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Teresa Heinz Kerry Addresses Democratic Delegates

July 27, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT
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SPOKESMAN: It’s my great honor everyone to introduce to you that great partner of John Kerry, America’s next first lady, Teresa Heinz Kerry.

KWAME HOLMAN: For nearly a year, Teresa Heinz Kerry has been a fixture on the campaign trail, where she’s earned a reputation both for speaking her mind and winning support for her husband.

SEN. JOHN KERRY: There’s a great sign — "Elect Teresa first lady." Not a bad idea.

KWAME HOLMAN: On the road, the 65- year-old Heinz Kerry frequently mentions her immigrant status; she was born in Mozambique and raised there by her European parents.

TERESA HEINZ KERRY: What I saw from abroad, from a third world country, the face of America was a face very different from what I knew. It was a face of can do, of optimism, of generosity, generosity of spirit, smile. We have to go back to that. We must go back to being Americans in the best sense of the word.

KWAME HOLMAN: On Sunday, before delegates from her home state of Pennsylvania, Heinz Kerry again talked about what it means to be an American, but this time her words sparked controversy.

TERESA HEINZ KERRY: We need to turn back some of the creepy un-Pennsylvanian and sometimes un-American traits that are coming into our some of our politics.

KWAME HOLMAN: Afterward, an editorial writer from a conservative Pittsburgh newspaper questioned her.

REPORTER: Un-American activity? You mentioned un-American?

TERESA HEINZ KERRY: No, I did not say that.

REPORTER: What did you mean?

TERESA HEINZ KERRY: I did not say that.

REPORTER: Well, what did you say?

TERESA HEINZ KERRY: I did not say that.

KWAME HOLMAN: Heinz Kerry moved away, but returned.

TERESA HEINZ KERRY: Are you from the Tribune Review?

REPORTER: Yes, I am.

TERESA HEINZ KERRY: Of course.

REPORTER: Come here.

TERESA HEINZ KERRY: Understandable. You said something I didn’t say, now shove it.

KWAME HOLMAN: Later, her husband had this to say:

SEN. JOHN KERRY: I think my wife speaks her mind appropriately.

KWAME HOLMAN: Some of Heinz Kerry’s past words were on the front page of today’s Boston Herald.

In a book published 30 years ago, Heinz Kerry is quoted as saying of Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, "Ted Kennedy, I don’t trust." Heinz Kerry also said, "I think he’s a perfect bastard," suggesting Kennedy stayed married in order to court catholic voters.

At the time, Heinz Kerry was married to John Heinz, Republican Senator of Pennsylvania. Sen. Heinz was killed in a plane crash in 1991. The two had three sons, now in their 30s. After Sen. Heinz’s death, Heinz Kerry oversaw an array of Heinz family foundations, worth about $1.2 billion. Heinz Kerry’s personal worth is estimated at more than $500 million.

JIM LEHRER: Now some historical words now on presidential spouses and other matters of the evening, and to Margaret Warner.

MARGARET WARNER: And for that, we turn to our NewsHour regulars, presidential historians Michael Beschloss and Richard Norton Smith.

And joining us again is Ellen Fitzpatrick, professor of history at the University of New Hampshire. Welcome back, everybody.

GROUP: Thank you.

MARGARET WARNER: Michael, have we ever had such a blunt-spoken, publicly candid potential first lady?

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Sure we have. Eleanor Roosevelt made her husband very irritated by saying in public that he was too slow in doing things for African Americans. Betty Ford gave a famous interview to 60 Minutes, the CBS program, 1975, talking about the possibility of her daughter living in sin and her children smoking marijuana and abortion that got her husband, Gerald Ford, into a lot of hot water with the conservative wing of his party at a time he could ill afford it.

MARGARET WARNER: So there’s a long tradition of this, Richard?

RICHARD NORTON SMITH: It’s a longer tradition probably than many people might think. And, in fact, Eleanor Roosevelt actually was the first first lady to deliver a political address before a convention. It was a very significant moment in time. She came here at her husband’s behest in 1940. This was a convention about to revolt.

The president wanted Henry Wallace, a left-wing Democrat, to replace Vice President John Nance Garner. This was, after all, on the eve of American participation in World War II. Mrs. Roosevelt flew to the convention. She spoke briefly, powerfully and she got what she wanted. Henry Wallace, frankly the delegates didn’t want him, but Mrs. Roosevelt wanted him. That was good enough for her.

MARGARET WARNER: I’m surprised no one has mentioned Hillary Clinton.

ELLEN FITZPATRICK: Well, I think she demonstrates the fact that Teresa Heinz is not the inventor of the inept phrase. It was Hillary Clinton, after all, who talked about the fact that she wasn’t going to sit home and bake cookies, that she wasn’t some little Tammy Wynette, ironically, she said, standing by her man.

She was criticized for these things. You remember Barbara Bush saying that Hillary Clinton reminded her of someone who reminded… whose name rhymed with rich, a word that rhymed with rich.

MARGARET WARNER: Geraldine Ferraro —

ELLEN FITZPATRICK: Well, these were indelicate comments from women who had tremendous visibility and who, you know, got in some hot water as a result.

MARGARET WARNER: So, as Richard points out, she also is not the first to address a major party convention. When did it become, Eleanor Roosevelt was an exception in her time, but when did it in the modern era become a tradition?

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Pretty recently. For instance, Nancy Reagan in 1984 appeared at the Republican Convention before her husband was there in Dallas and famously waved at a huge image of Ron Reagan, Ronald Reagan, who was in his hotel room in Dallas waiting to be nominated.

So these things have gotten more and more for a couple reasons. If you have a wife, especially a popular one, who has a high queue rating, very popular, it only helps the presidential candidate. A more important one is this — If you’re trying make a vote for president, one of the things you’re judging is what this human being is like.

And one of the things that tells us is what is the guy’s family like, his spouse, what are his children like, what kind of a relationship does he have with them, and especially for a candidate who most people did not know very much about until very recently, like John Kerry, for Teresa Heinz to be here this evening or Teresa Heinz Kerry, that’s going to make a big impression.

MARGARET WARNER: Richard, everything Teresa Heinz Kerry says is just seen under a microscope and jumped on. Why this fascination at this early a stage with someone like this? I mean, is it… is it a sort of sign of our culture today?

RICHARD NORTON SMITH: Sure it is. I mean, this may be heresy, but remember when Dan Quayle was put on the ticket…

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: More than heresy.

RICHARD NORTON SMITH: That’s right. When Dan Quayle was put on the ticket, in his first hours on the ticket he was defined, and frankly not to his advantage. In some ways a first lady is a running mate. Michael’s absolutely right.

This tells you so much about the dynamic of the candidate. There are so many issues out there that are so abstract. We don’t expect as individual voters to be able to solve them. We don’t even necessarily expect our leaders to solve them, but we can all understand a husband, a father, a family life. These are the universals.

MARGARET WARNER: Say in the 1950s, there was not this fascination with say a Mamie Eisenhower. Do you think, Ellen, it reflects also American’s understanding of what influence wives have with their husband and vice versa, that they aren’t just sitting home running the house?

ELLEN FITZPATRICK: I think it also reflects changes in women’s roles in the modern period — that is that first lady is also a wife and the statement is that a wife is not a decorative object. She is a person.

And part of what featuring these women does is to demonstrate the complexity of women’s lives, their accomplishments, even women who may not have careers outside the home. And so we do see that in this effort to bring these women forward.

MARGARET WARNER: But I mean do you think that is why Americans, even if the candidate were trying to bring his wife forward, are inordinately fascinated at this point with the wives?

ELLEN FITZPATRICK: I think -

MARGARET WARNER: Look what happened with Judy Dean, for instance.

ELLEN FITZPATRICK: It’s partly that, but I think it also reflects in some ways on the personal in American politics today, that rather than discussing some of the very problematic issues, people have tremendous interest in our culture, in peoples’ private lives.

MARGARET WARNER: Now the other big speaker tonight, Michael, is, of course, Edward — Ted Kennedy. We’re in Boston, his hometown. He brought the convention to this town. What does he represent to the Democratic Party?

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Well, first of all, he’s someone who did, as you say, bring the convention to this town. We wouldn’t be sitting here in Boston at this convention if Ted Kennedy had not very eagerly wanted to bring it here.

Another thing is because Ted Kennedy made it possible for John Kerry to be nominated. We’re talking about character witnesses. Before the Iowa caucuses, few Iowans had heard about John Kerry. Kennedy went to Iowa and said, this is someone that I can vouch for.

More than that, links to the Kennedy family, sort of the central narrative of the Democratic Party in many ways of the last 100 years, Irish immigrants, generations of public servants of the Democratic Party evolved through conservative Joseph Kennedy to more liberal John Kennedy to Edward Kennedy who in a way has defined liberalism for the last 40 years and become one of the great senators in history.

MARGARET WARNER: What’s your sense of why Ted Kennedy is such a major figure now? In sort of historical terms – I mean, he’s almost iconic, isn’t he?

RICHARD NORTON SMITH: He’s iconic. He’s lived on the two lives that were cut short so tragically. In some way that’s a burden and in some ways it’s a great opportunity. Many would argue that he has been the best of it; he is regarded as a great senator.

You know, in the United States Capitol, there’s that a Senate reception room. John F. Kennedy almost half century ago was on a committee to decide which immortals would be put on the walls, Clay, Webster, Lafollette, and others, and there are a few spaces left on that wall.

I would be very surprised if thirty or forty years from now Ted Kennedy’s face is not one of them. So there’s a dimension to this man that is iconic, but is also very practical. And, remember, he’s exercised leadership of the liberal wing of the party in times of adversity, when it has not been popular to uphold the positions that he, from which he has never wavered.

MARGARET WARNER: Richard, also tie him – I don’t know if this is true or not but I’ve read in local papers that he’s actually going to talk a lot about Boston and Boston as an important city in the Democratic Party and the liberal tradition in America.

RICHARD NORTON SMITH: It’s an incubator. I mean, there’s a street corner nearby here, you can look at the old south meeting house where the tea party began. That’s the populist strain of the Democratic Party.

On the other side is the old corner book house — the literary and intellectual and academic strain of the modern Democratic Party, the brains trust, the Harvards, as Lyndon Johnson used to say.

And right in the middle is a memorial to victims of the Irish Potato Famine, so you have the immigrant strain. They all come together in this city — they all come together in Ted Kennedy.

ELLEN FITZPATRICK: He’s also the liberal’s standard bearer of the party. And I think we shouldn’t forget that he represents a thread of continuity in the Democratic Party. There was a time in America when liberalism was seen as the fresh and vigorous and new set of ideas.

And in the early 1960s, his brother exemplified that new generation. His brother Robert carried that on into the ’60s into a much darker period. His brother died on the way to a Democratic Convention. He would have presumably been in 1968 at that convention, if not the nominee. And so here we have this strain of continuity in the person of Ted Kennedy.

MARGARET WARNER: And yet, Michael, the liberal, the power of the liberal idea hung on a lot more in this party than it did in the country as a whole, and Kennedy was, Ted Kennedy was always the leading figure in that

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Probably so, and I agree with Richard. I think that whatever your ideology, Ted Kennedy will be considered one of the great senators in history, probably will be on that capitol hall wall. That’s why he’s here.

But the other thing is in a way, although there are many parts of this country in which Ted Kennedy is reviled as a liberal, his stature is great enough that even in a convention, as we’ve been saying for the last 24 hours, where the minders are making sure that everyone sounds as friendly and centrist as possible, this is Ted Kennedy night to a great extent and John Kerry considers that an asset.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Michael, Richard and Ellen, we’ll see you later in the convention. Thank you.