John and Elizabeth Edwards on 'This Week'

The latest candidate for president, John Edwards, kicked off his campaign this week by helping with Katrina recovery in New Orleans, completing a round of interviews on the morning shows and going on a cross-country tour of town halls to overflow crowds in the key states of Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. He spoke to This Week's George Stephanopoulos about Iraq, same-sex unions and podcasts.

Stephanopoulos began by asking Edwards if he thought the execution of Saddam Hussein would make any difference on the ground in Iraq.

Edwards: Not a lot. I think given the situation on the ground, I think most of the driving force in the situation on the ground is the Sunni-Shia, something that's been going on for centuries, the Sunnis feeling on the outside of the government, not having any power.

I don't see this having much influence.

Stephanopoulos: Mrs. Edwards, you grew up on a military family.

Elizabeth Edwards: I did.

Stephanopoulos: Your father in the Navy, he served in Vietnam.

Elizabeth Edwards: World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

Stephanopoulos: All three.

Elizabeth Edwards: Yes.

Stephanopoulos: How does that affect how you view Iraq?

Elizabeth Edwards: I have an enormous amount of sympathy for the families who have men and women who are serving there and, as I say, I think about them a lot. Cate was coming home…

Stephanopoulos: Your daughter.

Elizabeth Edwards: Our 24-year-old daughter was coming home for Christmas and was at the airport on Christmas Eve or the evening of the 23rd and there were soldiers getting on planes to go to Iraq on December 23.

It's just hard to not have your heart go out to these people and it makes me really sad that we say we're going to stay until we win or whatever, but nobody tells us what that is, and I think about those families thinking, "So when do we get our boys, our sons, our daughters home and what are they there for?"

There was a young boy who talked during the 2004 campaign who had served in Afghanistan and Iraq and he said, "When I went to Afghanistan, we knew what we were doing. When we went to Iraq, we didn't."

Edwards: But when you're in a military family, emotionally, can you afford to question what's going on?

Elizabeth Edwards: Yes, we can. I had a lot of angst about whether I could protest the Vietnam War after my father had been in it, after I knew so many people who had been injured, because a lot of them came to Japan where we were stationed at the time.

But I realized that you can still support the troops without supporting the policy and I think that's the way a lot of Americans feel right now. I don't think there's anybody who doesn't feel great pride in what the American military men and women have done and the effort they have put in, but it doesn't mean that you have to support the policy.

Stephanopoulos: It doesn't appear that President Bush is going to take your advice to pull out 40 or 50,000 troops.

Edwards: No.

Stephanopoulos: Just based on the last four years…

Edwards: No, he never has and he's continuing on the wrong course.

Stephanopoulos: And that likely means that the next president, like you say, we can't know for sure, but the next president is still going to be dealing with a substantial number of American troops in Iraq, perhaps for many years.

Edwards: Yes, and, hopefully, the next president will understand that what we've been doing is not working. And I actually, myself, believe that this idea of surging troops, escalating the war, what Senator McCain has been talking about, what I would call now the McCain doctrine, it's…

Stephanopoulos: McCain doctrine.

Edwards: McCain doctrine. He's been the most prominent spokesperson for this for some time.

Stephanopoulos: The general election is starting early.

Edwards: I'm just telling you it's his thing and I know John McCain very well, he and I are friends, but I think he's dead wrong about this.

Stephanopoulos: I've been watching you over the last few days as you've started this campaign and the word "morality" comes up a lot, particularly in foreign policy. But I wonder if one of the lessons of the last few years is that it's dangerous for America to put its power behind moral crusades and unleashing forces we may not be able to control and entangling us in conflicts we may not be able to solve.

Edwards: Well, it depends on what your definition of a moral cause is and what moral leadership is. The kind of things that I'm talking about I think there would be universal support for, doing something about the genocide in Sudan and Darfur, doing something…

Stephanopoulos: Do you think it takes American troops?

Edwards: No. Actually, my own view is that putting American troops on the ground in Darfur would probably be a mistake. It would probably do more damage than good.

But there are obvious things we can do in Sudan. The Janjaweed militia have air support from the Sudanese government. We could enforce the no-fly zone. We ought to be much tougher about imposing sanctions on the Sudanese government.

But the genocide, global poverty, the spread of HIV/AIDS, the atrocities that are occurring in northern Uganda, there are a whole range of places that America would have basically universal support if we showed some leadership.

And the last thing I'd say about this, a lot of people would think, "Well, this is a feel good thing. He wants the world to feel good about America."

It's much more than that. Without America as the central stabilizing force in the world, there is no stability. There's chaos. There's no one else that can do this. We have to do it.

Stephanopoulos: And you also said that Americans have to be patriotic about something other than war. What kinds of sacrifices will Americans have to make to make us energy independent, to combat global warming?

Edwards: They're going to have to be willing to give up some of the vehicles that they drive and I, myself, have driven. They're going to have to be willing to conserve in the use of energy in their homes.

There may be other things that will be required. I mean, we have some very serious issues about our use of carbon-based fuels. There are intermediate steps that can be taken, trap-and-trade. There are a number of things that can be done to reduce the use of carbon-based fuels.

But at the end of the day, we may be faced with more serious choices. People are concerned about a gasoline tax, including myself, because of its regressive nature. You can't take it off the table.

Our carbon tax, which Vice President Gore has been talking about, is it a necessity? Not yet, in my judgment.

Stephanopoulos: But you are open to it?

Edwards: Not yet. I would never take those things off the table.

But people who think that global warming is a problem for our grandchildren are living in never-never land. If you're under the age of 60 and we don't change the course that we're on now, there's a significant chance that global warming is going to affect your life.

And the American people have got to engage on these kinds of issues. We can't stay at home, complain that somebody else is not doing their job, and hope somebody else is going to solve the problem for us.

Stephanopoulos: Vice President Gore calls himself carbon neutral. Whenever the flies or drives, he pays back the carbon he's using.

Edwards: Yes, he's better than me. It's hard to see how you could do it in a presidential campaign.

Stephanopoulos: The Senator and I have talked several times over the last few years and every time he talked about getting into the race, he said he was going to make the best decision for his family.

Did you get a vote?

Elizabeth Edwards: I probably could have vetoed it, but I didn't. Part of it was my health, which is good now, and the other is whether or not we would support him and, of course, I have to say he was beside me every step of the way during my fight against cancer.

Stephanopoulos: You look great now.

Elizabeth Edwards: Thanks, I appreciate that. And that's what a marriage is about. I'm with him in the fights that he has to undertake.

Stephanopoulos: How do you see your role in this campaign?

Elizabeth Edwards: The way I've always described it is that I'm a window, I mean, in a sense, another surrogate, somebody who believes in him and believes in what he's saying and if I can reach out and talk to people.

I think there's a big question about -- and there may be spouses who don't fall in this category, but how much difference a spouse actually makes, except that if I can talk to 200 people in a day that he didn't get to talk to, that's helpful.

Edwards: That's a gross understatement. That was very humbling and I appreciate the humility of Elizabeth on that.

She is my most trusted advisor and always has been, always will be, and I care what she says about things. We disagree, you know. There are some serious things that we…

Stephanopoulos: Give me one issue.

Edwards: Not on camera, I'm not going there. But we know what they are and she is a strong willed woman. She may be sitting there looking meek and mild. She's a very strong willed human being and is not shy about speaking her piece.

Stephanopoulos: Robert Novak reported that some top labor officials are uncomfortable with Mrs. Edwards' role in the campaign. Do you care?

Edwards: What do you expect me to do about that? First of all, I don't believe it, and, second, in fact, I think most people in this country have a very positive response to Elizabeth.

But it doesn't matter. I've been married to her for 30 years and she's my friend and my advisor and in addition to being my wife, who I love very much, and I'm going to keep listening to her and paying attention to her.

Sometimes I'll disagree with her, but I will continue to listen to her.

Stephanopoulos: And the kids, Emma Claire and Jack are now eight and six, and Cate, 24. This is going to have a big impact on their lives, a two-year campaign and, from your perspective, if all goes well, a lot more than that.

Are they excited about it?

Edwards: Emma Claire and Jack, I've talked to them regularly about this for many months, they've had other kids at school, teachers, talk to them about it.

Even though they're young, they were a lot younger in the last campaign, they understand something more than most kids would about what's involved and I think they're worried, still are, about their mom and dad being gone a lot, which means we have a responsibility to bring them on the campaign trail as much as possible.

Elizabeth Edwards: In terms of parenting, I actually think that this process teaches them a really important lesson, that you have an obligation to your family, of course, but you have an obligation outside your house, as well, to help people, to reach out to try to speak to their needs.

And I actually think that is an important part of our parenting.

Stephanopoulos: Let's get to the debate about how you help people. You are laying out a very ambitious economic agenda. Universal healthcare, housing vouchers.

Edwards: Yes.

Stephanopoulos: Tax cuts for low income people.

Edwards: You're paying attention.

Stephanopoulos: I am paying a lot of attention to this campaign early.

It seems like there's a debate shaping up in the party between candidates like you, who have this grand ambition, want to invest the resources, and the wing of the party that is more wedded to fiscal responsibility and free trade.

And is this the central debate right now in your party?

Edwards: I don't know the answer to that. If I were describing what I think is fundamentally different about the way my campaign will be run and what I suspect, don't know yet, other people's campaigns will be, is that we're not going to wait for the election.

We're not going to wait for the election and the next president of the United States to solve this country's problems. Instead, we're going to ask the American people to engage right now in solving our problems, and I think that's very different.

It's a very proactive, from the ground up kind of campaign.

Stephanopoulos: But that's separate from what you're calling for what you would do as president. What you're calling for is going to cost money.

Edwards: Cost money, absolutely.

Stephanopoulos: Cost a lot of money.

Edwards: Let me speak to that. There is a tension between the desire, which I have myself, of getting us out of this ditch we're in fiscally and, at the same time, doing the things that I believe we need to do to transform America to be effective in the 21st century.

Energy, I talked about energy already, universal healthcare, which you just mentioned just a moment ago, strengthening the middle class, doing things to lift 37 million people out of poverty, all those things cost money.

Stephanopoulos: And that means you have to put deficit reduction on hold.

Edwards: It means you cannot do about the deficit what you'd like to do, that's true.

Stephanopoulos: And you're willing to make that choice.

Edwards: I have said for the last two days, in town hall meetings all across this country, when asked this question, I have said there's a tension between those two. If I were choosing now between which is more important, I think the investments are more important.

First of all, we can't let the deficit get worse. We'd like to see it reduced. But I do not believe we can reduce it as substantially as we'd love to see done for the long-term fiscal and economic health of America and do the other things that need to be done, too.

Stephanopoulos: And on trade, no more free trade agreements, unless there are labor protections and environmental protections.

Edwards: Can I be really precise about this? Because this gets muddled over a lot.

I think trade is important, important for America, very important to the developing world, where I've spent some time over the last couple of years, and I have a personal investment in seeing those countries and those people be lifted up.

So I think trade matters. What I really believe is we need a trade policy that has labor and environmental protections that are achievable by those countries. If they're being used as a ruse to create a protectionist barrier, then I am not for that.

Stephanopoulos: But what if those countries say you may think they're achievable, they don't and they don't define it under the agreement.

Edwards: That's what negotiations are about. The negotiations between us and these countries, that's what they're about.

What we've done, though, we have caved on those kind of standards in the past. I don't think we can do that. I don't think we should do that. I'm not for protectionism.

Stephanopoulos: Mrs. Edwards said you are more progressive than John Kerry. Are you a populist?

Edwards: I'm not sure what that means. I've heard that phrase used a lot.

Stephanopoulos: Well, do you think you are?

Edwards: When you ask the question, do you mean I believe it's important for ordinary Americans to have power and to not be overpowered by multinational corporations? Yes, I do believe that.

Stephanopoulos: And what does that mean? How do you then translate that into policy?

Edwards: Universal healthcare doing something about 37 million people who live in poverty, strengthening the ability of working Americans to organize themselves democratically into unions so they have a voice.

Those are some of the things.

Stephanopoulos: You got a few boos in New Hampshire. The issue is gay marriage.

Edwards: There were no boos.

Stephanopoulos: OK, well, that's what I read. We can go back to the videotape. But when you say…

Edwards: I'll be honest, I didn't hear them, if there were.

Stephanopoulos: But more important, more important, at that time, you said it's the single hardest issue for you.

Edwards: It is.

Stephanopoulos: Why?

Edwards: Because I'm 53 years old. I grew up in a small town in the rural south. I was raised in the southern Baptist church. And so I have a belief system that arises from that.

It's part of who I am. I can't make it disappear. And what I said when I was asked about this in Portsmouth, New Hampshire//

[John Edwards in New Hampshire: I personally feel great conflict about that. I don't know the answer, I wish I did. I think from my perspective it's very easy for me to say civil unions, yes, partnership benefits yes, but it is something that I struggle with.]

Do I believe they should have the right to marry? I'm just not there yet, me, I'm not there yet.

Stephanopoulos: Are you?

Elizabeth Edwards: Well, it's not particularly important whether I am, but I guess I come from a more eclectic background and so it's less problematic, I think, probably for me.

But I think both sides of this argument understand the desire for equality and equal treatment. I don't think there is anybody who is for or against it who doesn't understand it and I don't think there's anybody who is for or against it who doesn't understand the trouble people have, because it just seems something that they've not been around.

Of course, they haven't, because we haven't had it in this country.

[John Edwards in New Hampshire: My daughter who is 24 and goes to school in Cambridge -- her generation and all of her friends believe this issue will completely disappear with their generation.]

Elizabeth Edwards: And I have to say she's talked to children on both sides of the aisle who are her age, the children of our senators and politicians on both sides of the aisle and people who are her age, regardless of the political affiliation of their parents, all believe exactly the same thing.

This issue will not exist when they are the people who are sitting in these seats.

Stephanopoulos: So you can imagine changing your mind, but you're not there.

Edwards: I'm not there.

Stephanopoulos: I've been looking at the pod casts you all have been putting out. Are you going to be the You Tube candidate of 2008?

Edwards: What's funny is we actually did the announcement on You Tube the night before I was on your show on Thursday morning and I think it's a great way to reach grassroots people, to build a campaign from the ground up, which is the way I not only believe campaigns should be built now, but the way that we change the country.

[Edwards on his podcast: I wanted you to hear it first, what it is I plan to do, because you're going to make the difference.]

Stephanopoulos: So in one of those pod casts you said...

[Edwards on his podcast: I'd rather be successful or unsuccessful based on who I really am. Not based on some plastic Ken-doll.]

That's the word Republicans used to describe you in the last campaign.

Elizabeth Edwards: I think it was Maureen Dowd.

Stephanopoulos: I don't know if she's Republican or not. But it sounds like you're sort of conceding that maybe they had a point about the last campaign.

Edwards: You know, here's what I believe. I think that for us to bring about the change that we need to bring about, not just in politics, but in the country, people need to feel like -- to fight off the cynicism and the apathy, which are rampant in America today.

People need to feel like they really know who their leader is, not somebody who appears and puts on a face, because people don't trust them. I totally understand this.

They come in the public, they put on a face, they try to hide who they really are, because somehow they don't trust the public knowing what they need to know.

The conclusion I've come to, and I'm the same human being I was in 2004 and I don't have a different belief system, I have exactly the same beliefs, core beliefs, I am the same human being, but I want people to see me for who I am, good or bad.

Stephanopoulos: So you let it hang out a little more.

Edwards: We'll just let it go where it goes and let people make their own judgments.

Stephanopoulos: Senator and Mrs. Edwards, thank you very much.

Edwards: Thank you.

Elizabeth Edwards: Nice to spend time with you, George.