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Interview With Caroline Kennedy

Aired May 30, 2003 - 15:18   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: All her life, Caroline Kennedy has had a front-row seat to many examples of American patriotism. As the daughter of a president, her appreciation of the country's spirit, heritage and pride were instilled at an early age, inside the halls of power and beyond.
As an adult, she has thought increasingly about what it means to be an American, especially after 911. Her new book, "A Patriot's Handbook," is a collection of patriotic poems, speeches, documents and even song lyrics.




WOODRUFF: Those are just some of the songs in the book and the CD that comes along with it.

Caroline Kennedy researched all the selections in "A Patriot's Handbook." She wrote the introduction and she added a personal commentary to each section. I sat down with her today and asked her about the book and whether there had been anything like it before.


CAROLINE KENNEDY, EDITOR, "A PATRIOT'S HANDBOOK": I really wanted it to be much more than just political. And so if you really try to include the humor and the literary kind of tradition as well as the judicial and legislative milestones, then, you know, that was why it was so much fun for me to do. And I really found, you know, the themes of freedom and equality that this country was founded on really go, you know, so much throughout our history and in ways that really can appeal to all ages. So that's why it was sort of, you know, a great project for me and my kids and every thing.

WOODRUFF: You know, I was thinking maybe 200 years ago, 100, even 50 years ago we didn't need to be reminded of why we love America. What is different about today, do you think?

KENNEDY: Well, I think we have gone through a period of cynicism or disengagement, that people are really ready to come out of. And I think there is this tremendous curiosity and a desire to reconnect with sort of these building blocks of our democracy, and then turn that into a sort of a way of reengaging in sort of -- in a conversation about what kind of country we want to have.

And so I think in some ways, people became a little disconnected from some of these words and our country really was founded on words and ideas. So I think it's really gives you a tremendous sense of kind of not only inspiration, but strength about the future, if you go back and read sort of some of these documents, because if you look at World War II or World War I or Truman, the Korean War, and -- you know, those challenges were tremendous and we came through them. So I think people should really take great pride and strength in reading some of these things.

WOODRUFF: You included here, Caroline Kennedy, voices of dissent as well. I mean you have John Kerry's speech or remarks to Congress against the war in Vietnam. You have a man struggling with whether to avoid the draft.

Dissent is a part of being an American. Is that what you're trying to say?

KENNEDY: Well, I think really, you know, respect for the individual means respect for individual freedom of thought. And that, you don't really -- it's not really put to the test if every body is just agreeing. And so there is a tremendous history and tradition, going back to Thomas Jefferson, of course, and, you know, backed by the Supreme Court in so many ways of really honoring the right to disagree and respecting the individual voice. And I think that's one of the great things about our country.

So whether it's Frederick Douglass or Jehovah's Witnesses or, as you said, John Kerry, I think that certainly the flag decision, there's a lot there that certainly we can take inspiration from.

WOODRUFF: Do you think at times it's hard, though, for some Americans -- or many Americans to realize, to recognize that that is a part of being an American?

KENNEDY: Well, I think if you ever try to take away any of these freedoms, freedom of speech or freedom of thought, then people will realize how precious they really are. And of course we don't all agree. And these are issues that are very emotional and people really do take very seriously. But I think kind of the respect for tolerance that we have also created and it's been tested, you know, lately, but it's some thing that is, you know, an equally important achievement.

WOODRUFF: Some body came up to you, I saw or read, and said something about how can a liberal write about patriotism? What was it that they said?

KENNEDY: Well, I didn't know that it was such a loaded word. In fact, it was my daughter who came up with the title and I thought she really captured the sense that, of course, it belongs to every body, patriotism and the idea that it's a handbook, it's some thing you could refer to easily, be familiar with. It's not intimidating or sort of inaccessible.

And then since I have been talking about this book, I have gotten a lot of -- a lot of that, you know, pushed back on using the word patriotism which really, I must say, took me by surprise.

WOODRUFF: Obviously, there are many parts of this book that must be special to you. There's a picture -- a wonderful picture here of your mother swinging you around at the beach when you were little. Why did you include that?

KENNEDY: Well, I think, really, in a way, I think it gets across the idea that this is something really for families. And there's so much joy, really in our kind of celebration of America. And that's really how, as parents I think we can pass on to children the sense of, you know, beginning this journey of being engaged and kind of creating the kind of society that we want.

So people -- you know, I mean, I still go back to that same place and people, you know, it's such a great picture and I think it really captures -- there's a lot of poems in here (UNINTELLIGIBLE) too, talking about the joy and exuberance of being an American, and so I think that picture fits right in.

WOODRUFF: As a Kennedy, you feel a special obligation to do something like this, do you think?

KENNEDY: Well, I, you know, growing up as I did, certainly you know, my early years were, you know, in the White House was surrounded by, obviously patriotic, you know, atmosphere and there were so many servicemen and women around. And that was something I really grew up with. And then beyond that, the words of history. So I hope that people will find things that they respond to in the book and, you know, create their own collections. This is just, you know, my start on it.


WOODRUFF: Caroline Kennedy also told me that her other two children are not jealous that she's giving the credit for coming up with the title to her middle child, her daughter, Tatiana.

The book is "The Patriot's Handbook."


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