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The real running mates
Teresa Heinz Kerry, 66, a philanthropist, sat in the double parlor of her Washington town house to talk about her views of the role in the White House she might assume. That morning, she had visited the Smith-sonian's new National Museum of the American Indian. She was going back on the campaign trail the next morning.

Q: If your husband is elected, there are several ways in which you would be a groundbreaking first lady — one, if you continued to head the Heinz Foundation. Are people ready for that?

A: You know what? Nobody but nobody (outside Washington) asks me that question. I wonder if that's not more of a Washington question.

Q: Our poll shows a lot of Americans don't think the spouse of the president should have a job in the private sector.

A: I'd love to see the wording in the poll, because I would have said, "If you had a woman president, and the husband was a brilliant neurosurgeon, (should) he give up being a neurosurgeon?" No! And I think what the American people really want is to make sure that the companion to the president — a woman now — supports him. And that's absolutely the No. 1 job for the country's sake, for his sake.

Beyond that, I think the book hasn't been written. You know, there are no clear answers. We have to create our own stories and do the best we can. (Related story: Public favors traditional wife)

Q: You'd also be the oldest woman to become first lady. I've noticed that you often mention your age to audiences.

A: I mention my age because I find people in this country — women, not men, of course — women are so troubled by their age. There's a culture of youth, and it's a phony culture. And it's a silly culture because, you know, gravity pulls you down. And what stays is inside your head, in your eyes and in your brain and in your heart. And that gets bigger as you get older.

Why be a prisoner to weight and age and measurement and all this nonsense? Obviously, we all like to look nice. But that's different. I say now, "I'm glad to be 66 with two legs, two arms — a life." I have friends who've died. I had a husband who died suddenly, with no cancer — just "boom!" So, I'm alive.

Q: You'd be just the second first lady who was born abroad, the first who had two foreign parents. Do you think that causes Americans any pause?

A: Well, Americans who pause probably don't know history very well, because we are all from somewhere. We are continually being from somewhere. And in such a young country as this — it's not like we're talking, you know, old Europe. We are constantly renewing our energy and our knowledge and our heart and our soul, enriched like no other country in that sense. And to fear that or disparage that I don't think is American. And I never hear that out there.

Q: When you campaign for your husband, what does that tell people about him?

A: Well, I can only repeat to you what people say (to me): "If he's married to a woman who thinks and speaks her mind, he's a strong man, and we like him." That's what they say.

Q: Do you have a role model for first lady in mind?

A: The one thing I've learned from watching is that there really isn't a model, because every person coming in is different. Their experiences are different, and times have changed.

Q: You'd be different from Laura Bush?

A: Well, you know, I don't know Laura Bush. But she seems to be calm, and she has a sparkle in her eye, which is good. But I don't know that she's ever had a real job — I mean, since she's been grown up. (Related story: Heinz Kerry apologizes for comments) So her experience and her validation comes from important things, but different things. And I'm older, and my validation of what I do and what I believe and my experience is a little bit bigger — because I'm older, and I've had different experiences. And it's not a criticism of her. It's just, you know, what life is about.

 
 
 
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