very
specifically where I stand. What I believe we need to do is the tax cut that’s already been enacted, it is
law, scheduled to go into effect in 2004, for the top two rates, which are people generally who earn
$200,000 a year or more, I believe should be stopped. I do not believe it should be allowed to go into
effect. I am not for, as the President loves to talk about, the elimination of the estate tax. I would raise
the exemption; I’d raise it significantly so that a lot more of an estate would be exempt from taxation, but I
am not for the elimination of the estate tax. Those two things together save one and a half trillion dollars
over the next 20 years. So it’s a significant, significant component.
The rest of the tax cuts, what I call the middle-class tax cuts, for people who make $30-50,000 a year, I
would leave in place. People are already getting those tax cuts. That’s money they already are getting in
their pocket. And it’s a place of disagreement that I have with Congressman Gephardt.
First of all, I said this last night, so I should say it again: I applaud him for trying to address a very serious
problem. He deserves credit for it. The President’s certainly not going to do it. But the place that he and
I part ways is he by stopping the middle-class tax cuts and the tax cuts for the people at the bottom of the
income spectrum that are already in place. For example, a family of four making $40,000 a year would
lose $800 out of their pocket, even if they already have health insurance. So they get nothing. They lose
$800. And a big chunk of that money, almost a trillion dollars, is going to be given to, under the
Congressman’s plan, is going to be given to the biggest corporations in America who are already
providing health care. And the theory is we’re going to give them this money out of fairness and that
somehow or other they’re going to pass it on to their employees. And this is just not what I would do.
That’s not the way I would approach this problem.
TOM OLIPHANT: Let me just keep the focus on you for a second. If the rate cuts, and here I’m asking
you about the income tax rate cuts 2001 through now, have had no positive effect on the economy that
anybody can discern, why keep something so expensive that hasn’t had any results?
JOHN EDWARDS: It’s a judgment, Tom, about whether you believe that it is helpful for families who are
already struggling to make ends meet to have more money in their pocket. Whether it is stimulative or
not, you can debate both sides of that. The thing I am certain of is that the tax cuts for people at the top of
the income spectrum aren’t stimulating, number one, and number two, they don’t need them! I think that
people who work very hard to make a living, you can help them with their health care costs, you can help
them with their health insurance premiums … On the other hand, they’ve’ got money in their pocket that
they need to take care of their families. I think it’s just a judgment. You have to make your own sort of, at
least each of the candidates does, have to make our own decisions about where those cuts should be
stopped. And my judgment is people who earn in the ranks that we just talked about need all the help
that they can get.
TOM OLIPHANT: I’m not one of those people who plays vote games, where how come you voted on the
third amendment four years ago at three o’ clock in the morning like this. But there are a couple of things
in this connection that intrigue me. When the 2001 Bush Tax Cut was moving toward enactment, there
was a bunch of folks in the Senate, about a dozen or thirteen Democrats, you among them, who voted
yes to send the package to negotiation with the House. When it came back …
JOHN EDWARDS: On the budget outline.
TOM OLIPHANT: That’s right. Why, and what changed that produced your no-vote when the real thing
came down the pike?
JOHN EDWARDS: I want to make sure everybody’s hearing you: I voted against the tax cuts.
TOM OLIPHANT: But it’s not unfair to say that at least initially you voted to help make something
JOHN EDWARDS: Yes. Because what it was when it came through the Senate, and remember, at that
point, we had a several-trillion-dollar surplus projected. What came through the Senate the first time was
nothing but a shell. In other words, would you be willing to support tax cuts in this amount if they were the
right tax cuts going to the right people. That’s all there was the first time it came through. When it came
back, the shell was filled. When it came back, it was loaded up for people at the top. I think it did not
provide the kind of help that we needed to small businesses to provide health care, to people to educate
their kids, to help working families. So I voted against it. In fact, even when the discussion was going on
about the original shell, the budget, I made it very clear that if these tax cuts aren’t aimed at people who
desperately needed them targeted at those people, I will not support it.
TOM OLIPHANT: What about now. Would you in general, in theory, vote to accommodate another $350
billion in tax cuts over the next ten years, or have you had enough?
JOHN EDWARDS: No, I would not do that. Not $350 billion. I just told you I’m for some tax cuts. I said
it in my speech. A $500 tax cut for families, for energy costs. My family leave tax credit, I’ve got. We’ll be
talking about tax credits for small businesses for health care. So there are some tax cuts that I will be for,
but they don’t add up to that.
TOM OLIPHANT: All of that leads me to a two-part question, at which point I’m going to begin to
encourage people to go to the microphone whenever the spirit moves you. But the reason I asked those
two questions about taxes goes back to these two cute lines about the alleged two wings of the
Democratic party, which I always thought had about fifty wings. Does your moderation, say, on a
question like the scope of health insurance reform, or how much of the Bush tax cuts you’d keep or not
keep, does your moderation limit your vision? And is it asking America to accept too much of the status
quo – uninsured, poverty, kids who can’t go to school – simply because the politics of something more
are not doable?
JOHN EDWARDS: No. I think it’s exactly the opposite, actually. Because my view of what to do about
the economy, tax policy, health care, education, I think is completely driven by seeing it through the yes of
working families. Families like my own family, the family that I grew up with, is not driven by ideology.
And I think that is the place, the right place, for us to be as a party. Those are who we are at the end of
the day -- and I said it earlier -- there are lots of things that we stand for as a party: civil rights, civil
liberties, other issues. But at the end of the day, if we don’t represent and fight for working people, it’s
hard to see what we do represent. And I believe that the way … [applause] But I think that my
perspective is that I see things through their eyes, and I think that every proposal that I have is driven by
TOM OLIPHANT: Isn’t it ironic, though, that just a decade ago when President Clinton took office, after
all the talk about how slow the economy was and how much it needed stimulation, the actual change was
deficit reduction, which set off the prosperity of the 90s?
JOHN EDWARDS: Yes. And apparently the Republicans didn’t learn any lessons from that because
they took us right back to irresponsibility.
TOM OLIPHANT: Thank you.
JOHN EDWARDS: You’re welcome. [applause]
TOM OLIPHANT: I’m going to be very good about going from one microphone to the other, though when
I goof, please call me on it. Sir? Thank you very much.
Q: I want to ask one of those tough questions that was invited, but before I do, two thank you’s. Number
one, as a Democrat, last night I want to thank you as a Democrat for what you did when Governor Dean
and Senator Kerry were carping at each other. You took leadership and generosity and said, “Hey, wait a
minute; I’d vote for either one of these for President than the current one we have.” Thank you for doing
that. That was important. [applause] Secondly, as an American, I want to thank you for what you’ve
done on the judiciary committee, when right-wing judges come up for Federal nomination. What you did
with Judge Pickering in questioning him should be a videotape that you should send to every American,
because it lets people know what the President has put up. You did a magnificent job exposing that.
Thank you. [applause]
Now my question. I loved it last night. It was the first time I’d heard of this office of civil liberties. But then
I thought, gee, that’s a little bit like the fox guarding the henhouse. Who’s going to be enforcing this?
You were questioning John Ashcroft when he said, “Trust me.” Who’s this office going to report to? The
Attorney General? The President? What about the Supreme Court that’s supposed to be doing that job?
What about the President who’s supposed to be representing the American people? Shouldn’t that be
where the civil liberties enforcement is?
JOHN EDWARDS: Well, in theory, yes. That’s true. But actually I’ve thought a lot about this issue. And
I’ll tell you where my head is now. Is that it’s probably going to be necessary to have the watchdog group
report to Congress. I thought about the possibility of them reporting to the Attorney General. And
structurally, honestly, that makes more sense organizationally. But it may just be necessary at the end of
the day for them to report directly to Congress to make sure that we have the kind of independence that
Q: Senator Edwards, my wife and I are visiting from the great state of Oklahoma in this beautiful city that
has been a wonderful place for us to see. We have a place south of Oklahoma in Baja, Oklahoma. And
as our President, when he was governor, dropped the ball pretty much on the environment, and it is
effecting Oklahomans as a result. Would you share your environmental policy with us as you would as
JOHN EDWARDS: Sure. First of all, you’re from Oklahoma?
JOHN EDWARDS: Make sure you vote in the Oklahoma primary. February 3rd. That’s why I mentioned
it. Because Oklahoma’s moved its primary up, so it’s now going to be an important player in the
Well, first, I mentioned earlier that I’ve been very actively involved in fighting the administration’s
proposed changes to the Clean Air Law, the laws that protected our air for a quarter of a century. They’re
doing it through what they call a new source review. Changes in rules for a new source review. But it is
an enormously important issue. We had a vote on my amendment on the floor of the Senate that was 50
to 46. And we had four Democrats missing who would have voted with us. So, I mean, we got
Republican votes: John McCain voted with us. There were a group of Republicans who voted with us. I
think we have to aggressively enforce our clean air and clean water laws. I think we have to move this
country toward energy independence.
One of the things that we haven’t talked about yet but that really troubles me about the President and
some of his unilateral actions is the way he disengaged from Kyoto unilaterally very early on in the
administration. [applause] We all know that there are some problems with Kyoto, but the way to fix it is to
work with others and engage on the issue.
I think we ought to move the country toward alternative cleaner sources of energy. One of the things that
I have proposed specifically is that we build four large biomass refineries around the country where we
use – for those who aren’t familiar with the concept, basically what it does is it uses the waste products
from agricultural products (corn, wood chips are essentially what it is) to produce ethanol. It’s a total win-
win. Because not only can we produce an alternative clean source of energy, but secondly, it creates jobs
and it creates jobs out in places in rural America where we desperately need to pay some attention.
If I could just backtrack for 30 seconds on a question that Tom asked me about the South, I do think that
to the extent we as Democrats can talk about what’s happening in the rural economy in America, and we
don’t just think of rural America as that place you fly over between Boston and Los Angeles, then
because we as Democrats have to reach out to those people, then this is a place where we can do a
good thing for energy independence, a good thing for the environment, and a good thing for job
production at exactly the same time. And we have to improve fuel efficiency on automobiles. [applause]
But not pickup trucks, right? He claims he hadn’t read my notes! [laughter] But I think there are a whole
range of things that we need to do to make sure that our environment is … And, by the way, I see this as
in the same category as the administration’s economic irresponsibility. I mean, what they’re doing is on
the economy they’re going deeper and deeper into deficits; they’re going to leave these deficits and this
debt to our children and to our grandchildren. It is incredibly irresponsible. It’s exactly the same approach
to the environment. We’ll let others worry about that. We’ll let our kids worry about that. We’ll let our
grandkids worry about it. Well, that’s irresponsible. We have a responsibility to aggressively protect our
TOM OLIPHANT: Thank you for your patience.
Q: The last few years I have felt that the administration has been able to fearmonger after 9/11. My
question is, in 2004 Bush is planning to go from the Republican nominating convention down to Ground
Zero to do a site. And what are the Democrats going to be able to do? You, if you’re nominated, to
speak to the Americans about the fears that they have and how civil liberties have to be protected
regardless of their fears?
JOHN EDWARDS: Well, first of all, I would not underestimate the good sense and judgment of the
American people. I think the President and Republicans are going to have to be very careful about what
they do. And, secondly, the way to deal with this is not cede this issue to them at all. Why in the world
would we cede an issue of homeland security, how to keep people in America safe, to a party whose idea
of homeland security is duct tape and plastic wrap? [applause]
I have laid out a very comprehensive set of ideas about how to keep America safe. Ranging from one of
the things we talked about earlier, the new Agency to Fight Domestic Terrorism, to doing a much better
job of protecting our ports and making sure that terrorists aren’t coming across our borders and making
sure that our most vulnerable targets – nuclear plants, chemical plants – are being protected. And one of
the things that I’ve discovered traveling the country is that if you ask most people what would you do
today differently than you would have done on September 11 if the terrorist attack occurred in your area,
they don’t have any idea.
Well, the reason is we don’t have a comprehensive warning system. We don’t have a comprehensive
response system. We don’t have a neighborhood-watch-like system in place. I think families would like to
actually participate in helping protect themselves and their neighborhoods. But I believe, and we’ll find
out whether I’m right about this or not, I believe that the American people care about our core values. I
think they understand what makes America great. And I think they get it. They want to do what’s right to
protect our equal rights, our civil rights, and our civil liberties.
Q: Senator Edwards, I agree with everything that you said about your plan to help out education in poor
areas by helping give bonuses to teachers and giving incentives to students to go and teach in lesser
affluent areas. But coming from Florida, Governor Jeb Bush, with his standardized testing, has claimed to
raise accountability across the state. But if you look at the schools that are still performing well and the
schools that aren’t performing well, you still see that there is a line between the schools that are in richer
areas and the schools that are in poorer areas. So I would wonder why your plan wouldn’t address the
fundamental cause of that inequality, which is the property taxes that fund the schools, and what you
would say to that?
JOHN EDWARDS: Well, do you still see the line in Florida as driven largely along economic disparity?
Is that what you see happening in Florida?
JOHN EDWARDS: First of all, there’s a whole set of things that we ought to be doing to try to narrow the
gap between schools in more affluent areas and schools in chronically disadvantaged areas. Some of
those things that you mentioned that I talked about -- getting good teachers for those schools, giving
scholarships. Another is the use of Title I. The whole theory of Title I is it’s supposed to be used to level
the playing field. But, of course, we don’t do that and not in the level of investment that we should have.
And the result of all that is that you have an accountability system that applies to everybody. And you
have some schools, as you point out, where the property tax base is high, that have the resources to
meet those standards, and then you have some schools that don’t have the resources to meet those
standards. Until we close that gap – and, by the way, that’s a fundamental problem, not just in Florida --
it’s exactly what the President’s doing at the national level, and that’s why this is all sloganeering. He
underfunds his own plan by ten billion dollars but imposes a national mandate, which is a recipe for
I mean, I believe in standards. I believe that we ought to … In North Carolina, we’ve had standards that
have been a model in a lot of ways. We not being me, but the Governor and Governor Hunt and previous
governors of North Carolina set in place these accountability, testing accountability and standards. But
what we did is we made sure we put resources behind it. We put money behind it. Otherwise, the
schools in areas that are at an economic disadvantage, they can’t meet them. So I think the answer is, at
the national level, we can’t control what local property taxes are. But what we can do is make sure that
we get good teachers to those places, that we’re investing to try to narrow that gap between the schools
in chronically disadvantaged areas and other schools.
TOM OLIPHANT: Can you give me just one second for a follow-up here, because it didn’t come up
earlier and you really should be on the record here. The deficits at the state and local level are the worst
they’ve been in two generations. This state is going through a crisis. Yesterday, in South Carolina, we
learned that the South Carolina Teacher of the Year has been laid off! How much of this historic gap
could a new administration close realistically?
JOHN EDWARDS: Oh, it could be closed dramatically! If you could generate the kind of support in
Congress that you’d have to do to close down some of these tax cuts that have been passed, and be
willing, which the President’s been unwilling to do, to invest in helping the state and local governments. I
mean, you may even know this, I’ve made a proposal that we spend at least $50 billion at the national
level to help state and local governments both who face a terrible budget.
TOM OLIPHANT: So that would have property tax dimensions ultimately.
JOHN EDWARDS: It could affect what was just asked about, absolutely.
TOM OLIPHANT: I’m sorry I held you up. Go ahead.
Q: Senator, thank you so much for coming to speak to unscripted questions, unlike the current
I was here a few weeks ago when Howard Dean came. And I noticed that he had a bunch of volunteers
outside that organized themselves through his website, had a bunch of signs handing out literature,
making some noise. The difference here today, I haven’t noticed any volunteers like that. I’ve noticed a
bunch of very nice gentlemen in suits that I don’t mean to disparage. [laughter] But you, at the very
beginning of the questions said that we Democrats have to remain competitive with Republicans on
funding, which I think is vital. But I think that we’re just not going to be able to hire as many suits as the
Republicans have. That’s just a fact of life. We need the grassroots support, we need the volunteers.
How is your campaign reaching out to people who want to get involved, who want to make a difference?
How are you reaching out?
JOHN EDWARDS: Well, we’re working very hard at exactly that. I wish you could have been with me in
South Carolina last night. One of the reasons I don’t have people here in Boston is they’re all in South
Carolina, where I left last night. But we actually did have folks out here waiting for me when I came in.
But no, it’s very important to me and this campaign to reach out to young people. I visit university
campuses and I will continue to spend a lot of time on university campuses. I hope and believe that both
my message and not just reaching out by being willing to listen to what young people have to say about
what needs to be done in political campaigns, what they want to see the future of their country be,
because you bring an enthusiasm and an energy to these campaigns that you can’t get anywhere else.
To answer your question specifically, there’s Caroline sitting right there in the middle of the front row. And
before you leave here, if you want to help, we want your help. Make sure you let her know. [applause]
Go right ahead. Thank you.
Q: Hi, Senator. One area that I think President Bush is particularly weak on is the war on disease. We
have surplus embryonic stem cells, and he’s discarding them into the trash rather than saving lives. Do
you have a strong policy on embryonic stem cell research?
JOHN EDWARDS: Oh, of course. I mean, the President’s policy is … I haven’t quite figured out what it
is, actually! [laughter] I mean, I listen to him, I listen to him talk, and it just seems like some effort for him
to sort of weave his way through the ideology of his party to try to figure out some place he could be. No,
it’s obvious that these stem cells can provide enormous hope and opportunity if they’re made available.
And the policy of the administration makes no sense at all. No, we need to be doing the research that will
help cure Parkinson’s and all the other diseases that we face every day. [applause]
TOM OLIPHANT: In this economy, can the doubling of the National Institutes of Health budget proceed?
JOHN EDWARDS: Absolutely. This is a range of things that you cannot be short-sighted about. And you
stop investing in research at NIH, and you will pay the price; it’s just a question of when. I mean, we talk
about fiscal responsibility, we talk about investing in education, investing in the health care process in
America. It’s not like these things are going away. Tom, they’re not going away. None of them are going
away. The issue is, are we going to pay the piper now or are we going to pay the piper later? And it’s
always the more responsible course to deal with them now. And we ought to absolutely be increasing
funding for research for NIH. No question about that. Which, by the way, as you I’m sure know very well,
Senator Kennedy’s been an extraordinary advocate for.
TOM OLIPHANT: He says sometimes that the biggest cost control improvement coming in Medicare will
be advances in disease treatment.
JOHN EDWARDS: Of course. That’s correct.
TOM OLIPHANT: Thank you very much.
Q: Hello, Mr. Senator. First off, the analogies to you as John Kennedy, I don’t quite agree with. If you
catch a right-hand angle, you look more like Bobby Kennedy.
TOM OLIPHANT: How do you know?
Q: I catch the part. [laughter] Thank you, Mr. Oliphant. But right about there, the likeness ends. I
mean, I’m the eighth person to stand up and ask you a question. And my question is, do you know how
many Americans died in Iraq, how many American servicemen and women have died because of your
vote? How many Iraqi civilians have been killed? How many unarmed protesters in the last two weeks in
the cities of Iraq demanding that they have their country turned over to them have been shot and killed by
American forces? What will you do to ensure that we have a safe society? Your actions have led to the
deaths of Americans, and you stand here as a candidate for President supporting George Bush in his
actions of war across the world. How can you say that you’re actually providing leadership for us?
JOHN EDWARDS: Are you finished?
JOHN EDWARDS: Okay. You and I disagree about this, and we disagree about it strongly. I absolutely
respect your right to come here and to come to any place and express your views. And not only do I
respect it, I embrace it; it’s what makes America great. But we don’t agree about this issue. I have for a
long time believed because of the work that I have done on the Senate Intelligence Committee that it
would be irresponsible to let Saddam Hussein continue on the course he was on. [applause] This is not
a simple issue; I would never suggest it is. I believe that because of Hussein’s history, because of his
brutality for his own people, because of starting two wars, because of what I saw over and over and over
as an obsession with ruling and dominating the Arab world and his belief that the ticket to getting there
was nuclear capability, that he could never be allowed to have nuclear capability. And in the simplest
terms, that’s what drove me about this issue.
And it’s something I felt a personal responsibility for. Because I am one of the people responsible for
making sure the American people are safe. So I did what I felt was right. You should know that when I
did it, the majority of Democratic primary voters strongly disagreed with it. Most of them agree with you;
they don’t agree with me. And I knew that then, and I know it now. But all I can say to you is I did what I
believed was right; I’ll do the same thing on every single issue I face. Including issues on which you and I
will agree, that may also not be popular. But I am also going to stand for what I think needs to be done.
Q: There was a question there as to since you’ve taken responsibility for that vote, how many Americans
have died? Do you know? You’ve taken that responsibility, accepted that leadership. How many
Americans have died?
JOHN EDWARDS: I mean, do you know if I know the count as of today?
TOM OLIPHANT: Thank you very much for waiting, sir. By the way, one of the awful things about this
job is he does this many times a day. And 3:35 is sadly the cutoff time. So we have five minutes. And it
means some of you are going to be disappointed, for which I apologize in advance. But thank you, sir.
Q: Good afternoon, Senator Edwards, and welcome to the Kennedy country and Democratic state which
proudly voted for Senator George McGovern for President. The only state which voted for him. And also
it’s a state that goes into a (inaudible) once in forty years and elects a Republican governor. [laughter]
Now, after watching your debate yesterday, I thought Saturday Night Live did a better job on Bush than all
you nine guys. Honestly, I felt they did a marvelous job on Bush about his escapade in California and on
the war ship and how many millions he’s (inaudible) yeah, you are back home, you can go home now.
Just to say that, he spent millions of dollars of tax payer’s money.
Now, the question comes up. As tragic as it has been this 9/11, it has been a blessing in disguise for
George Bush. Because until 9/11, he was a nothing President. That’s what put him above everything
else. And he’s going to, as you know, use that 9/11 as the cover for everything he does from this point
on. And as you know, they are even planning … The Republican Convention encouraged them with that
9/11 date, that’s what I understood. This issue, the war on Iraq, has been a divisive issue within the
Democrats, between conservatives and liberals. How are you going to bring the two wings of the
Democratic party to support you, since you took a stand to support President Bush on this? Please tell
me how you are going to bring both wings together?
JOHN EDWARDS: Sure. Well, what we’re going to do is first, we’re going to reach out to not just
Democrats, but to the entire country. And make sure they understand whose side President Bush is on.
That he is not on the side of most Americans. That he is captive to the insiders who put him in office.
That he’s hurting, as a result, the lives of regular Americans every single day.
We have to do two things to be successful. First, we have to excite and motivate the Democratic party
and all the people who participate in the Democratic Party, so that they care, that they’re willing to
participate, they want to vote, they want to be engaged, they want to be involved. In order to do that, we
have to stand up and present a real alternative. Second, we have to reach out to all those people who
are neither Democrats nor Republicans, or who go back and forth. Because those people also have an
enormous impact on what happens in Presidential elections in America. And those people are not driven
by ideology. They are driven by a President that they believe will be on their side and will stand up for
them, particularly when their interests are at odds with powerful interests that they know exist in
Washington every single day.
And the way we reach out first to motivate Democrats, to get them excited about what we’re doing, is to
stand strong on some of the issues that we believe in so deeply, things that I think are core issues for our
party. Like civil rights, like civil liberties. And second, that we have an economic plan and a health care
plan and an educational plan that improves the lives of all Americans, including those in the middle who
we have to get to be successful. I am completely convinced that when the election in November 2004
comes, we will have both a powerful message and a powerful messenger. And the case not only against
President Bush is strong, but the case of the alternative, for where we would take this country, is
powerfully strong. The American people just need to hear it. If they hear our case, we will be successful.
And starting at least by a little less than a year from now, when we probably know who the nominee for
our party is, we’re going to have a platform for that case to be heard. [applause]
TOM OLIPHANT: I am already in deep doo-doo, as the Bushes like to say, with the authorities. And this
nice man has hundreds of miles to go before he sleeps. So, with sadness, I can take one here and one
there, if that’s all right with you, Senator.
JOHN EDWARDS: Sure.
TOM OLIPHANT: Thank you for waiting so long.
Q: Thank you very much. I’m an Ohioan, and went to Ohio State University, so I appreciated your
remarks on education especially. But my question has to do with rural issues. Because I feel like the
Democratic party has been getting weaker and weaker in that regard. And you mentioned the creation of
jobs with ethanol production. But I would like to know what else might you do to reach out to the rural
JOHN EDWARDS: Sure. Well, what I would do is focus specifically, not just … I mean, I have a whole
series of ideas about how to get the economy going in general, which I talked about, but particularly the
rural economy, which is in shambles in a lot of America. A variety of things. First, we need incentives in
what I call economic revitalization zones. Places not just in urban areas, but in rural areas, whose
economies are struggling, either because of low commodity prices for farmers because of plant closings,
loss of manufacturing jobs. We need to create incentives, tax write-offs, financial incentives for
businesses and industries to locate in those places. Second, we need to continue to invest in the build
out of infrastructure in those areas. And third is one of the things that you just mentioned, which is we
have to be able to make sure that those rural schools have the same quality of education that we have in
some urban schools, because otherwise businesses and industries won’t be willing to locate there.
But I can tell you, having spent a fair amount of time in rural areas -- not just in North Carolina, but in
other parts of the country -- people feel completely ignored there. They think nobody pays attention to
them. They think the Democratic party … They think, because he’s good at the sloganeering, they think
President Bush maybe is somebody who’s looking out for them. Actually, his policies are devastating for
rural America. But we can’t just say that; we have to actually have an alternative plan. And I think it
includes the things that we just talked about.
Also, making sure that the trade agreements we’re entering into around the world still allow our workers
here to compete.
TOM OLIPHANT: Which reminds me, for this relatively urban audience, why does the country need a
strong farm program?
JOHN EDWARDS: Because what’s happening is, first of all, farmers are absolutely on the brink of going
out of business all over America. And it is a combination of -- I’ll use my state as a vehicle for talking
about this -- the rural economy in places like North Carolina and the South is driven by a combination of
agriculture and manufacturing jobs. And because so many of the lower-wage manufacturing jobs have
left this country and because commodity prices are so low, there’s very little— I mean, we have
generation after generation of farmers where people are just talking about going out of business because
they can’t make ends meet. And it is, fortunately or unfortunately, a part of the backbone of the rural
economy in America.
TOM OLIPHANT: You’re last, but not least. And then I’ll turn it back to John.
Q: Thanks so much, Senator. I enjoyed this very much. I’m pleased to get the last question in here. I’d
like to ask you about your vision of foreign policy. You mentioned that two main threats to America are
terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. So, with that in mind, what do you think about
the anti-ballistic missile treaty withdrawal? Do you see a role of the UN, a re-engaged role of the UN, in
dealing with counter-proliferation? Do you see reform in the UN? And terrorism is a problem. How might
you seek to redress anti-American sentiment in the Arab world? I know it’s a lot to ask, and I don’t know
if you can do it in three minutes but give it a shot! [laughter]
JOHN EDWARDS: Oh, sure, I can do it in three minutes. That’s no problem! [laughter]
Well, let me just start with the basics, and then just tell you what my view is of America’s role in the world
because we haven’t talked about that bigger picture. We are the world’s only superpower now. And I
think it’s important for us to maintain our strength, our economic strength, our political strength, and our
military strength. But to use it to engage around the world in a way to promote the things that we care
most about, like Democracy, and freedom, and human rights. But it’s important, really important, that we
lead in a way that brings others to us instead of driving them away, that we have a multi-lateral approach
to the world’s problems.
I believe that the two things that you mentioned are the most serious threats we face: terrorism and
proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. And on both those fronts, it is impossible for us to be
successful alone. It cannot be done. And as I mentioned earlier, we have terrorist cells located all over
the world. It will absolutely require the help of the international community for us to be successful.
The same thing’s true with proliferation. A perfect example, actually, is, as I mentioned briefly, the former
Soviet Union where there are these huge stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction with very little
security. And the Russian scientists who helped develop them, who have an economy that’s in
shambles, and they have nowhere to go, they’re unemployed. I mean, it’s just danger waiting to happen.
And we actually have a program in this country that’s called Nunn/Lugar, that’s intended to help the
Russians dismantle those weapons of mass destruction, make sure they’re secure, to deal with their
scientists. But we’re not investing in it at the level we should.
So the answer to your question is, what I believe is that it’s very important both through our words and our
deeds that we make it clear to the rest of the world that while we’re strong, and we know we’re strong,
what we also care about is that the entire world be peaceful, that we want to help the rest of the world be
prosperous. One of the root causes of both the unease in the Middle East and terrorism is so many
people in the Arab world live lives of hopelessness and despair. We have to make it clear that we care
about addressing those root causes.
I mean, the political and economic stagnation in the Middle East and in the Arab world in general is
astounding. We can address the state sponsorship of terrorism in Iran, what Syria’s doing, Iraq, all of
those issues, in a discreet way, one by one. But at the end of the day, unless over the long term we’re
going to address the root causes of terrorism, we’re not going to get rid of the problem. And the world
needs to see America as a country that will reach out to them, that cares what they have to say, that
cares about their problems, and that will work with them and the international community, including the
United Nations, to solve the problems that exist in this world. It is the only way that we’re going to be
successful, number one. And it is the most effective way to keep the American people safe. [applause]
TOM OLIPHANT: Senator, one always thanks the victim for being a good sport. But after the very late
night we all had last night, this is what President Kennedy, I guess, meant by vigor, that you were here
this afternoon. There’s nothing like a Kennedy Library crowd. And thank you for your patience and your
questions. And back to you, John.
JOHN SHATTUCK: Senator Edwards, this is a wonderful moment for us at the Kennedy Library, to be
able to host you here. I think you represent what President Kennedy called the noble art of politics in its
most high form. And as you go out on the campaign trail, and there will be many long days and nights, as
we all know, I hope you’ll look back at the Kennedy Library and this wonderful audience here today and
draw inspiration and thought, as well as support, no doubt. And, so, let me just thank you personally, and
on behalf of the Kennedy Library for coming here. It was a long way after a long day yesterday. And Tom
Oliphant as well. Thank you very much. [applause]