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Talking with Barbara Boxer

With a new book and a continuous supply of political ammunition, Boxer reflects on what has been a particularly combative year.

By JANE AMMESON

After deciding not to retire at the end of her second term, Sen. Barbara Boxer of California was re-elected in 2004, securing the highest number of votes in the history of direct elections to the U.S. Senate. With a new book and a continuous supply of political ammunition, Boxer reflects on what has been a particularly combative year.

In your new book, A Time to Run, the heroine is an idealistic woman from California who runs for Senate after the untimely death of her husband, who was the candidate running against a right-wing extremist. How much is she like you? If I wanted to write about me, I would have written a non-fiction. This is a fiction book. This is a character who is a lot younger than I am. She's someone who went into politics reluctantly, not like me. She's a very different character, though she's living in my world. In the book, I reflect on the triumph, the setbacks, the toughness, the cruelty, the idealism, the corruption--it's all there. That's the world I know. It's a very hard world.

With everything that's been going on, what made you decide to write a novel? I love to write. That's the starting point for me. Some people play golf, some people play tennis--I like to write. But I really didn't know what type of book I wanted to write until I read Richard North Patterson's novels. I actually said to Rick, I have this idea for a novel. Maybe you want to write it. And he said, this is really good, but why don't you write it?

What are your future political plans? Oh, my goodness. I just started my third term. It's too soon to answer that. At this stage of my life, I have decided I'm not making any premature decisions because I really wasn't going to run again this last time, but I ended up doing it. The reason I did was I felt there were a lot of people trying to get me out of there. I had decided not to run because I believed that I could do more just working to prevent another 9/11, but then when we were told we were unpatriotic when we spoke up, I said, forget it, and I ran.

The Web site www.boxer2008.com asks people to sign a petition urging you to run for president in 2008. What are your thoughts on that? Oh, that's so nice to hear. It's very touching and moving. What I say to all those folks is that I'm going to work my heart out to get a Democratic president elected. It's not going to be me because I have a lot of work to do in the Senate, and I love my work.

What's the next big fight for the Democratic Party? The '06 midterm elections. We have to really focus on our candidates who are running for Senate and the House, and we're working very hard on that.

What are your thoughts on Iraq? My thoughts are that this is a war that was based on lies, and it continues because of stubbornness. I think it's time for a realistic assessment of how we're going to get out of there. People in this country do not deserve a forever war. We need our National Guard. We need our funding to come home. You know the National Guard makes up 40 percent of the people over there, and they took 30 percent of that equipment over there. When we needed them for Katrina, they weren't there. It's really time for America. We need to re-evaluate what we're about, and we need to put our resources where they will help our own people. I think it's time to get out of there.

How are we going to bring gas prices down--or will we ever be able to do so? I think that the handwriting is on the wall. With the world developing the way it is, the demands for oil are going to continue, so it's time we recognize that, in the long run, we just need to conserve more. We're using far more resources than our population should use. I drive a hybrid car that goes more than 50 miles per gallon. I actually have three of them. One of them is in Washington, and two of them are in California. We can conserve our way out of this with the right leadership, and unfortunately, they want to drill their way out of it.

Do you ever feel lonely? I would say it's lonely. Everybody wants to be part of the group. That's the way we were brought up, to be part of something, and when you stand out, you do it by yourself. It's difficult, but that's how I was brought up--to always stand up if I see something that is wrong. If you are the only voice, you speak up, whether you're the majority or the minority, and you never shirk from the truth. I do absolutely take risks. My risks are more political risks. Challenging the Ohio electoral vote [in the 2004 presidential election] was lonely.

Do you think women's rights are safe? Women's rights in this country are being attacked in the Bush administration. Their big focus is so obvious--it's to overturn women's right to choose. This is an attack on the ability of women to make important decisions in their own lives. They'd never do that to a man.

Is America polarized? Government is on the side of special interests, not on the side of the people. I hope that people eventually will come to isolate those who believe that the national government has no moral [purpose] other than giving tax breaks to the wealthiest people and serving the interests of the very powerful. Why people are split down the center is something for political scientists to figure out. My job is to pull people to my side and hope that people will begin voting [based on] their interests.

Published: December 01, 2005
Issue: Holiday 2005