John Kerry's daughter Vanessa has been traveling with him on the campaign trail, helping spread his message to young voters along the way. To do so meant taking time off from Harvard Medical School, but the 26-year-old says it's worth it. "I just was starting to see firsthand, basically, what I think is the [Bush] administration's mistakes," she says, "and almost all the things that I really care about were not being taken care of. ... And I was pissed off, so I sat down with my dad and I said, 'Dad, I want to join you.' " MTV News' Gideon Yago caught up with her at a recent campaign stop in New York to discuss life on the road — a road the just might lead to the White House.

Gideon Yago: What's it like being at a campaign stop with your father? People will maybe see a 10-second clip of it on TV, but what's it really like?

Vanessa Kerry: It's incredible, it's so surreal. You're blinded by lights and you see all these people who come out, and it's exciting. It's scary and it's exciting all rolled into one. Part of me is thinking, "This is not my life, this is not happening, this is not the way I grew up." And part of me is just like ... "Let's go kick some ass." ... It's a mixture of emotions. It's just all new. I haven't been through anything like this before, and every day is sort of a new discovery and a new surreal experience.

Yago: So what have been some of the surreal little epiphanies that have hit you?

Kerry: I think that standing onstage on January 19th, and my father had just defied all expectations and won Iowa, was by far the most surreal moment. My sister and I were standing up there looking at each other, and I turn, I said, "This is our father." And she goes, "Holy sh--."

Yago: For a lot of people watching this, it might be the first time they've heard your dad's name or the first time they're getting a handle on who he is. So I guess the million-dollar question is: Who is your dad?

John Kerry: Your Questions, His Answers


The Democratic presidential hopeful discusses gay marriage, the war on terror and the high cost of higher education. Click here to read the interview with Gideon Yago.

Kerry: I think my dad is this great, wonderful ... man with a lot of integrity, who is fighting for things he believes in and is serious in what he wants to see happen and serious in helping people. And then there's the guy who comes out in a full-piece wetsuit and Hawaiian shorts in the summer and thinks he's cool. But to be fair, he was cool and I was wrong. Apparently that is the outfit you wear when you go out kiteboarding. But on snowboards ... he learned how to snowboard at 55. He's the guy who, you know, is trying to play Aerosmith on his guitar. ... He's a guy who is, I think, just very real and very accessible, and who you can laugh with and who you confide to and will sit there and listen. I think as people get to know him, as young people have gotten to know him, they're so fired up. They think he is just amazing.

Yago: Do you have political debates with your dad?

Kerry: Oh, we definitely do. ... The dinner table is a lively debate, and everybody weighs in in a different way. I like that, though. ... I've gotta tell you that being a teenager at our house was hell. I mean, that's what we had to debate. [She points toward the stage.] It was never pretty.

Yago: What do you say to those of your friends who say they don't give a damn about politics or that what goes on in Washington doesn't affect them?

Kerry: I challenge them. I ask them pointed questions. If it's maybe my 16-year-old cousin, I ask him how he feels about file-sharing. If one of my friends is like, "You know, Vanessa, I know your dad is running. I'm not that into it." I just sort of say, "Well, do you not care about having a job waiting for you when you get out [of college]? Aren't you pissed off about the loans you're paying right now for higher education? Don't you want it to be more affordable? Wouldn't you like some help?" I think it's just a matter of getting to the issue people care about. And the truth is, especially in this election, there is an issue for everyone. ... We have to go out and vote. More young people voted in '92 for Clinton than we saw since when [John F.] Kennedy was elected. They made the difference, and they can make the difference now. And I hope they realize that.

Yago: Your dad often speaks of his experiences in Vietnam. What was it like growing up the daughter of a veteran?

Kerry: It's hard. It was definitely a part of our life. I mean, my mom had both her brothers and her fiancée in Vietnam at the same time, so it wasn't just my dad's story, it was my mom's story too. And we definitely grew up listening to the stories. And dad had some videos, and he used to show us the boats, and it's very surreal 'cuz it's like watching "The Wonder Years," only it's your dad. ... When I was 14, he took my sister and me back to Vietnam. ... It was absolutely incredible and definitely revolutionized my understanding of the world and of that war. I think that it helped me understand how painful it can be. And it helped me understand why he is so committed to getting us out of Iraq now, so committed to diplomacy and wanting peace and so committed to the future. You know, he lost his best friend, and for anybody who has lost a best friend, you know how hard that is. But to lose it to something that you think is senseless is really hard.

Yago: Your dad is a certified war hero. Does he ever tell you what it was like?

Kerry: He told me the story of what happened when he won the Silver Star, but he never told me he won the Silver Star for it. That wasn't part of the story. ... He told me the story of being attacked in this tiny canal and of having to basically ... he had no choice but turning his boat in to shore and going after the enemy point-blank. He said the enemy popped up with — I'm sorry, I don't know my weapons very well — you know, a bazooka or whatever it was on his shoulder and stared at him straight in the face. Dad said they had this sort of face-off, if you will. And he stopped. And I said, "Well, what happened?" And I was about 7, and he said, "Oh, the guy dropped it and ran away." ... It wasn't until two or three years ago that I actually learned that in the end he actually did kill someone. But that was a choice that he faced: to kill or be killed. And I think that that was what upset him and has hurt him the most about that war and now this war, too, is that that decision is so brutal and it's no-win. So he never told me why he won that medal, he just told me the story. And you know, he did tell me that he did have three Purple Hearts, 'cause I found them and was like, "What are these?" And he said, "Purple Hearts." "How did you get them?" He said, "I was shot." And you're sitting there, [thinking,] "What, he was shot?" He was shot three times, and when you think about that it's pretty bad, but obviously it's bad ... that's ... I'm sorry, I'm getting distracted because what I'm thinking now is about how my dad, you know, I'm thinking now about people who face [being shot] in inner cities. I'm thinking about the fact that that's very real in this country, that's what this is all about. Just, you know, so that nobody has to deal with that. ... I'm sorry I'm getting emotional on you, but it's hard, it's personal. You asked me a personal question.

Yago: That's OK. What can you tell us about his position on gay marriage?

Kerry: Well, that is I think a big difference [between us]. I think there is a generation gap. I personally look forward to, as our generation becomes the leaders, you are gonna see a change, and I think hopefully gay marriage will be a part of that country. My dad does fight for civil unions and he believes in civil unions. ... What I appreciate about my dad is he listens and he'll hear out my side. He doesn't agree with it — he's for civil unions and complete and totally equal rights, equal inheritance, adoption and all that, but it's sort of how it breaks down. We don't necessarily always agree, but hopefully we make each other think, and that's what matters.


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