John Kerry On China, Oil, And Bad Guys

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Senator John Kerry has the reputation of a man who picks his words--and battles--carefully. But in recent months the Bush campaign's vaunted attack machine has spent millions portraying Kerry as a taxing, spending, waffling Massachusetts wimp. So Kerry was in fighting mood when Richard McGill Murphy (an editor with our corporate sibling, FSB) caught up with him on his new campaign plane, high over the Rockies. He held forth on a wide range of current business issues--and addressed doubts about the affordability of his programs. (See "Borrowing From Bubba" on Here's what he had to say:

On prosecuting corporate evildoers

I'd do a lot more than Bush has done. I mean the President has moved so slowly, so reluctantly. He resisted Sarbanes-Oxley. That tells you the whole story. All I'm looking for is fairness. I want American companies to grow. I want American corporations to be successful. But most of the good company CEOs that I talk to, and I talk to a lot of them, hate what they've seen happening. They want a fair playing field. They don't want to have an economy based on perks and gimmicks.

On reining in high gas prices

Well, I would have begun the process of leveraging and jawboning OPEC months ago, ages ago. I would long ago have moved the U.S. into a less energy-dependent situation on the Middle East. I would be pushing alternative and renewable fuels here in this country. I'd be pushing bio-diesel ... there are all sorts of alternatives to lower our overall costs. Diverting some of the oil we're putting in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve would help. Changing some of our practices of consumption would help. Changing our additives rules and regulations. We have different additive standards in so many different places that it raises the cost. There are all kinds of creative ways of moving. The simple fact is, Bush has done none of them. None! Zero!

On agricultural subsidies

I would work cooperatively with other countries to try to figure out how all of us create a more effective subsidy structure. Our own subsidy structure is out of kilter too, and I think we need to work at it. There's a huge loophole for agribusiness at the expense of small family farms. And an awful lot of the subsidy money, the lion's share of it, is going to the fewest farmers. We've got about 60% of the subsidy going to 10% of the farmers. That's absurd.

On China relations

The intellectual-property rights enforcement in China is just unacceptable, period. You have to stand up and say "Look, here's our list of priorities ... and we've got to work together to make it happen." They [the administration] have been very haphazard about engagement with China. Now in the last months, because we've been criticizing them in the course of the primaries, you suddenly see Secretary Evans, and you suddenly see Cheney, go over in this flurry of support.... It's a dollar short and a day late.

On not busting the budget

I've very clearly stated that I will review my own programs. I will institute pay-as-you-go. And if we can't afford to do some of the things that are my preferences, I will have to scale them back. And I've already scaled some of them back. So I've been far more honest and up-front about my priorities than the Bush administration in four years. Because they have $6 trillion of unpaid-for, unaccountable initiatives and programs. I've scaled back my after-school program. I've shown exactly where we're going to pay for our college program. I've shown exactly where we're going to pay for the tax cut for American businesses at home. My health-care plan, I've shown exactly where you pay for it.