Senator John Kerry was in Newburyport, MA on Saturday for town hall meeting with area residents, just one week after junior Senator Scott Brown spoke at the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
This was the second town hall meeting I had attended with John Kerry in two weeks, the first being his event at Faneuil Hall in Boston on May 7 (which I didn’t find time to write about).
While the Faneuil Hall town hall meeting was more focused on foreign policy, given the news on Osama bin Laden’s demise days before, this Saturday’s town hall event was more focused on domestic issues after a lead in on foreign policy.
The town hall started with Massachusetts State Senator Steve Baddour sharing a story about how Kerry’s staff had recently helped him with a soldier who had recently returned from Iraq, who wanted to commit suicide. Baddour told the attendees at the event that within a couple of hours after reaching out to Kerry’s staff, the soldier was on his way to getting the help he needed. Kerry, Baddour said, “is available and accessible.”
Newburyport’s Mayor Donna Holaday then gave Kerry a hearty introduction that left no question about his achievements in the Senate.
Kerry, rather than take questions from the audience took a few minutes to warm up the room with some humor and share his thoughts on some of the vital issues in our country. The first day in the area with some sun in what felt like weeks, Kerry told the crowd they all deserved “civic awards” for being at the event instead of out enjoying the sun. He then went on to make light of the “rapture” that didn’t happen today and Republican Newt Gingrich:
“Kind of a big day… Bible experts say the world’s going to end. Given the week that Newt Gingrich has had, it can’t end soon enough.”
Taking a moment to remember Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy, Kerry noted that it was hard for all of us with the loss of Ted Kennedy, “Kennedy’s shoes are big shoes to follow in — not fill — follow in.”
To a packed house in the auditorium in Newburyport’s City Hall, John Kerry spoke candidly about how “dead serious this moment” in time is for the U.S.. “As chair of the Senator Foreign Relations Committee,” Kerry said, “I meet with all kinds of world leaders. I hear what they are saying, I see the intelligence reports and this is what I get… A whole bunch of people in the world think the U.S. is declining.”
It is, Kerry told the audience “a very different playing field” than we’ve had in the past. We now have, Kerry noted, sectarian influence, tribal influence… Tribalism is alive and well in the world, Kerry said. On investing in helping other nations achieve democracy, Kerry said that helps make us, the U.S. stronger, “We need to stop the notion that giving money for foreign aid is a gift.”
Taking a different direction in his talk, Kerry told the audience, “Let’s come home… We’re not going to be the leader in the world unless we are stronger at home. The GOP doesn’t want to change anything…We have to get angry, get agitated, get organized and invest in our future.”
On the deficit, Kerry said, “We have to do something about the deficit. We are spending too much. We are going to have to do things that are tough.” The U.S. is at a 60 year year low in revenue, Kerry told the crowd, “We have a notion in America that we can do things but not pay for it.”
On our infrastructure, Kerry said, “We’re not adding to it. We’re not building that kind of future now.” Noting the rebuilding of the Hines Bridge here in the Newburyport area, Kerry said, “Bridges are falling down, we can’t go out and say, ‘I promise you a tax cut’ when this is happening. We have to go back to pre-Bush on tax cuts.”
On the budget, Kerry said, “The Ryan budget is dangerous for our country.” There’s a better way, he noted, “we did in the 1990’s and we left George W. Bush with a 5.6 trillion dollar surplus” when he took office. What happened to that surplus? Kerry noted three things:
- Tax cuts for the rich.
- Two wars, one we didn’t need to fight.
- We left a fox in charge of the chicken coop and the financial industry went down.
“We can balance the budget in a smart way,” Kerry said, “Not by hurting kids and seniors by taking away benefits. We can do this by helping America to create jobs.”
Kerry took a variety of questions form the audience ranging from the local issue of the jetties at the mouth of the Merrimack River, a project held up by a lack of federal funds, to education and income discrepancy in America. Kerry said in response to the question about income discrepancy, “We need to adjust the system — the average life expectancy is longer than when Social Security was created. We must FIX — not cut, Social Security. Why do we stop paying in when we make over $106,000. We have to raise the limit.”
Ending the town hall event, Kerry told the audience, “Everyone of the things we’ve talked about define our country.” There are, he said, “a lot of people involved in government with no moral sense… What defines our nation as a whole empowers our economy.” President Obama, Kerry said, has done more than any president since Roosevelt and he’s done it with the most obstructionist Congress in history.”
To win against that obstructionist Congress, Kerry said, we need regain the majority in Congress and we need to “fight fire with fire.” Kerry is, as I have said here often, right.
Kudos to the people in the Newburyport area who came out to hear Senator Kerry speak today.
On a personal note: It was a great event, and meaningful for me… After working for Kerry’s ’04 presidential campaign and then his PAC in ’06, while living in Los Angeles, today I was able to hear Senator Kerry speak in my hometown, Newburyport, Massachusetts.