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Public Statements

Obama or Clinton: Which Candidate Can Best Take On McCain?

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Obama or Clinton: Which Candidate Can Best Take On McCain?

Many voters have already weighed in. But with potentially decisive primaries this month and next, Newsweek magazine asked surrogates on each side to sway the undecideds. This was Senator Kerry's reply:

Sen. John F. Kerry: ‘Truly Transformative'

Every now and then, history gives us big moments in politics — moments that offer a transformation, not just a transition. And when these moments come along, the old order always resists. Winston Churchill once compared meeting Franklin Delano Roosevelt for the first time to opening your first bottle of champagne, but the establishment here at home was dubious: in FDR they saw an untested and unelectable patrician with polio. The pundits asked, could West Virginians connect with this New York aristocrat? Would America really elect him? It did — four times.

Twenty-eight years later, the old guard said that Jack Kennedy could not be elected because he was too Catholic and too young. Harry Truman said JFK was unelectable because, to defeat Richard Nixon, we needed "someone with greater experience." The 43-year-old Kennedy replied: "The world is changing. The old ways will not do." He was right — and America agreed.

Today we face another transformative moment. Americans are hungry for a directness and freshness that speaks to the public fatigue with politics as usual. That's why Barack Obama is not just the candidate most able to meet the special demands of the time; he's also the Democrat most likely to get to the White House.

Obama, due in large measure to his early opposition to the war in Iraq, can best highlight the "security gap" we now live with thanks to John McCain and the Republican Party. America is less safe today than we should be because of the choices McCain and George W. Bush have made. Obama is uniquely equipped to not just end the war in Iraq, but end the mind-set that got us into war. The contrasts are clear: if Obama is our nominee, McCain will not be able to say that his opponent voted for the war in Iraq, or that he gave Bush the benefit of the doubt on Iran. Obama presents other foreign-policy opportunities as well: he'd be willing to break with Bush's unilateralism and talk with our enemies.

He'd also encourage a conversation at home. For years, Karl Rove and the Republicans have made a handsome living polarizing us — looking at the United States and seeing only an electorate to be pitted against each other. In Obama, however, America has a candidate who will end the politics of Swift Boating. The country is responding to his politics of unity. Obama's innovative grass-roots campaign — powered by 1.3 million Americans who have made donations — reflects his conviction that real change comes only when people form a movement so large that Washington has no choice but to listen. That's not just a way to win the election. It's the only way to change the nation.

This year, Democrats know we have an embarrassment of riches — two terrific candidates. But one is truly transformative. Obama isn't just winning elections; he's exciting millions of new voters. In North Carolina, 165,000 people have registered this year alone, three quarters of them eligible to vote in the Democratic primary. Skeptics question whether Obama can win working-class voters, but in Virginia and Wisconsin, two states the party aims to carry in November, he romped through — winning every demographic group across the lines of education, religion, ethnicity, race and income. With critical Senate races in places like Colorado and New Mexico, Democratic leaders are excited that the "coattails" of an Obama campaign can win a new generation of Red State Democrats. Last February, Virginia's Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine was asked whether a Democratic candidate could carry Virginia for the first time since LBJ did it in 1964. "The right Democrat could," he replied. Two days later, he endorsed Obama.

The Illinois senator is the strongest nominee because he has shown that he can learn from mistakes and respond to challenges with the best weapon America has: the truth. He has already had a presidential moment in this campaign. Faced with criticisms about his faith, Obama gave one of the most eloquent, brave and bracingly honest speeches I have ever heard a politician give. Instead of trying to say the right thing, he just tried to tell the truth, in all its unvarnished complexity. There is no greater sign of his respect for people everywhere than a refusal to insult their intelligence.

If there's a silver lining to eight disastrous years of George W. Bush, it's this: the next president has an unprecedented opportunity to break with the past — and reinvent America's politics at home and its image abroad. The next president can re-establish our faith in government and in ourselves. After all, we get to decide what to do with the moments history gives us. And I believe that we will use this one to make Barack Obama the next president of the United States.

Kerry was the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee.


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