Here are excerpts of an interview with Sens. John F. Kerry and John Edwards aboard the Democrats' campaign plane Friday. It opened with a question about the fundraising concert Thursday night in New York, where several entertainers sharply attacked President Bush, calling him "a thug" and suggesting he was a murderer. Kerry was asked about Republican criticism of the event and his statement that the performers reflected "the heart and soul" of the country.
Kerry: "There's a lot of anger that a lot of different individuals feel and artists often choose to express that in artistic ways that neither John nor I would choose. They speak for themselves; they don't speak for us. We obviously have a very different approach, and we've expressed that very publicly."
Edwards: "It's an expression by folks with very genuine feelings, and thank goodness in our country they have a right to express those feelings. . . . "
Edwards was asked whether he would play the traditional role of a vice presidential nominee and lead the Democratic attack on the Bush administration.
Edwards: "What I see as my responsibility is to make sure the American people know what it is we're going to do for this country, how we're going to address the problems we face every day of their lives with John Kerry as president of the United States, not just in rhetoric but in real substance and policies."
Kerry was asked what Edwards brought to the ticket and why he had selected him.
Kerry: "What I wanted to find was the best person available to me to be a partner, to be part of a team, to fulfill the responsibilities of vice president, to lead the country if he had to. I am convinced on the basis of John's life experience -- don't get suckered into the how many years you've been in one job or this job. . . . The measure is a person's character, a person's values, a person's abilities and political skills and ability to work with other people and bring people to a cause. I saw that in the Septembers and October, November, December of last year when you people had crowned the nominee, when you all had said the race was all but over, John Edwards got up every day and went out there and fought hard and believed in something, and he showed the nation what he's made of. . . . I've seen it in the Senate. . . . This man has the character, the judgment, the values and the life experience that guarantees that I picked a man who, if I couldn't continue to be president, he could lead this nation."
Kerry was reminded that, during the primaries, he said Edwards did not have foreign policy experience and that this was no time for on-the-job training.
Kerry: "I challenged my level of experience against his, as I will challenge my level of experience against George Bush's and Dick Cheney's, and that was a fair challenge in the context of the primaries. But that doesn't mean he isn't qualified against George Bush. He's more qualified to be president today than the day George Bush was the day he became president, and he has better judgment than George Bush does. . . . I'll take John Edwards over George Bush as president today immediately, in a nanoflash."
Edwards was asked whether there were things he would do to assure voters he would be ready if he had to assume the presidency.
Edwards: "I am ready. I'm ready today. . . . I believe that I [have] very creative ideas about what needs to be done to protect America's role in the world and keep this country safe. . . . I learn every day. That will not stop. I believe that in order to fulfill this enormous responsibility which Senator Kerry has blessed me with, that I have an obligation to the American people to work 18 hours a day to make sure that every day I know more than I did the day before."
Kerry and Edwards were asked why they were focusing so heavily on values in their first week together, rather than on jobs, the economy or Iraq and foreign policy.
Kerry: "It's the heart of our campaign, it's the center of what matters in America, it's why we're running. If they want to have a talk about values, it's just like I've said throughout the campaign: Bring it on. Because values are demonstrated in the choices you make every day. Values are demonstrated in the priorities of your budget. Values are demonstrated in what you ask Congress to fight for and pass. . . . These are the real values that our country is founded on, and I'm willing to talk about those values -- not their little political, hot-button, cultural, wedge-driven, poll-driven values. Americans have had enough of that game, and we're going to show that in the course of this race."
Edwards: "What is it that allows politicians to decide what values are? Politicians don't decide. You say redefine. You mean redefine in the language of politicians. The American people believe that it is a value whether you put your life on the line serving your country. It is a value to the American people whether you care and will fight for their children getting a good education, getting health care. Politicians don't get to define values, the voters will do that."
The two Democrats were asked whether they planned to return to Washington to vote on the proposed constitutional amendment barring gay marriage.
Kerry: "If they have a final vote on it, I will go back and vote on a final vote. If they're just playing politics like they did the other day, if there is a series of amendments that are just part of that process, probably not. . . . Let's be very firm about it. Both John and I believe firmly and absolutely that marriage is between a man and a woman. But we also believe that you don't play with the Constitution of the United States for political purposes and amend the Bill of Rights when you don't need to when states are adequately addressing this issue."
Edwards: "Most of the people that I grew up with, what they really want in their leaders and their president in terms of values and a belief system is somebody they look up to and respect, somebody they think is a good man, somebody who cares about his kids, cares about his faith, cares about the kind of priorities that they care about. Between now and November, when I get a chance to tell them what I know about John Kerry, they're going to believe, they will absolutely decide that this is a man that they, their families and their grandchildren will look up to and respect."
They were asked, given polls indicating that voters see national security and the economy as the two dominant issues, whether the public hungered for a debate over values.
Edwards: "I think your priorities on the economy, jobs, health care, etc., reflect your values, reflect what you care about. I don't think they're separate."
Kerry: "I agree. I was going to say that how you feel about Iraq is a reflection of your values about how you go to war, about what's worth fighting for, about whether you were told the truth about what's involved. There's a value system that believes that America ought to work with other countries and put our best foot forward."