Thursday, October 23, 2008

Kerry: Look to Obama

In an elegant interweaving, Sen. John Kerry braided a foreign policy address with an Obama stump speech. Throughout the talk, he made a seamless flow from one to another.

Speaking to a packed auditorium at Tufts, he laid out the stark and heavy problems we confront. He did not spare us the glum diagnoses. In contrast, he gently walked by solutions, holding off the specifics and relying on the more general conclusion that Barack Obama as president would be best to cure the diseases.

Amusingly enough, during the question period, one recently self-outed Republican, Stephanie Brown called Kerry out on the address. "With all due respect, sir, I came for your thoughts on foreign policy reform, not to attend an Obama rally."

In good humor, Kerry denied that his addressed was actually an Obama rally. The sense that it was, or became so, increased with the repeated applause and cheers for mentions contrasting the current administration with what President Obama would likely do. Kerry was savvy enough to commend Brown's courage and rightly so. She was in the lion's den. (Hey, that include me among the pride.) When Kerry started with, "For the sake of the country and for the sake of the world, we have to send (Obama) to the White House," a great uproar immediately followed.

Shortly into the address I stopped being annoyed by the weaving. Problem...inadequate Bush response or policy...dreadful forecast...Obama approach to solve it... In my own doh moment, I realized that Kerry was in no position to mandate direction for the likely next President. He remained deferential and provided no kindling to those who would burn Obama shortly before the election.

This speech is one bookend of a set. Next week somewhere in Lowell yet to be announced, Kerry will do the same for the economic issues. Like two gargoyles on the wall, it's hard to tell whether security or finance is scarier.

The foreign policy beasts Kerry cited were many as well as frightening. We know them — two ground wars, rogue states like Iran and North Korea hellbent for being nuclear powers and more.

We have to invent our way out of this crisis.

As context and a touchstone, Kerry alluded to the Cuban missile crisis and President John Kennedy's diplomacy in preventing war. He likened the current U.S. situation to that, perhaps compounded, and said that what is called for again is a national leader with "judgment, vision and temperament." Unlike President Bush or would-be President McCain, the right leader would be "patient, pragmatic, steely and wise."

Kerry noted that specific issues today are different, though they "are as complex and pervasive as any I have seen in all the time I've been in public life." He cited the two "enormous, fundamental" issues of foreign policy and the economy.

For national security and international relations, he cited:
  • Our army is strained by two major ground wars
  • Traditional nation states like Iran and North Korea operate outside of the accepted rules of international behavior.
  • The very definition of national security is being rewritten, to include threats that know no borders.
  • Global terror, global AIDS, global warming, and lately, global finance.
  • We need to contend not just with rogue states, but with failed states too.
  • ...not just with the movement of troops but with the flow of dangerous technologies and materials, dislocated people and scarce energy supplies.
All these are complicated by large numbers of disenfranchised people susceptible to lowest-common-denominator appeals, including religious extremism. "This is our world today," he stated soberly.

The address itself did not lay out many specifics for addressing each point. It did touch on the need for diplomacy. Also in the question period, he described in some detail what he would expect of am Obama administration, as well as what he would fear of a McCain one, in these areas.

While deferring to Obama's policies to be, Kerry simultaneously placed an enormous burden of expectation on him. I expect to attend next week's economic address to complete this set. There are no state secrets to give away there, no need for a portfolio to negotiate, and Obama has been pretty clear on his economic policies as well as his intended response to the financial crises. I expect more specifics there.

Last night's address was too vague on solutions, although plenty graphic on the problems. In what he did offer on solutions, Kerry was plain in the language that lefties understand and speak.

In contrast to McCain's camp, he made it held that with only 3% of the world's petroleum reserves, drilling would not begin to solve our international relations or economic problems related to fossil fuels. He did in an answer to one question for massive expenditures here — in the nature of the $10 billion a month we have been spending in Iraq.

He painted an image of us in our last stand on energy independence, a situation only soluble through innovation. The goal can't be to keep finding more sources of polluting oil. "We cannot drill our way out of this crisis but have to invent our way out," he said, adding that the new energy solutions will provide millions of jobs and switch our balance of payments in the right direction.

Follow-up: The student paper, the Tufts Daily, has speech coverage here.
Follow-up two: The speech is online at Kerry's site.

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