ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
John Kerry spent nearly 30 years in the Senate. He also served as secretary of state under President Obama. But when our co-host Mary Louise Kelly spoke with Kerry, she started by asking him about another job, one that prepared him for years of campaigning in the future.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: Back in college, John Kerry was a door-to-door salesmen peddling encyclopedias.
JOHN KERRY: It was during the great summer of the Beatles invading America. And I remember walking down the streets as people were listening to "Hard Day's Night" or whatever. And I was walking around in a coat and tie, carrying a heavy briefcase full of encyclopedias, selling them.
KELLY: Kerry writes about that summer in his new memoir "Every Day Is Extra."
KERRY: It was great training for life. I mean, you would knock on a door, and somebody greets you. And sometimes they want to kick you in the butt and send you away, and sometimes they're really nice and they invite you in. And the art was getting in the door. And then you could begin to make your presentation.
KELLY: Which he would have to do again and again over the course of his political career. Most of that career was spent in the Senate. And I asked him what's changed in the Senate from when he was first elected in 1984.
KERRY: Everything has changed, unfortunately, definitively for the worse. I mean, the Senate is not the institution that I was privileged to serve in in the 1980s. And it began to transition much more pronouncedly during the early 1990s. And the politics of the country began to be less collegial and far more ideological and defined and demanding in terms of orthodoxy. And it was a loss.
I mean, when I was in the Senate, we could have a dinner at someone's house - Ted Kennedy's house. You'd have Orrin Hatch there. You'd have Mac Mathias or John Warner from Virginia. I mean, it was bipartisan. You laughed. You enjoyed each other. You told stories. But most importantly, you got to know each other and build respect and a relationship. And the next day in the Senate, you could well have an amendment or build a cooperative process out of that dinner. That doesn't happen now.
KELLY: I should mention that you and I are speaking just days after the death of John McCain, your fellow senator, fellow Navy veteran. You put out a lovely statement after he died talking about his capacity to forgive, his capacity to find common ground. It sounds as though you fear those skills are in short supply in Washington these days.
KERRY: They are. It's not even a question of forgiving. People don't even want to try to find the common ground. They want total victory. And John was a guy who knew you had to be bipartisan to do it.
KELLY: In 2004, you ran for president. And during that race, you were hit with attack ads that called into question your service in Vietnam. This is the Swift boat controversy. The ads were wrong - flat-out wrong, factually wrong. But they got some traction. They created questions about your character. And I was - it's fascinating to read your account of that moment sitting here in 2018 in the era of hashtag #FakeNews...
KERRY: Fake news, yeah.
KELLY: ...And alternative facts. Do you see parallels between Swift boat and today?
KERRY: Well, of course. It's not just parallels. They're one and the same thing, only today it's every day. It's extraordinary. But in 2004, it was at a level that was new. And we answered factually all the accusations. The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times - you know, every major newspaper in the country had set the record straight. The problem is, you know, if you repeat a lie enough and you repeat it on television, you better answer it. And that was not a thoroughly inculcated thesis at that point in time. But it is today.
KELLY: When you watch the way that the media is trying to navigate 2018, is there any takeaway from what you went through that we should apply today?
KERRY: Well, now, unfortunately, our gathering of news in the United States on every side of any issue has become self-selective. People go to a place where they're comfortable and where they hear the things that they to some degree want to hear. That's dangerous for our democracy. And we have to stop and really think hard about how we are going to get a baseline for facts again in our country.
KELLY: Let me turn you, Secretary Kerry, to questions about legacy. Two of your signature achievements as secretary of state were the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord, both of which President Trump has decided to withdraw from. So let me ask you. Do you see the U.S., the United States withdrawing from its traditional role on the world stage?
KERRY: I don't see the United States withdrawing. I see a woefully inadequate president who clearly does not have the ability to learn the facts and process effectively. I see him trying to alter the relationship.
KELLY: Listening to you speak now and reading your memoir, climate change is the issue where you sound really, really angry at where the country is headed, more so interestingly than on the Iran nuclear deal.
KERRY: Because it's a matter of life and death. And we are already suffering the consequences. We are beyond where some scientists said that we should be with respect to a tipping point. And we are heading towards 4 degrees centigrade increase in this century. That is a world that my children and grandchildren are going to face. And I think every responsible person in public life, every parent ought to be incensed by somebody without any foundation of science whatsoever, without any basis based on facts who is taking America away from its leadership position in responding to this challenge. It's the challenge of our time.
KELLY: Let me try to draw us toward a close here. One of the threads that runs through this book is you wanting to serve your country, not always being sure of the right way to do that from your service in Vietnam to the first time you ran for Congress and you lost and had to figure out what to do next. So to fast-forward over all those years in between, that's my question to you. What's next?
KERRY: Well, I'm - there are plenty of ways to serve. And I think a key...
KELLY: Are you done with politics?
KERRY: No, I'm not done with politics. And I've made it very clear that I'm going to work extremely hard to try to do what I can to help win back one of the houses of Congress and of course - or both in the 2018 elections.
KELLY: How about campaigning yourself? Have you ruled out ever running for office again?
KERRY: Ever is - I don't do evers usually. But I have no plans to do anything now.
KELLY: It's interesting hearing you say that as - given our conversation where you feel like Washington and the Senate are in some ways worse places than when you left.
KERRY: Yeah, but what I write about in the book which I believe very deeply is the ability for the American people to change that direction very quickly. And we did that around the impeachment process on President Nixon and ultimately his resignation and the crimes that he was committing. And I think that we will be able to do it again and hopefully restore a sense of direction to this remarkable country of ours which does have an ability to be able to rebound and reinvent itself. And I'm confident about our ability to do this.
KELLY: John Kerry, thank you.
KERRY: My pleasure. Thank you for having me. I enjoyed it.
KELLY: That's former Secretary of State John Kerry. His new book is "Every Day Is Extra." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.