fbpx A conversation with John Kerry on the youth vote, climate change, and the possibilities of the future | Harvard Kennedy School

It has not yet been two years since he left Washington, but John Kerry has written a new memoir reflecting on his years of military and public service and is, in his own words, “as invigorated, as energized, as at any time” in his life. At a John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum, moderated by Institute of Politics (IOP) Director Mark Gearan, the former U.S. secretary of state and five-term senator from Massachusetts spoke candidly on the lessons learned from both history and his role as the nation’s top diplomat, and took on the inevitable questions about his political future. Joining Gearan on stage to pose questions to Kerry were four fall 2018 IOP Resident Fellows: former Democratic National Committee CEO Amy Dacey, former Republican Congressman Joseph Heck, Bloomberg News’s Margaret Talev, and Brittany Packnett, vice president of national community alliances and engagement for Teach for America and co-founder of Campaign Zero. 

On whether he is considering a run for president in 2020:

“I’m not taking anything off the table. … But I haven’t been running around to the most obvious states, laying any groundwork or doing anything. … Am I going to think about it? Yes, I’m going to think about it … if you care about these things you have to think about it. … I am perfectly ready to embrace somebody that I think can win who wants to embrace all the issues I just talked about and understands them … but I don’t see the person yet that I’m prepared to say that about. … I don’t know if Joe [Biden] is going to run … he’s clearly qualified. ...  I also like a guy [who’s] been terrific on guns, he’s been terrific on climate change, he’s been terrific on inclusivity and other issues, and that’s Mike Bloomberg. He’s an adult. … I’m open. I’m looking, like all of you are.”

On the Iran nuclear deal:

“[Iran] are living by the agreement. … China, Russia, Germany, France, and Britain all met with Iran to try to keep the deal alive. ... To me, that’s an affirmation of the strength of what we did. … And if at any time in the future [Iran] try to break out … we will know it immediately, we have the ability to have every military option available to us then that we have available to us today. So why, if you want to deal with the issue of their missiles, Hezbollah, Yemen, just pull out and put everything back on the table? It doesn’t make sense. … This was never built on trust. … You do this by not trusting and verifying. … We’re building up the relationship. Now what’s happened by pulling out of the deal, the very people who didn’t want to have a deal at all … have been empowered. Because what’s happened is the people who said, “You can’t trust America, you make a deal with them, they won’t keep it,” Donald Trump has now reinforced that. … We don’t do regime change very well. That’s what this policy is actually about. It’s trying to economically squeeze Iran into complete submission so they’ll come crying to the table. ... Not going to happen.” 

On democratic participation and the mid-terms:

“We had more Americans vote than at any time in American history: 113 million. First time we’ve ever been over 100 million. But guess what? The youth vote was still, with a 55 percent increase, only 32 or 33 percent. What is that about? And the overall vote was 49 percent. That is simply unacceptable. … I’m convinced there is a vast majority in America that shares the values, shares the vision, wants to have a multilateral engagement, wants to engage with other countries and other parts of the world, wants common sense applied to things that scientists tell us are happening, that want to live up to the values of our nation. I’m convinced of it. But they’ve got to vote. And the best way we’re going to change that is to now build on what we did in this midterm and take it into 2020 in order to guarantee that we get back the possibilities of the future.” 

On the divisive political atmosphere in the United States today:

“You have to make meaningful issues, voting issues. If you don’t make them voting issues, you don’t get the change you want. … Writ large, our democracy right now is absolutely dysfunctional. It is a disgrace. And I say that of both parties.”

“You cannot have a government and a democracy work without compromise. … We can’t function that way. We have lost the ability in our great country to ascertain the baseline of facts on which we are going to make decisions as a government. And if you don’t have a baseline of facts, you can’t begin to build the consensus you need to govern. … My colleague Daniel Patrick Moynihan, senator from New York, had a great saying: ‘Everybody is entitled to their own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.’”

On the urgent need to address climate change: 

“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. Today, solar is less expensive than coal. … Last year, three storms cost you and your parents $265 billion dollars. … Folks this is happening. ... We are currently living out by omission or commission a mutual suicide pact. I just say to all of you—2020, our democracy, everything I’ve talked about tonight is solvable, by you. By being active … and by making sure that we organize to get above that 33 percent [voter turnout], up to 60, 70 percent. … Remember what Nelson Mandela said. He said, ‘It always seems impossible until it is done.’ Pretty simple. So, let’s get it done.”

 

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