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Kerry Speaks to American Society of Newspaper Editors

Aired April 23, 2004 - 14:41   ET


First it was the president of the United States, then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Now presidential hopeful John Kerry is taking to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Washington, D.C. at the annual convention. Let's listen in.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... annexation of a number of settlements. That, obviously, is not on the table today, but the principle is accepted.

So for people to sort of raise a protest to that accepted principle at this point, I think events have moved well beyond that.

What I fault the administration for is that they haven't done enough to create the climate within the Arab world to advance an entity within the West Bank, within the Palestinian Authority, that is capable of delivering a peace. Hamas has more influence in the street than the Palestinian Authority does.

And to a large measure, that's an international responsibility that has been neglected, and the United States has always been the world's leader in that endeavor.

I believe the absence of our leadership over the course of the last years has contributed to the current instability and hatred that exists in the region.

So I think we could help Israel even more, personally, by leading Europe and other countries to the kind of development effort economically that begins to show something to the Palestinians and begins to create an entity with which Israel ultimately can negotiate.

But in the meantime, I support the building of a security fence. I support Israel's need to be secure. And I recognize that there is not that entity to deal with. But I fault this administration for its 14-month disengagement, for pulling General Zinni back as the special envoy, and for failing to understand the public diplomacy in the Arab world that is so critical to advance our interests as a fair broker in the region and elsewhere.

QUESTION: I have a political strategy question for you.

Over the past couple of decades, conservative interests have done a good job of investing the word "liberal" with a lot of negative meaning that resonates even with people who are not necessarily politically conservative themselves.

What is your response when that label is applied to you? And is it going to be possible for your party to reclaim that word and give it a more positive meaning?

QUESTION: Or is there another label that you would like to see applied?

KERRY: Well, I'm not much for labels, period. I think they do a disservice to a genuine political dialogue. I mean, George Bush throws out a label, "compassionate conservatism." Tell me what's compassionate about not funding No Child Left Behind. Tell me what's conservative about running up deficits as far as the eye can see.

There's nothing conservative about crossing that beautiful line drawn by the Founding Fathers that we've lived with for 229 years that separates church and state in the United States, but they do.

There's nothing conservative about toying with the Constitution of the United States in an election year to drive a political wedge between people.

There's nothing conservative about an attorney general who has stomped on civil liberties and civil rights in this country and been cited by his own inspector general for doing so.

What's conservative about any of that? That's extreme.

Am I conservative because I want to balance the budget and have PAYGO, as I just described? Or is that liberal?

I think we waste our time with that. What we need are solutions to problems. We need leadership that's going to take us in a direction, and not divide the American people with these phony labels.

The American people have been seduced for the last 20 years into voting for slogans that have very little to do with their job, with their income, with their education system, with their health care, with the air they breathe, the water they drink, and the quality of life in American and our safety and security in the world.

Those are the principal issues of this campaign. Those are the issues I'm running to address. And I'm not going to get stuck into a liberal-conservative label deal, because I just don't think it applies.

QUESTION: It may not apply, but it's the way that much of our political discourse is happening. And so my question...

KERRY: Well, let's change it.

QUESTION: ... really is, what is your strategy for changing it? How do you change it?

KERRY: Tell the truth. Talk to the American people the way I am. Why do you think I'm tied or ahead or depending on where you see this race after the spending of almost $60 million over seven weeks to attack every one of those labels to me -- attach them to me? Because I think the American people are looking for something different.

KERRY: They want problems solved. They want a real conversation about our country. I mean, let's talk about it. How do we make America safe and secure, folks?

I mean, you've got a choice now in Iraq. You can either just keep on doing what we're doing. You can pull out completely, which some people argue, and I don't. I think it would be disastrous for the war on terror as well as our interests in the region as well as the stability.

So there's a third way. This administration is trying to go through the backdoor to get that third way, using Ambassador Brahimi and trying to find a way to get a government, rather than launching an all-out assault and effort to bring people to the table, to say, look, you folks in the Arab world have a huge interest in not having a failed Iraq as your neighbor, and you people in Europe have a huge interest in not having a failed Iraq at your doorstep.

Notwithstanding those interests, none of them are at the table with this administration.

I think that's a legitimate issue to have a debate about.

Health care: Is there one newspaper here that wouldn't love to lower its health care costs and not pay in as much for your employees? Well, I have a plan to help you do that. We can take the catastrophic cases out of the system, pay for them at the federal level, conglomeratizing them, reducing the risk that you pay for to $50,000 maximum exposure, and therefore lowering premiums in America by at least $1,000 a person and lowering your co-pay. And that helps us begin to contain costs in this country as we go forward.

That's worth debating about.

Following through on the promise of education reform is worth debating about. But from the attack ads you'd see today, you wouldn't know it.

So I'm going to try and change the discussion and just tell the truth to the American people.

I never ran one negative advertisement against my opponents in the primaries. And I haven't run negative advertisements yet. My advertisements in this race are positive. And you go see them in the next days, talking about where we need to take this country. And I'm going to try and change the discussion.

PHILLIPS: Presidential hopeful John Kerry there addressing writers and editors from the American Society of Newspaper Editors. The president of the United States also did the same thing along with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT

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