Q: So you really are into this wellness thing. Do you have a food indulgence?
A: Oh, god. Chocolate-chip cookies. I think I’m the illegitimate son of the Cookie Monster.
Q: Careful. The other side will say you’re implying something about a Sesame Street character.
A: Let’s just say I’m related to the Cookie Monster. We don’t want to give them something else to distort.
Q: There’s a perception right now that the middle class is getting screwed. Isn’t that red meat for Democrats?
A: It’s not a question of red meat. It’s just one of the most legitimate issues in the country. What’s been happening to average American families and workers is a disgrace. Wages have been either frozen or going down, their health-care costs are going up, benefits are harder to get, pensions are disappearing or at risk, tuitions are up. In the last Congress the Republicans made it more expensive for kids to go to college. Energy costs have been up. I mean, you add it all up and people are working longer and harder to get the same distance, and our policies need to reflect that we’re not going to sit around and let that happen.
Q: I grew up among Republicans. One thing I see with them is a sense of belonging. They’re proud to identify themselves as Republicans, even when the chips are down. But my friends who tend to vote Democratic seem to be reluctant to identify themselves as Democrats. They just say, “Nah, I’m independent.”
A: Because for about 25 years, the Democrats were brandedliterally, in marketing terms, brandedby the Republicans, with a huge expenditure of money, as being either out of touch or out of step. And it scared a lot of folks off. Now we have an enormous opportunity to rebrand, and more and more Democrats understand that as a tool. The word branding I don’t think entered the lexicon of the Democrats until two years ago.
Q: Another thing I know from growing up among Republicans is that for many of them, the very idea of an “antiwar activist” is pretty much the same as “freak.” When you came back from Vietnam and became a very prominent voice against the war, were you concerned that it might have repercussions for your future?
A: It wasn’t a concern. It was simply a reality that I accepted at the time. I knew that there would be people who would be angry about it, and I knew that it would polarize some people. But I thought it was the right thing to do, as a matter of conscience, and I think I’ve been proven right by history. All of the books that have since been written about it have validated what I said and how I felt, and many, many, many soldiersmany veterans of my generationhave come up to me and said, “You stood up and said what I wish I had said.” And they’ve expressed gratitude for it. I told the truth about what happened. And it was tough for some people to listen to, but I told the truth.