Transcript: Is John Kerry Trying to Reinvent Himself?

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, April 16, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not here just to oppose what is happening. I'm here to propose a different and better vision for where we could take our country.


JOHN GIBSON, HOST: That, of course, is John Kerry on the campaign trail. You'll be hearing a lot more of his rhetoric in the coming days when he rolls out what appears to be a massive TV ad campaign, his goal, to define himself for the voters before the Republicans can define him for themselves. Former presidential candidate Gary Hart (search) is Kerry's national security advisor. Mr. Hart, big question, is John Kerry trying to reinvent himself to take on George Bush?

GARY HART, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, I don't believe so. This is an extraordinary campaign that's beginning long before most national campaigns do in the sense of having two candidates. The Democrats happily resolved our nomination process early. So this is a process going on for about eight months now, and I think both candidates will be reinventing themselves several times before it's over.

GIBSON: Well, I guess this is a fortuitous moment for Kerry because it appears the Bush machine with its many tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars is standing down from the ad campaigns at the moment. So what's the opportunity here for John Kerry?

HART: Well, I think it is to let people know who he is. Up until now it's been a contest between and among a number of Democratic candidates. And we've had about a month or two of hiatus after the end of the really contested primaries. So, Senator Kerry now has amassed enough money to begin to tell people who he is and what he stands for. I think ideally most Americans would like the whole campaign to be that way. But I think, unfortunately, it -- we can't hope for that to happen.

GIBSON: You know, Mr. Hart, since you are the national security advisor for John Kerry ...

HART: I wouldn't say "the" ...

GIBSON: Well, one of. Yes.

HART: One of.

GIBSON: I guess there's probably ...

HART: A host. Thousands.

GIBSON: Yes. A hoard maybe. But I want to ask you about something he said the other day on his "Washington Post" (search) piece on a strategy for Iraq. And there was something in there that really startled me and I'm wonder if you could kind of sort it out. He said what President Bush should do now or what he would do if he were president is make a promise in advance that the United States would accept any, any solution that the U.N. came up with the Iraqi governing authority, whatever that happens to be at the time there is a solution for governance in Iraq. Should the United States really turn over without any strings attached the whole idea of setting up of a civil government to somebody and just say, look, whatever you come up with is OK by us, we're just getting out of it firmly and finally right now?

HART: I have two responses. I would believe -- and I can't guarantee -- but I would believe if you were to ask Senator Kerry that question he would say, of course, we as the dominant military and political power in that country and that region will play a vital role in determining what that organization looks like as we are today. As you know, President Bush welcomed in Kofi Annan's envoy, who was there trying to create that government now. I don't think Senator Kerry meant, at least I don't believe he meant, to say we would wash our hands and accept anything anybody possibility came up with, however undemocratic. That would not be in keeping with what he said before.

But second, I think what he is saying we ought to do in Iraq is basically what the Bush administration is doing in Afghanistan. And that is using NATO troops to bring order or try to bring order to a chaotic circumstance and let international organizations, including the U.N. and the United States, rebuild the country after that peace is created.

GIBSON: He has also said he wants to get the targets off American soldiers' backs. Does he really think he can invite in the soldiers from other nations and they would be willing to put the targets on their backs so Americans would be safe?

HART: Well, I think President Bush has said that in the last two or three months. He's begun to talk much more internationally, and I think a couple months ago he invited our allies in Europe to join us in the effort at reconstructing Iraq and to commit their forces and their money. I think one of the reasons is as I understand that those nations haven't responded is that America still retained the right to have its companies get the prime contracts and do the principal rebuilding. I don't think that will work. I think we're going to have to share, in effect, the rewards of rebuilding that country. But I think president -- I think what's interesting about this last 660 days is how much closer President Bush and John Kerry have come to a kind of consolidated position.

GIBSON: Former presidential candidate and former senator Gary Hart. Good to see you. Thanks for coming on. Hope you come again.

HART: Great pleasure. Thank you.

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