Twelve Things Only John Kerry Could Have Said

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John Kerry was the guest of honor Tuesday, November 27 for a panel discussion at the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in Cambridge.

Kerry, 74, a former U.S. senator from Massachusetts (1985-2013), U.S. Secretary of State in the Obama administration (2013-2017), and Democratic nominee for president in 2004, had lots to say.

Here are some of them:


Kerry A Conservative on Immigration

“On immigration here in America, you know, twelve million people is the public number. I think it could well be well upwards of twelve million – you know, double-digit millions, that are here illegally. So what happened? I mean, how many administrations, Republican and Democrat alike, have lived with that? And bear responsibility. We have illegal people in the country. Now either the law does mean something or it doesn’t. Either sovereignty and nation-state means something or it doesn’t. Borders are supposed to mean something. Carry a passport. If you travel abroad you’re supposed to get a visa. Entry into countries means something. And if that identity keeps getting ripped at a rate that people feel deeply threatened, ugly things can happen – even here.”

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… Oh No, Check That … 28 Minutes Later, After Being Challenged …

“Now, with respect to kids coming up from Central America and Latin America, when I talk about immigration, and I say ‘visas have to mean something, borders have to mean something,’ that’s one side of the equation. I did not finish that answer. And the other side of that equation is:  We have to be a nation that is ready to receive people. We have to grant asylum. We have to still be the nation that welcomes people for opportunity, and do it through the legal process.

“And in our efforts to try to get immigration reform in the Senate, I found that people always tried to exploit it. They tried to just go for the jugular, on one side or the other, rather than look for how do you really solve the problem?

“It’s going to take a compromise. You will have to prove to people who have no belief in the system that borders will actually be enforced, that you’re not going to have another twelve million people illegally enter the country. You have to prove that you’re going to have a system that works. But you also have to have a heart and humanity that is in keeping with the values system of our country. So you grant people citizenship. There has to be a path to citizenship for the twelve million that are already here. We know how to do that. We had a pretty rigorous test that people had to go through, the steps to citizenship. I’m for that.”

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On Values

“It is so important to have basic values. Believe it or not, some people don’t. And you run into them in the course of your lives, and hopefully can run away from them without great consequence negatively against you. And Harvard, and the great education, and your parents, and your life, I think will give you — you’ll get a basis of values. I have no doubt about that.”

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On Troubles With Globalization

“Globalization is scary to a lot of people. It has changed life for a lot of people – and not everybody for the better.”

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On Globalization and White People

“They were downsized. Their job got squeezed. I don’t know how many of you read Hillbilly Elegy. It’s the cry of, I hate to say it, but of the white America, in the way that it’s seeing life changing. And a lot of people are blaming people for those changes in life. That’s historic.”

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On A North African Foreign Minister Talking About His Country’s Problem With Minority Extremists

“And he said to me, ‘John, we’re terrified.’ He said, ‘The extremists grab young kids at age 12 or 13, and they pay them a stipend, and they take them away from their family, and they proselytize to them for X number of months. And then at the end of the time they don’t have to pay them anymore. They’re hook, line, and sinker bought-and-sold. And they go out and become the next wave of recruiters. And what he said to me was, ‘You know, these guys, the extremists, have a 35-year plan. We don’t even have a five-year plan.’”

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On Climate Change and Donald Trump

“Climate change is not something we don’t have a solution to. It’s not a lack of capacity. It’s a lack of political will. And the solution to climate change is energy policy. … And I’ve got to tell you, decisions the president of the United States has made are going to cost American lives. It’s going to cost billions of dollars of property damage.”

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On the New Music in the 1960s

“It characterized everything we did back then. We literally went up rivers in the Mekong Delta in the middle of a war with Doors tapes playing on our loudspeakers. What you saw on Apocalypse Now, if you’ve ever seen it, is real.”

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On Running for President in 2020

“You know, I’ve said I’m not going to eliminate, I’m not taking anything off the table. But I’m not sitting around, I haven’t been running around to the most obvious states laying any groundwork or doing anything. Am I going to think about it? Yeah, I’m going to think about it. I’ve said that, point-blank, simply because of all the things I’ve just talked about. If you care about these things, you have to think about it.

“But I would love it – I mean, I’m the guy who picked Barack Obama to give the keynote at my convention. And I kind of thought it would be great if he renominated me four years later. [Laughter] But it obviously worked out differently. I had no anticipation that I would be working for him, a few years later. More power to him. I knew when I met him in Chicago and asked him to do that, that he would be a star. And I was the first national politician to endorse him publicly, for president. Three days after he took the drubbing in New Hampshire from Hillary, he called me at midnight, and said, “Are you still with me?’ I said, ‘I told you I’m with you, I’m with you. What do you want to do?’ And he said, ‘Let’s go to South Carolina and do it.” And I did it. And the rest is history. And I’m proud of having served with him …

So the point of my saying that, folks, is not a diversion from the question. It is to underscore that  I’m perfectly ready to embrace somebody that I think can win who wants to address all the issues that I just talked about and understands them. But I’m going to be very candid here. And some people who are thinking about it aren’t going to love me for it. But I don’t see the person yet that I’m prepared to say that about.”

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On Joe Biden Running for President

“Now, I don’t know if Joe’s going to run. I love Joe Biden. He’s a great pal of mine. We’ve known each other 40 years. He’s clearly qualified, clearly great. He understands all these issues. Let’s see what he decides to do.”

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On Another Possible Candidate for President

“I’ll shock everybody. I’ll say I also, you know, like a guy who was originally a Democrat, and then a Republican, and he’s now back. And I like him very much. He’s been terrific on guns. He’s terrific on climate change. He’s been terrific on inclusivity and other issues. And that’s Mike Bloomberg, who’s an adult, and has built a hell of a business, and is an interesting person.”

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We Were Just Friends, Right?

Amy Dacey, former Kerry aide in 2004 campaign for president:  “You gave me one of the most incredible experiences you can have in a lifetime. We travelled across this country together, from sea to shining sea, state to state.”

John Kerry:  “With a lot of other people.”

[Laughter. Kerry makes mezza-mezza sign with his right hand.]

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