Former Secretary of State John Kerry came out swinging at a recent stop in Washington to promote his new book, “Every Day is Extra.” Digging the country out of what he called a constitutional crisis brought on by President Donald Trump’s election will require a larger turnout this fall than the 54.2 percent of the electorate that voted in 2016, he said.
Republicans in Congress “understand that Donald Trump is not a balanced leader or equipped to be president of the United States,” Kerry told a receptive crowd at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue on Sept. 8.
Kerry, a former Democratic senator, accused congressional Republicans of maintaining a hands-off policy when it comes to fulfilling their constitutional duty to impose checks on an out-of-control executive branch in a Faustian bargain for what he termed irresponsible tax cuts, administrative deregulation and conservative judgeships.
“Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans are not interested in defending the Constitution or the Senate, just their party, the president, and power for themselves.”
Speaking of his own campaign’s silence in countering fake news swift boat attacks that helped sink his 2004 presidential bid, Kerry took full responsibility for fighting back too late, but explained he was bound by public campaign finance rules that disallowed his campaign’s purchase of air time until after the September Republican National Convention. Four years later, his first strategic memo to candidate Barack Obama recommended opting out of federal campaign funding and the restrictions that come with it.
Kerry did not close the door to a 2020 presidential bid, and more recently he has been the subject of Twitter attacks by Trump and his supporters, including conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who before getting dropped from Twitter reported that a hurricane forming off Hawaii had been split in two by a secret energy beam John Kerry fired from Antarctica.
Kerry joked that the accusation was obviously fake news because he fired the beam from the North Pole. Does he plan ever to respond in kind to Trump’s Twitter attacks? Kerry responded: “When you lie down with dogs, you wake up with fleas.”
Kerry switched animal metaphors when turning to the Middle East. He described himself as a strong supporter of Israel as a democratic Jewish state and a strong proponent of a two-state settlement as the only viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
And he defended his ill-fated efforts as secretary of state to bring Israelis and Palestinians together in a negotiated settlement. He said he was unable to bridge the gap between the Palestinians, who trusted neither the Israelis nor Obama, and the Israeli government, in which a majority of the cabinet publicly declared there will never be a Palestinian state.
“They say you can lead a horse to water but can’t make it drink,” he said. “We brought two horses together and couldn’t make either of them drink.”
Still, Kerry remains positive and hopeful for the future. His faith in democratic institutions and American common sense reflects the optimism that led him to environmental and anti-war activism following his return from combat in Vietnam, even though “leading marches and getting arrested are not necessarily the best resume- builders for a future in politics,” he said.
Nevertheless, Kerry’s experiences as an anti-war organizer led to an abiding faith in the cleansing power of grass-roots activism. “In the 1972 election, Richard Nixon won 49 states. A year and a half later he was gone,” Kerry said. “Ordinary Americans make a difference when people get up off their asses and make this democracy work.”
District resident Francisca Otero said she “would love it” if Kerry became the Democratic nominee in 2020, citing his five terms as a U.S. senator, his experience as secretary of state and his bipartisan personal relationship with the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that led to the recovery of the remains of 700 MIAs from Vietnam and the eventual establishment of diplomatic relations with America’s former enemy.
Karel Robertson, a retired intensive care unit nurse from Bethesda, had volunteered as a Red Cross “Donut Dolly” in Vietnam from 1971 to 72 as a way of comforting “blue-collar kids who had no choice” about going to war. She said she admires and respects Kerry, but thinks the time has come for passing leadership to a younger generation, such as Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).
Louis Nayman is a Washington-area writer.