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||Brazile, political strategist extraordinaire, spoke with Kerry days before the Democratic National Convention.
DONNA: You grew up in Mozambique when it was a Portuguese colony. What perspective did that give you on America?
TERESA: When I was little, my grandfather was paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. He listened to the BBC every day, and I would listen with him. We lived in a house in the city of Maputo, on a cliff high above the Indian Ocean, so we could see the big steamships coming and going. He knew all about the boats, and he'd tell me stories about them where they were from and where they were going. So I knew this very different, larger world through his stories as well as my parents' recollections. Before I was born, my dad studied radiology in France. He took beautiful pictures in pre-war France and Germany. On rainy days, I'd sit and look at these pictures. Since my mom's family was not Portuguese, we were different in a place where everybody else was almost the same. All these things give you a feeling for something else. People who have lived in faraway places often have a very big sense of the world. It's nice for a child to have that perspective to feel at once sure of where you are and curious about what you know is out there.
DONNA: Who have been your role models?
TERESA: I have many. There are qualities I want to emulate in people I've known my father, my mother, my late sister, and my late husband. Then there are the qualities that I admire but don't necessarily have. For instance, Mother Teresa of Calcutta's great gift was her capacity to care for the dying to lend comfort, to bathe and to feed them. We live in a society that measures the good we do by specific results. But Mother Teresa gave dignity, love, and respect to people who could not give anything in return, not even the satisfaction of their recovery. There is no material benefit, no hope for improvement, ultimately nothing quantitative. I think about that a lot doing something just because it's the right thing to do. That's a huge lesson for me, and something I admire. Am I good at it? Nope. Would I like to emulate it a little bit more in my daily life? Absolutely. If we all thought that way a bit more, we would have far less problems.
DONNA: Who else comes to mind?
TERESA: I admire women a lot. Women are, in my humble opinion, the chaos managers of this world. And you know what? Our world's pretty chaotic. It would be great to have more women doing the world's housekeeping. Because they'd be practical, unflappable, and would just want to get it done.
DONNA: Do you think motherhood has helped prepare you for the role of First Lady?
TERESA: Motherhood alone can't prepare you, but it's important. The unexpected the joys and surprises teaches you a lot. It teaches you about humility, in particular. I have three sons. They're all wonderful, but they're so different. You think that you've learned your lessons with the first one, so you apply those lessons to the second. Wrong! Because the second child is different. By the time you're halfway through, you realize, "Uh-oh, that's not how it works." You come to your third child, and you just say, "Pshaw, grow up!" And that one becomes very independent. I've heard the same thing from a lot of mothers.
DONNA: While you were raising your sons during your marriage to Senator Heinz, you lived in Washington. What were your observations of political life?
TERESA: I've lived there on and off since 1971. Seeing politics pretty close up, I have developed some ideas, and I have gotten to know my shortcomings. Since I'm on the older side not thirty-five like Jackie Kennedy was when she went to the White House I have a great advantage, age and some wisdom.
DONNA: You have been Chair of the Heinz Family Philanthropies and the Howard Heinz Endowment since 1991. You've worked on a wide range of issues, including environmental protection and healthcare. As First Lady, what would be the most significant project you would undertake?
TERESA: I don't know if I would emphasize one specific thing right now. I don't want to say today that I'm going to be the mother of this initiative or that initiative, because, first, I don't know if I can, and, second, having never been there, I'd like to give myself some room. I do know that I would continue to do my philanthropic work. One of the things I know is how to convene people of disparate views to discuss issues of importance. Those kinds of discussions make it possible to build a consensus and empower people to do things. They could address green design, urban planning, preventive healthcare, or children's issues all the things I focus on in my work.
DONNA: You've played an important role in fighting for women's rights since the 1970s. How do you see the situation today?
TERESA: Thirty years ago we wanted equal rights for all women. Remember the Equal Rights Amendment? Well, we still don't have equal pay. Women earn seventy-three cents on the dollar. Women still don't have the same pensions and benefits that men do because those things are based on salary. Therefore they're cheated out of pensions and benefits that are equal to men's.
DONNA: You established the Women's Institute for a Secure Retirement in 1996 to educate women about pensions, savings, and retirement security.
TERESA: I have worked on creating fair access to all benefits for both sexes. In 1996, when my office was conducting hearings around the country on the economic status of women, we discovered a law that said if a woman didn't have a job outside the home, she was not allowed to invest more than two hundred and fifty dollars a year in an IRA. Whereas a man could invest two thousand dollars.
DONNA: That's blatantly unfair.
TERESA: I held a bipartisan conference in Boston about these issues and asked women from the Senate and the House to participate. I invited Carol Moseley Braun, who was the only woman on the Senate Finance Committee at the time. I opened the conference by mentioning this two-hundred-fifty-dollar limit, and none of the women knew about it! Carol was stunned. She went back to Washington, and six weeks later the Finance Committee voted to correct it. But there are still a lot of vestigial laws from the past that remain on the books. We need somebody to do the housekeeping, find these inequities, and straighten them out.
DONNA: Environmental issues are what brought you and Senator Kerry together. You were first introduced at an Earth Day rally in 1990. Will you emphasize environmental issues if you become First Lady?
TERESA: Many world leaders, scientists, and politicians including Colin Powell consider global climate change to be a national security issue. And water is going to be a horrific problem, not just in this country, but everywhere. The Colorado Aquifer is being depleted because it's being used to water lawns in the desert. I have no problem with people wanting golf courses in the desert but why don't we use a process like desalination as they do in Israel? We could use the desalinated water for gardens, swimming pools, and golf courses, and the pure water from the aquifer for drinking. Alternative energy sources are another huge issue. We need to lessen our dependence on oil from other countries. Since we possess only three percent of the world's oil, let's harness wind, water, solar power, and eventually fusion.
DONNA: How do you stay positive when the campaign turns negative?
TERESA: You campaign because there are things you want to share ideas, hopes, and concerns. When you campaign very hard, which I have, people's energy touches you, whether in small or large settings, and makes you feel that you have something very important to do together with them. The energy is personal. It's in people's eyes, their voices and their hopes. That's what really keeps me going when I'm tired.
DONNA: You don't focus on what's coming from the opposing side?
TERESA: Let other people do whatever they do. We know that the Republicans have already spent about one hundred million dollars against John. And their numbers aren't better, so we'll see. Ideally, a campaign would be a way for people to have a national conversation about where we're going, what we could be doing better, and what our kids need. Unfortunately that's not quite what happens in thirty-second TV ads.
DONNA: The campaign trail is almost like an endurance test. Does it ever get to you?
TERESA: I've discovered that I can stay focused and disciplined in a way that I did not expect going in. That's been gratifying. Not having time to myself to do yoga or to exercise during the day has been hard. But I'm hoping it will get a little better.
DONNA: Does your self-discipline help you stay fresh?
TERESA: It helps that I refuse to be scripted. I don't have a speech, stump or otherwise. I'm talking from inside of me. I would be an angry, unhappy person if I had to follow a script.
DONNA: Do you ever get worried about the spontaneity of your responses?
TERESA: No. If I make a mistake, I'll say, "I think I made a mistake, I didn't mean that." Everybody makes mistakes. I'd rather take that risk and be spontaneous.