Kerry Fires Back At Clark

On <b>60 Minutes</b>, Also Draws Iraq/Vietnam War Parallels

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry responded to a military rank-pulling comment aimed at him by rival Democratic presidential contender Wesley Clark by calling Clark, a retired general, "dismissive of lieutenants."

The retort came in a 60 Minutes interview broadcast Sunday, on the CBS Television Network. (The full transcript is below.)

Clark, in a campaign speech, suggested his experience as a four-star general in the Army made him a superior presidential candidate to Kerry, pointing out that Kerry was only a lieutenant in Vietnam.

"That's the first time I have heard a general be so dismissive of lieutenants, who bleed a lot in wars," Kerry told Ed Bradley in Sunday's interview. "I think the general is entitled to his feelings and opinions."

Kerry, who fought in Vietnam as a Navy lieutenant, junior grade, was wounded in battle three times. He told Bradley he was disillusioned with that war "within weeks, almost," and compared it to the current situation in Iraq.

"[Vietnam] is young people dying for the wrong reasons, because leaders don't do the things that they should to protect them," said Kerry. "Yes I do [see a parallel with Iraq]. This president breached faith with the lesson...we learned in Vietnam. You truly should go to war as a matter of last resort. This president rushed to war without a plan to win the peace," he added.

Clark caused a minor campaign flap when we referred to Kerry as a junior officer not involved in serious policy issues. Clark said, "With all due respect, he's a lieutenant and I'm a general."

The Kerry campaign, for its part, held its tongue.

The CBS News Political Unit notes that, perhaps recognizing that negative campaigning backfired in Iowa, the Clark campaign later seemed to pull back from the tactic.

As the New York Times reported, by Thursday, "Gone was his suggestion that Mr. Kerry's military experience could not match his as a four-star general." Instead, Clark opted for the much more subdued, "We were both young officers in Vietnam … We just pursued different paths of service."

At a rally Friday, South Carolina Sen. Ernest (Fritz) Hollings, a World War II veteran himself, touted his decades of service in the Senate with Kerry and took a veiled swipe at Clark. "We're going to teach that fellow in South Carolina that there are more lieutenants than there are generals," Hollings said.

But on the stump in New Hampshire Saturday, Clark touted his executive experience as a military commander, saying it makes him better suited than Kerry to be president.

"My experience is the experience of leadership, of setting goals and organizing teams, of bringing people together, motivating and inspiring and making tough decisions," Clark said at one of his trademark pancake breakfasts. A woman had asked Clark what she should tell her friends who are trying to decide between him and Kerry.

Here is Bradley's full report from 60 Minutes:

Had John Kerry, the four-term senator from Massachusetts, not stumbled coming out of the gate and not had trouble breaking away from the field in the race to become the Democrats' candidate for president, there were those in his party who say he would have been a runaway winner.

Now, with a win in last week's Iowa caucus, he's back on track. At least, the smart money thinks he's got a good shot – maybe the best shot – at getting his party's coveted nomination. 60 Minutes Correspondent Ed Bradley caught up with Kerry on the campaign trail.

Kerry say he thinks he's doing a better job at connecting with people today than he did at the beginning of his campaign. So what happened?

"It's sometimes like spring training," says the senator. "You kind of have to get out of Washington, get away from the language. Get away from the sort of formality, and break out. And that's what I did."

But Kerry's formality comes as much from growing up in a patrician family as from the years spent in Washington as a senator. Born in 1943, his mother was a Boston blue-blood and his father was an Army Air Corps pilot who later became a foreign service officer, which meant that Kerry, the second of four children, moved from place to place in the United States and Europe.

"I can remember, as a 12-year-old kid, I actually rode my bicycle into the East sector of Berlin – which is a huge no-no – using my diplomatic passport, until my dad found out and I was firmly grounded and my passport was yanked," Kerry recalls.

In eighth grade, Kerry went to St. Paul's, a boarding school in New Hampshire, and then to Yale, where he was a member, as George W. Bush was, of Skull and Bones, an elite private club.

He enlisted in the Navy and, in 1968, he went to Vietnam, where Lieutenant Kerry earned three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and a Silver Star commanding what were known as swift boats, patrolling the rivers of the Mekong Delta.

How did he get the Silver Star?

"Surviving, I guess, is the best way to put it," Kerry explains. "I think most people who walk around with medals in this country, may be proud of the medals. And I am. But we're much more, sort of thoughtful and remembering of the people who didn't come home, who are really the heroes. And I just am not comfortable, sort of, going into the story."

When did he decide the war was wrong?

"Within weeks, almost, of being there," he says.

And what was it that changed your mind?

"It was the totality of the experience that I saw," replies the senator. "The lesser role the Vietnamese were playing in their own country. The rules that we were enforcing on them. The free-fire zones of harassment and interdiction fire. The more I saw of these missions, the more I said, 'This is a folly.'"

He came back and became part of the Vietnam veterans who were part of the war protest movement. At one point, in 1971, there was a march on Arlington Cemetery. And the doors were locked. Does Kerry remember that?

"I do remember that," he says. "It was a bitter, sad moment for every veteran there. Because all we were going to go do is pay tribute to the fallen. And we were so distrusted that they barred the doors."

That very week in 1971, Lt. Kerry was invited to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He said, in part: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

To 60 Minutes Correspondent Bradley, Kerry says today, "It was a huge moment in my life. I just launched into what came from my gut and my heart. I – in a sense, it had been building up for a long time."

For Kerry, it's still emotional after all these years. Vietnam is something that just doesn't leave you.

Explains Kerry, "It's young people dying young for the wrong reasons, because leaders don't do the things that they should do to protect them."

Does he see a parallel with Iraq?

"Yes, I do," says the candidate. "I believe this president breached faith with the lesson that I just expressed to you that we learned in Vietnam. You truly should go to war as a matter of last resort. I'm afraid this president rushed to war without a plan to win the peace."

But this was the war that the senator voted for.

"No," replies Kerry. "I think a better way to phrase that is: I voted for a process by which war would be the last resort. And those are the conditions which the president himself established. He said, 'I will build a coalition. We're going to use the United Nations, we will inspect, and I will go to war as a last resort.' He did not do anything three of those things. So yes, I believe we should have stood up to Saddam Hussein, I thought it was important for our nation's security. There was a right way to do it, and there was a wrong way to do it. The president chose the wrong way."

And for those who say Kerry should have voted no, Kerry adds this: "If anyone believes that I would have used that authority the way George Bush did, they should not vote for me, period."

Wesley Clark has said that he has won a war. He has negotiated a peace agreement: "I'm not worried about John Kerry. He's a lieutenant, I'm a general."

To that, Kerry says, "Well, that's the first time I've heard a general be so dismissive of lieutenants, who bleed a lot in wars. I think that the general is entitled to his feelings and his opinions."

Does Kerry think John Edwards has the experience?

"That's not for me to judge, that's for the American people to judge." Kerry replies.

Kerry was critical of Edwards at one point, saying: "When I came back from Vietnam in 1969, ladies and gentleman, I'm not sure if John Edwards was out of diapers then yet."

In response to that, Kerry tells Bradley, "I immediately said afterwards, 'I'm only joking,' and I said 'No, of course he wasn't.' And I then proceeded to praise him as a very talented and capable person. And I believe that about him. And, obviously, you can't joke at all, and I shouldn't."

Kerry certainly doesn't joke about George W. Bush, saying, "I disagree with President Bush on, number one, his economic policy, which is driving the country into debt and not creating jobs, giving tax cuts to wealthy Americans at the expense of the average American; the energy bill which has been transformed into $50 billion of oil and gas subsidies. Almost every policy in the environment is going backwards. I disagree with his approach to health care, which is no approach at all, and I disagree deeply, profoundly, with the way he is conducting his war on terror that is breaking our relationships around the planet, isolating the United States. That's what I disagree with, for starters."

Bradley asks, "Did you leave anything out?"

And Kerry replies, "There's more, there's more, my friend."

Kerry has vowed, "We will send George Bush back to Texas, we will stand up and we will say, 'Mission accomplished.'"

But its takes money, and lots of it, to have a chance to give the president that pink slip. Mr. Bush is expected to raise an unprecedented $200 million for his re-election campaign. So how does Kerry top that?

"I'm not worried about his money," says the senator.

Because Kerry and Gov. Dean are the only Democratic candidates to forgo public financing, there is no cap on the amount of money they can raise.

Says Kerry, "If I win this nomination early, I will have the ability to mobilize the full power of the Democratic party to raise money. And unlike Al Gore's cycle, I'll have the ability answer back and fight back. They may have the money, but I think we have the ideas, and the people."

Bradley points out some criticisms that have been brought to bear on Kerry: "They said that you're too aloof, you lack a common touch, that you're a politician who lacks a real core. How do you respond to them?"

"I think Iowa responded to them," Kerry says.

Kerry's first elective office was in 1982 as lieutenant governor to Michael Dukakis. He was elected to the senate in 1984, where he focused on investigations into Iran-Contra, Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega and joined fellow Vietnam vet John McCain in looking into the fate of missing POWs in southeast Asia.

But his political career took a toll on his marriage. He separated from his first wife in 1982 and they divorced six years later. Kerry was a single father of two daughters when he met his current wife, Teresa Heinz, widow of Senator John Heinz, who was killed in a plane crash in 1991. She was left with three sons, a half-billion dollar fortune and control of a billion-dollar charitable foundation. Born in Mozambique, Africa, her father was a Portuguese doctor. She and Kerry have been married for eight years.

What would Mrs. Heinz-Kerry's role be, as first lady?

"Keeping him honest, strong -- up when they knock him, and real humble when they praise him too much," she says. "And you know Washington. They always do that. You know, you're either a devil or you're a saint. And…none of us are either, or most of us are not."

Was she ever opposed to her husband's campaign? Was she a tough sell?

"I was a tough sell until about a year and a half ago."

And today?

"I support him completely."

Mrs. Heinz-Kerry says she has not been a part of even one strategy session in her husband's campaign. So what is her role in the campaign?

Her reply: "I just go out and do my thing. Get them all into trouble, is what I do."

And what about her vast fortune? Bradley asks Kerry if the money ever gets in the way. Does it cast a giant shadow?

He replies, "At first, I was a little bit, actually, sort of intimidated by that. I think it's one of the reasons I was cautious. But then, you know, emotions and feelings take precedence, and you take what comes with it. I'm not worried about it."

Says his wife, "I came with it."

And he continues, "No, but I mean, what I mean is, that's my point. That I didn't worry. You know, just, it doesn't matter anymore. But I can't tell you in an honest way that I didn't have to step over that kind of barrier, sure."

By law, his wife can only contribute $2,000 of her own money to his campaign. But the Kerrys have mortgaged their jointly owned townhouse in Boston to pump money into the race. And Mrs. Heinz-Kerry says she'll spend her own money independent of the campaign to defend her family against negative attacks.

In an interview with 60 Minutes correspondent Morley Safer, 33 years ago, Kerry was asked if he wanted to be president. Bradley, reminding Kerry of his response, says, "You laughed. You said, 'No, that's such a crazy question at a time like this, when there are so many things that have to be done and so many changes that have to be made. I just don't think it's something that you plan.'"

Kerry explains, "I thought my anti-war activities would probably disqualify me from running for office, as he asked that, and I think that's what I was referring to."

Every Democrat elected president in the last 40 years has been a southerner. Republicans say that they can't wait to pull out all of their Dukakis comparisons if Kerry is indeed the nominee. Does he really think a Massachusetts liberal can win, say, the south, for example?

"I think what people are looking for is not regional, where you come from," says Kerry. "They're looking for what's in your gut. The people in the south that I talk to want jobs just as much as people in the rest of the country. They want health care. They want to drink clean water and breathe clean air. The fact is that Michael Dukakis didn't lose the presidency because he came from Massachusetts. The truth is, Americans are going to look at your character, and they're going to look at your vision for the country. And they're going to test whether your words are real, and whether you'll fight for them."

He's convinced he can close this deal.

"I am convinced," he affirms. "I'm convinced I'm going to beat George Bush and lead this country to a better place."
  • Rebecca Leung

60 Minutes App

New Look. New Season. The 60 Minutes app for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch!

More from 60 Minutes

Comments