John Kerry hints at 2020 plans at Tisch College event

Former Secretary of State John Kerry addresses the audience at a Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life Distinguished Speaker Series event on Nov. 28 in Cohen Auditorium. Allison Culbert / The Tufts Daily

Former Secretary of State John Kerry is refusing to rule out a potential bid for the presidency in 2020. In an interview with the Daily Wednesday night, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee said that he would base his decision on future factors.

“What I have to really evaluate is … what the dynamic is going to be,” Kerry said. “And I’ll feel whether I want to do more or less.”

The longtime Massachusetts senator came to Tufts as a part of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life’s Distinguished Speaker Series, hosted by Tisch College Dean Alan Solomont. Kerry and Solomont discussed a wide range of political issues, including the presidency, during their conversation in Cohen Auditorium.

“I haven’t ruled anything out,” Kerry said. “Nothing is off the table.”

Kerry, who served as secretary of state under former President Barack Obama when the administration helped draft the Paris Climate Agreement, spoke at the event about the imminent threat of climate change should the country continue on its current path.

“It’s gonna kill us,” Kerry said. “There’s no other way to put it.”

Kerry spoke of the ability of politicians and citizens to formulate policy to avoid that fate.

“I’m optimistic, because we have the power in our hands to make the decisions that can save us from the worst consequences of climate change,” Kerry told the audience. “This is not a situation where we are sitting around waiting for scientists to solve the problem and give us the tools to solve the issue. The solution to climate change is very simple: It’s energy policy.”

Kerry heavily criticized President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement but expressed optimism, citing mayors and governors nationwide who have doubled down on efforts to preserve the environment.

“What I’m so angry about is [that] the president’s decision is going to kill Americans. The president’s decision is going to cost lives,” Kerry said. “Trump may have pulled out of the agreement, but the American people really have not.”

Kerry similarly denounced Trump’s determination to dismantle the Iran nuclear deal, which Kerry also helped draft while secretary of state.

“Trump alone can’t necessarily blow up the deal, which is a sign … of the strength of the deal,” Kerry told the Daily in an interview. “I think that the fact that the six other countries that are signatories to the agreement want to keep it makes the most powerful statement of all.”

Kerry commented on other aspects of national politics today, including gridlock in the Senate, where he represented Massachusetts from 1985 until his appointment as secretary of state in 2013.

“The institution in which I spent 28 years of my life is simply not functional, and it’s sad,” Kerry said.

Kerry also acknowledged the record voter turnout in the 2018 midterm elections but highlighted the need for further improvement.

“If you look at the election this time, it’s a great step forward, but it’s just the beginning,” Kerry said. “The total turnout of eligible voters, even as we set a record, was 49 percent. I find that disgusting.”

Kerry expressed support for removing money from politics and putting an end to gerrymandering. He added that turnout cannot increase without government making voting more accessible to all.

“We have to stop being the only democracy in the world that makes it this hard for people to vote,” he said.

Solomont asked Kerry about the role of young people in politics, prompting Kerry to share memories of the turbulent state of politics during his childhood and into his adult life. Kerry described walking with his mother through the ravaged streets of Paris following the Second World War.

During his college years at Yale University, Kerry witnessed the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the suppression of black voters under Jim Crow laws and the United States’ increasing involvement in the Vietnam War. Kerry himself served in Vietnam and, upon returning home, testified in front of the Senate on behalf of the anti-war movement.

Referencing this divisive period in the country’s history, Kerry told the audience at Cohen Auditorium that his generation “made the things that mattered to us voting issues.” Throughout the discussion, Kerry repeatedly emphasized the importance of youth participation in politics.

“I ask all of you to remember: Every great movement that’s made a difference — and you can go way back in history — it was young people driving that effort,” Kerry said.

He cited the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., who have launched a campaign against gun violence in the wake of February’s mass shooting at the school, as an example of such civic leadership.

“I think the Parkland students were just outstanding and impressive and set a huge example to the country about a kind of moral, value-oriented decision-making process, which is absent from politics today,” Kerry told the Daily.

Finally, Kerry acknowledged Trump’s powerful ability to connect with voters but called for a new leader to redirect the country.

“Nobody should underestimate the degree to which President Trump tapped into an anger that exists in the country on Democratic and Republican sides,” Kerry told the Daily. “People do not feel that the country is responding the way it ought to be to the challenges of our nation, and when that happens, you get anger manifesting itself in different ways at the polls.”

Kerry closed by addressing the 2020 presidential election, urging students to seek competent and responsive leadership in the White House.

“You deserve a president who wants to work with the world, not work to rip it apart,” he said.


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