April 15, 2004 Thursday
HEADLINE: REMARKS OF SENATOR JOHN KERRY (D-MA) TO HOWARD UNIVERSITY
LOCATION: HOWARD UNIVERSITY, WASHINGTON, D.C.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA): Thank you very much, Daniel. Thank you so much. He is graduating from here and going straight to Congress, ladies and gentlemen. He's doing great. And Britney (sp), thank you so much. She's from-she has the wisdom to be from Massachusetts, so I've got a special affection for her. I'm going to take my jacket off and relax a little bit, if that's all right with everybody.
So, don't ever say that some of us in public life don't have any courage, because I came here today, on April 15th, tax day, to face all of you. Either I'm insane or courageous, or both-correct?
Thank you for the privilege. President Swygert, thank you for allowing me to be here. It's such an honor to be back here at Howard. We were here for a debate, as many of you remember. But I'm really happy to be able to be here to have this kind of intimate conversation with you. And I want it to be a conversation. I'm not going to talk at you for very long. I really want you to ask me questions. I want you to share thoughts with me. I want to listen. And I want to talk to you about our country, and our responsibilities to each other, and where we need to go.
But I want to say something first about April 15th and tax day. George Bush has made a big deal out of trying to convince America that he's lowered taxes for all Americans and that I'm going to come along and somehow raise taxes on Americans. He's misleading Americans one more time. There's a big truth deficit in this administration, and this president is busy trying to run away from his own record and create a phony one for someone else because he doesn't have a record to run on.
And the fact is that under my plan for America, my economic plan, I'm going to provide $225 billion more in tax cuts to the middle class than George Bush ever dreamed of. I'm going to provide $225 billion in real tax cuts, number one, because we're going to provide a $4,000 tuition tax credit to help students be able to afford to go to college, and that's going to be positive for the middle class. (Applause.)
Number two, we're going to provide a tax cut for health care for self-employed and small business so people can actually afford to buy health care in America. We also have a plan to get other people covered, but that's another topic. We can come back to it later if you want to.
In addition, I have a plan that will close one of the worst loopholes we've ever seen, where working people in American are actually subsidizing the loss of their own jobs. Companies that go overseas get a great big tax break, but the companies that stay here in America pay at the standard tax rates in the United States. It doesn't make sense. Why should an American worker be working here at home, hoping to find another job here at home, and transferring money out of their pocket, hard-earned money, to some company that went overseas to make up the difference for that company overseas? Not when I'm president.
When I'm president, we're going to take that tax bill, we're going to close that loophole. And you know what we're going to do? We're going to take that money, $12 billion worth, and we're going to give the companies here in America a tax cut. Ninety-nine percent of American corporations will get a five percent tax cut in the corporate tax rate when I'm president, and that will help American business be more competitive, create more jobs, and grow the economy of the United States of America. That's a tax cut worth fighting for, ladies and gentlemen. (Applause.)
Now, today, tax day, when people pay their taxes, I want them to know that they've been bushwhacked. (Laughter.) And the reason they've been bushwhacked is they're actually paying more in taxes, because $90 billion of deficits have now been pushed on to the states because of the tax cuts at the federal level. I was just talking to your president. The fees have gone up. Tuitions have gone up. That's happened all across this country. And Americans are paying more in 32 states in the United States of America, property taxes have gone up, fees have gone up, local taxes up, and some middle class families are paying as much as $3,500 of additional taxes under George Bush's plan. That's wrong. That is what I call being bushwhacked. That's a bush league economic recovery, ladies and gentlemen, and it comes at the expense of average people who are working, and this administration is pretending.
Remember that song, "The Great Pretender?" I don't know how many of you have ever heard it? Nobody ever heard it. It's before your time. Somebody's going to play it again one day. Go to the "oldies- but-goodies" station and you'll hear it.
Anyway, I got to tell you, the truth is that, you know, you just need to deal with reality here in this country, and I think that's what all of you want. Every campus I've gone on, and I don't care where it is in this country, young people are frustrated by politics because they don't have a sense that the people who are supposed to be leading are telling them the truth or putting real choices in front of people. And everybody senses a phoniness about the whole deal. Slogans, more words, while life gets harder for the average person in the country, and I'm tired of that just as you are. So, we're going to deal with the truth. And here's part of the truth.
Tuitions across America over the last three years have gone up 28 percent, on average-some more, some less-but they've gone up. Health care costs across America have gone up. Gasoline prices and energy costs have gone up. But you know what hasn't gone up? The wages of working people. The wages of working people, in fact, have gone down $1,200 over the last years, and we've got a Congress right over here not too far from this great university, where they won't even allow a vote to raise the minimum wage in the United States of America from $5.15 to 6.55, and you can't even work and get out of poverty on 6.55 in this country today. It's a disgrace that these senators and congressmen in the Republican Party won't even allow a vote to raise the minimum wage for the first time since 1996 and let Americans pay for their families and their lives for a 40-hour work week in the United States of America. That's what we ought to be fighting for. (Applause.)
Now, I want to talk to you about your responsibility and our responsibility together. President Swygert was telling me a moment ago about the theme of your education here at this great university, and let me tell you something, just this morning I was in New York City with one of your great graduates, Vernon Jordan. I have bumped into more people across this country, when I say "Where did you go to school?" They say, "I went to Howard." And they are people -- (applause) -- they are-they are involved in the life and the currents of our nation. They really are. They're helping to make change. They're fighting for things that make a difference.
This president had a unique opportunity after September 11th to ask Americans to join together to do something special for America-not just ask soldiers to go and risk their lives. Those are the young people who are bearing the greatest brunt of the world we live in today. But we all ought to be bearing some responsibility for the world we live in today. Too many children left behind every single day. An America that's content to run almost a farm system for prisons in our country.
I used to be-I used to be a prosecutor. And I used to go spend time and talk to kids, 15, 16 and 17 years old who are in trouble.
And I'd ask them, you know, "What happened? How did you get here? Tell me about your life." There wasn't a kid I talked to in trouble, in the court system, who didn't tell me about the absence of adults in their life, or the abuse of adults, or the neglect of adults, or the chaos that they were living in, and the struggle to try to get a hold of a piece of life and make something out of their lives. Not a kid.
And I'll tell you something, we've got to stop being a country that's content to spend $50,000 a year, or $70,000 a year to send a young person to prison for the rest of their life, rather than invest $10,000 a year in Head Start, Early Start, Smart Start, early childhood education, and AmeriCorps. (Applause.)
I think young people in our country want to serve. I think young people in our country are waiting for leadership that asks people to help build the kind of society that we know we need.
You know what those kids who are abandoned need? You know what those five million latch key kids who are sent home to an apartment or a house where there's no parent or adult even until some time late in the evening-they need-they need surrogate parents. They need people in their lives. They need order. They need a real transfer of values. Well, where does that come from? That's labor intensive. It comes from people.
So, what I want to do is ask young people to become part of building community in America again. I want a program of national service where we say to people who graduate from high school, if you are prepared to work in your own local community for two years, and you are prepared to act as a mentor to a kid at risk, or you're prepared to work with after school programs and help kids get their homework done so they can go to school the next day ready to learn, or you're prepared to help provide a senior who is a shut-in with access to a senior center or food, or some kind of dignity in their old age-there's so many things to do-clean up a park, help restore a community, build a building.
All of these things, if people will come and do that, we're going to build the largest increase in national service in the history of this country. We're going to look for 500,000 young people who want to serve in that way. And in return, we're going to pay for their full four-year, in-state college, public education. (Applause.) That's what we're going to do for national service in this country. (Applause.)
And I've met more people around the country, you know, last year, because of those 28 percent increases in tuitions, you know what happened? Two-hundred-and-twenty thousand students had to decide not to go to college. I'm sure some of you faced very tough choices about how you're going to pay or what you're going to do, and it gets tougher and tougher, on parents and students alike. The single most important equalizer in our nation, we learned long ago, is education. The most important thing we can do in this new, globalized, technological, information-based world we live in is give people the skills to be able to be full citizens.
This university-this university was the place where Brown versus Board of Education was given birth. And you're going to celebrate -- (applause) -- that's worth applauding, but let me tell you something, what's not worth applauding is that 50 years later we still have a separate and unequal school system in the United States of America -- (applause) -- and we need-we need the service of young people's idealism, and energy, and commitment to our country to help us finish the unfinished march to breakdown the barriers of resistance that still block us from being able to provide the full promise of this nation.
That's why I'm running for president of the United States, and that's why it's important that all across this country-on campuses, in communities-young people come back and help us reclaim our own democracy. We can do it. And the reason I know we can do it is we've done it before.
I watched what young people did to help create the civil rights movement. I saw what happened with young people who put their lives on the line. I saw young people who stood up and told Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon that a war in Vietnam had to end. I saw what young people did to respond to the needs of our country to create a consciousness about the environment so that we passed a Clean Air Act and a Clean Water Act, and a Safe Drinking Water Act, and creating an EPA. That didn't just happen. That didn't grow up there out of the spontaneous combustion of the leadership of the House of Representatives or the United States Senate. It came from people in communities who were angry at what they were living and what they saw. And today, we have to translate our frustration and our impatience into political action that's willing to fight for those things again.
In Harlem, 25 percent of the kids have asthma. And one of the reasons is lead. Another reason is dust and mold and all the problems of the environment. Another reason is that's the route that all the trucks get diverted through and have to drive through so it fills up the air even more with pollutants than other parts of the community. Why? Because of the lack of political power. In my home state, in Boston, in Roxbury, there are six toxic waste sites. They're not there in downtown Boston, they're over in Roxbury, because of the lack of political power.
Well, we need to make politicians know that there's a voting power in America that's going to hold them accountable. And if we'll do the same kind of things we've done before, together we can reclaim this democracy. We can give America back its truth and its prosperity, its strength and its future. That's why I'm here, and I hope you'll join me in that effort. Thank you, and God bless. (Applause.)
Let's open it up have the sort of conversation that I talked about a few minutes ago, and we'll go-try to run through as many questions as I can. Do you want to pass that mike over here?
MODERATOR: Senator Kerry, the first question right here. Right here.
SEN. KERRY: You've already got a mike. You came armed.
Q My name is Kyron (ph) Irving (ph); I'm a sophomore here at Howard University. I'm a music education --
SEN. KERRY: What's your first name?
Q Kyron (sp).
SEN. KERRY: Kyron (sp).
Q And I'm a music education major here. And what I wanted to talk to you about was I've seen all over the country that music programs and arts programs are being cut left and right. And I feel as though that music education and arts education is very important for keeping kids off the street and just even myself as a witness. And I want to know what are you going to do to help all of those programs in schools are being cut, or less funding to bring all those programs back?
SEN. KERRY: That's a great question, Kyron (sp). And let me just say to everybody, this is something I'm a little bit familiar with because my wife helped to start and fund a school in Pittsburgh, right in the heart of Pittsburgh, where there had been drive-by shootings, and graffiti on walls, and the community was having a difficult time, but right in the heart of there, they started this school. Do you know what it was? An arts-centered alternative education project. And kids came into there who were failing in the normal school system or just not stimulated, not able to learn properly-whatever it is. There are kids who don't make it in those kinds of atmospheres. But, you don't give up on them. You don't just abandon them.
So, they created this alternative place, which was focused on using the arts to develop self-esteem, and awareness, and skills. And guess what? I went and visited that school. A fellow name Bill Strickland (sp) runs it. And it's extraordinary what I saw. Spic- and-span. Neat as a-I mean, not a thing out of place. People taking pride in the school itself, taking pride in themselves, and discovering their own abilities through some form of the arts, one or the other, as a form of development.
All over the country I've seen these kinds of alternative forms of education and development. And he's absolutely correct. We've got schools in America, we pride ourselves in being the center of education, and yet how can you have a place that is really a center of education that doesn't have arts, and music, and science, and drama, and theater, and so forth. We need to restore those things to these communities.
And here's my pledge: George Bush joined with the Congress to pass the No Child Left Behind Act. And before the ink was dry, he walked away from that promise too, and he hasn't fully funded it. It's lacking anywhere from six to eight billion dollars a year that we need to give resources to the schools so they can do those kinds of programs and the federal government created a mandate for special education. The federal government is supposed to pay 40 percent of special education costs. To this day, the federal government has under-funded special education. It is only paying about 16 or 17 percent.
I have pledged that as president, during my first term, we will raise that special education reimbursement to the full 40 percent and relieve pressure from communities on the property tax and help empower schools to embrace arts, music, other things, as alternative means of education, as well as centered-central parts of the education in almost every school, because it ought to be, and that's what we're going to do. That's my pledge. (Applause.)
SEN. KERRY: Way back there. Way back. Have we got a mike -- (inaudible) -- thanks. Yes sir?
Q How you doing? I'm James Morely (sp).
SEN. KERRY: I'm doing great, today.
Q I'm a freshman political science major from Raleigh, North Carolina. My question is, being at Howard University, and being a student from a multi-cultural background and being at Howard, which is so diverse, what do you plan to do in terms of ensuring homeland security without infringing upon, I guess, civil liberties, and depending upon profiling?
SEN. KERRY: Well, I'm against racial profiling. (Applause.) I don't believe we need to racially profile in order to enforce the law. And I used to-as I said, I was a prosecutor. Now, does it take you a little longer? Do you have to bend over backwards a little bit to sort of make sure you're crossing the "Ts" and dotting the "Is" in order not to, the answer is yes. But never in the United States of America should shortcuts or unwillingness to spend a little extra money or laziness cost people their civil rights, their rights as citizens, and their protections under our constitution.
And what has happened in this administration is they've taken those shortcuts, and they haven't been willing to put in place technology that applies to everybody, so that you are non- discriminatory in the way that you are approaching the criminal justice system.
Let me give you an example. In immigration, for instance, rather than singling people out by race or appearance, you could, in fact, have technology in place that requires everybody to have adequate identification. Now there are modern techniques of identification using thumb prints, finger prints, iris identification of the eye. But you've got to invest in the technology to put it out there so you're treating people equally. That's an example of the steps you could take to provide for the security of the country, but at the same time, provide for the civil liberties, civil rights protections of Americans.
I'll tell you this-one of the things at issue in this race, one of the things that ought to motivate all of you to be active-actually two of the things that ought to motivate you-number one, are three words, "The Supreme Court." That ought to motivate you to get active in this race. And the second is -- (applause) -- and the second is how worthwhile it would be to have an attorney general who is not called "John Ashcroft." (Applause.) And I want you to be part of this effort.
Q Hello. My name is Jessica. I'm a graduating senior, public relations major. My question is, there have been a lot of comparisons between the Vietnam War, which you were a part of, and this current war in Iraq. And I just wanted to know what your views on the comparisons were.
SEN. KERRY: Well, it's not Vietnam, yet-and I underscore "yet." And there are a lot of differences. A lot of differences. But I think this administration is making mistakes of judgment and stubbornness that increasingly push it towards the potential of developing into a much more difficult situation than it has to be.
So, I have said many times that the president of the United States, his responsibility is to maximize the capacity for this mission to be successful, and it is to minimize the risk to American soldiers, and to minimize the cost to the American people.
Now, how do you do that? You don't do it by keeping the costs and risks almost solely on American soldiers and taxpayers. You do it by reaching out to the world community adequately to bring other people to the table to share this burden.
Now, you say to yourselves, "Well, why would they want to share it?" And the administration says, "Well, we've tried." Well, no, they haven't really tried properly, because if you're not willing to share the responsibility for decision-making, and you're not willing to share the reconstruction of the country itself, and you're saving it for Halliburton, or just for those who were part of the original mission, you've got a problem in inviting people to the table. And I believe that what we need is a diplomacy not based on stubbornness, but a diplomacy that is based on the best interests of our troops, our taxpayers, and the mission. And I am convinced that that is the way you keep this from ever getting close to anything like a Vietnam, it's by maximizing the capacity for success.
Now, why should those other countries be involved? Because I'll tell you what-it is in the interest of every Arab nation in the world-in that community not to have a failed Iraq. They don't want a civil war in a failed Iraq. And it's in the interest of Europe, in the war on terror not to have a failed Iraq.
So, the question is looming large and serious. Why, if it is in their interest, are they not involved? Why has this administration failed to bring the world to the table that they ought to be at because of the risk of failure? And I believe that that represents and underscores the stubbornness and failure of this administration to conduct the kind of diplomacy that actually benefits the long-term war on terror and the interest of our soldiers. Our soldiers are over- extended, and they're at greater risk today than they had to be had we done this right. And I think we deserve a president of the United States who knows how to get it right the first time. (Applause.)
Q Okay. My name is Jennifer Hunter, and I'm also a public relations major. My question also has to do with the war in Iraq. And I feel like the Bush administration has done a very good job at selling the nation on fear and kind of controlling the dissemination of the media and the things that they show what's actually going on Iraq. And I feel like when you watch-if you read like things like the BBC or something like that, their news is totally different than our news, and other nations don't really like us. And I feel like what do you plan on-I mean that's the truth. And what do you plan on doing, (A), to bring back, like, the bonds that the Clinton administration made with other nations? Like, to bring allies back to us? And also, just to get a general feeling of, I guess, safety in the nation, because a lot of people are sold on this war out of fear that doesn't-in my personal opinion that doesn't actually exist. So I wanted to know what you plan on doing about that.
SEN. KERRY: Thank you very much. A very, very thoughtful question. (Applause.)
What's your name?
Q Jennifer Hunter.
SEN. KERRY: Jennifer. Well, Jennifer, let me say to you the following. Number one, Iraq, as you all recall, was sold to America because Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. And at the time, it was clear, we were told definitively that there was no connection to al Qaeda. There was no connection to the attack in New York City, or the Pentagon, or what happened in Pennsylvania. So, this administration translated the weapons of mass destruction into this other image that now is driving a lot of the fear that you talked about in the country.
Now, I believe that there is a better way to conduct the war on terror and the foreign policy of the United States of America.
And as president, I will rejoin the community of nations within months-excuse me-within weeks, if you will trust me with the presidency, within weeks of being inaugurated, I intend to return to the United Nations, and I intend to formally lay out for the world America's agenda on a global basis, which will show how we intend to restore to our foreign policy the values and the hopes and aspirations of people all around this planet about how the leader of the free world ought to behave.
And that means direct negotiations with North Korea, not ignoring them for almost two years while the world gets more dangerous.
That means taking the lead, as we should have a number of years ago when I wrote a bill with Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, about AIDS. We should be not talking about it, we should be leading and doing something about AIDS on a global basis -- (applause) -- and that's our responsibility.
We-we should never have taken a treaty on global warming that 160 nations worked 10 years to put together, including us, and flawed as it may have been, and it was flawed-there were some problems in the treaty-I would not have asked for its ratification as it was, but you know what, it represented a giant step forward in trying to get to a better place. And I will not declare it dead. I will go back to the table and fix it so that we can do what we need to do to lead the world in terms of our global environmental responsibilities.
In Russia, there are loose nuclear materials in Russia that we ought to be containing. We ought to be working at the threat reduction in nuclear weapons. Do you know what George Bush is doing? You're spending I'd say more than forty million dollars of your -- (audio break) -- we make as a nation, and that we tell the truth to the American people about it.
Now, I will never cede the security of our country to any other institution or to any other nation. But I'll tell you this: I will be a commander-in-chief and a president who tells the truth to the American people about issues of war and peace, and I will look a family in the eye and legitimately be able to tell them if they lose their son and daughter that I did everything in my power to avoid it, but the threat facing this nation was so real and so compelling that we had no choice. The United States of America should never go to war because we want to. We should only go to war because we have to. And that's the standard which we ought to apply. (Applause.)
I had this guy first, and then I'll come to you.
Q Hi. My name is Alex Wolman (ph). I'm a third-year medical student here at Howard. Now, President Bush promised $15 billion in the state of the union to fight global HIV. That number has been greatly scaled down. And I want to now if you today will stand in front of us and pledge, promise $15 billion to fight global HIV, and will you insist to do it unilaterally, which Bush is continuing to insist on doing, or will you work through the Global Fund?
SEN. KERRY: First of all, in fairness to President Bush and the administration, they promised $15 billion over five years. But, they are falling short, and haven't put even a sufficient amount of money to begin to meet that in, and they haven't begun to spend it. And here's my answer to you.
I will pledge more than 15 -- many people feel now we're up at a level where we need to be around 30 billion or so in the Global Fund. And the answer is yes, I will work with the Global Fund because we need a comprehensive global response to this, not a unilateral response by the United States. What's more, I put in place-I wrote-I was chairman of the task force with Senator Frist on AIDS in the Senate-and we spent about a year listening to people all over the world. I met with leaders. We had testimony. We hard from all of the people in our country who are involved in this issue, and we came up with a comprehensive plan, a plan that involves vaccine development, a plan that involves human resource development and training, education, prevention, treatment. And they're all linked, because you can't do treatment or prevention if you don't have the human infrastructure to get out to some places and be able to educate people and work with them and so forth. And in some countries, in some places, you have to break mythology. You have to break years of hardened beliefs about sexual practices and relationships. It's a big struggle.
But here's the challenge. The experts tell us that the height, the apex of dying from AIDS will not occur until the year 2035 or 2040. Think of that in your lifetimes. We only have 15 million people who are HIV positive. Excuse me, that's wrong. We're at 40 million people who are HIV positive and growing. We have about 15 million orphans today, and about four million people have already died-four million-plus now.
So, if that's what we're facing and it's now pandemic-it's in the Caribbean, it's in Asia, it's in China, it's in Russia, it's in the Subcontinent-we have to be responsible here. And why we are dilly-dallying, why we're sort of filibustering this is beyond-well, it isn't beyond me-you know why they're doing it? Because we've got a bunch of ideologues over there under that big dome who don't even want the word "condom" near an approach, who are unwilling to have people talk to people about family planning, who put ideology in place of common sense and what we know are practices that work. And I will be a president who restores common sense and truth to this debate, and we're going to put America at the front of leadership in this moral crisis that the world faces. (Applause.)
SEN. KERRY: Yes sir.
Q How you doing? My name is Aaron Nelson. I'm a political science junior. And the question I have for you is that it's a fact of history that due to the trans-Atlantic slave trade and many of the past laws in this country, it has led to the economic deprivation and under-development of the African-American community, and even other countries in Africa. And as a result, as a remedy, a proposed remedy to this, many people in the African-American community have pursued reparations. And I would just like to know what is your official stance on the reparations movement? (Applause.)
SEN. KERRY: President Swygert and I were talking a moment ago in the office, because we were talking about the link of this university to emancipation. And when you mentioned the word "slave," it-it-it's-it's almost, in 2004, a kind of shocking, unbelievable notion that we were a country that wrote slavery into our constitution before we wrote it out. It's extraordinary
The scars of that are deep, and they're still felt, obviously. I came across that exhibition-I don't know how many of you saw it-about lynchings in America, and I thought I knew things. I went to a good university and I had learned a lot about race and I never realized the brutality that had taken place and the sort of deprivation that had occurred here in our own country at a period of time. So, we have a lot to repair. I understand that.
I also think it is important for us to remember that in the relationship of race in America, we've actually made an extraordinary amount of progress. In my lifetime, when I was a kid at college, I remember going through the South, and for the first time in my life I was a white kid from the North, first time in my life I saw a sign that said, "No Coloreds, Whites Only," and it shocked me. And we were part of that effort, with the Mississippi voter registration drive and the civil rights movement, to break the back of Jim Crow and to change this country. And I was with Hillary Clinton in New York yesterday, and we commented on this at City College, and-and I mentioned how the South, in fact, had done quite well and deserved credit for transitioning in many ways out of a more difficult situation than the North. The North has been more reluctant in some ways, and nobody gives it credit for that. But we've moved the distance. We can go-we go to school together in America now. We are-you know, we play sports together. We work together. We have opportunities. In many parts of the country people live together, although we've got a learning still about how to do that better. And there's still too much red-lining, and still too much profiling, and still discrimination. I understand that.
But I personally do not believe that America is going to advance if we go backwards and look to reparations in the way that some people are defining it. I think what we have to do is keep marching forwards.
And we march forwards by breaking down the barriers of resistance, not increasing them.
Now, I personally believe that-I understand the debate and I know what motivates it, but my sense is we will be better off fighting and working together for a set of values that unite us around Martin Luther King's dream, which was an American dream, not a dream that divided or split according to something people did before, or according to race. It was an American dream, and his final crusade when he died in Memphis was not something race specific, it was people specific, American specific. He was fighting for justice, economic justice. And he died when he went down there to help a union organize, and have the right to organize.
I think we're better off if we come together around the rights of people to organize, the rights of people to have health care, the right to keep affirmative action and keep working to provide opportunity and open the doors. And if we start going down that other road, I fear it will be more divisive for America, and that's my position on it. I think we got to fight to come together, not split us apart. (Applause.)
Q Well, along the lines of reparation, I wanted to ask you a two-part question. One could be why is it that the United States had involvement in taking Aristide out of power in Haiti? And second of all, if you come to office, and Haiti being, you know, the first country that liberated itself from slavery and became independent-and the second is, once you're in office, will Aristide be restored back into power? (Applause.)
SEN. KERRY: The-I can't tell you why this administration chose to do-well, I can tell you, actually, let me-I can correct that-this administration, some people in it, came to the issue of Haiti with a deep dislike for President Aristide based on his liberation theology that he had articulated previously, and the previous dislike of him in the prior administration, previously.
Now, I think Aristide went astray. I'm going to be very candid with you. Aristide became no picnic for Haiti. He had problems. And to some degree Aristide became what he had once preached against. But that did not legitimize us turning our backs on democracy. And I believe the centerpiece of what we should have done in Haiti was to have been involved over a period of time in a legitimate way that held him accountable for whatever abuses were taking place, but also held the country accountable in the region to democracy.
And under CARICOM and our treaties, that's-that was our obligation, frankly, fundamentally. And that's why a lot of countries in the region are upset right now at the way this administration approached it, because what this administration did was say to the opposition and Aristide, you've got to come to agreement. And until you come to agreement, we're not going to give you any aid, and we're not going to be involved.
Well, that effectively gave a veto power to the opposition, who never had to come to agreement. And so they were able to keep agitating while services went downhill, while the country kept having difficulties, and you've got a cycle of violence that came out of that.
So, I will fight for democracy, not for a particular leader. And I will have to see what I have inherited on January 20th of 2005 before I can tell you what steps would-and my instinct is that now what you've got to do is build from where we are, that you've got to be responsible in order to try to get services to the people, to have a peaceful transition, and an election that is going to have a government emerge with which we will be deeply involved in the effort to try to restore services, and the order, and the structure that protects the people of Haiti and provides them with a future. (Applause.)
Q Hi. I'm Corrie Jordan. I'm a sophomore psychology major from Indianapolis, Indiana. My question is, what is your position on Bush's fight to ban gay marriages?
SEN. KERRY: I believe that the president of the United States should not use the Constitution of the United States for election purposes during an election year. It's a document that we haven't touched, certainly with respect to the Bill of Rights, for years, and I don't think it should be used for the purpose of driving a political wedge through America. I think it's wrong.
Now, that said, I personally have taken the position I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. That's my position. And I think that's the way you respect -- (applause) -- that's the way you respect both traditional values, but you can allow civil unions, which protects the rights of people in America not to be discriminated against. And I think you can balance that. And I think it's appropriate to. But I do think that it ought to be left to the states. There's no showing whatsoever yet that the states don't have the ability to be able to manage this one-by-one individually, and we have always, throughout history, left the issue of marriage to the states. That's what I think we should do. I think the president should not be meddling with the Constitution of the United States for his political objective. (Applause.)
Q Senator Kerry.
SEN. KERRY: We've got a couple more. Yes ma'am.
Q Good afternoon. My name is Irene -- (inaudible) -- I'm a senior political science --
SEN. KERRY: What's your first name?
SEN. KERRY: Irene.
Q I'm a senior political science major here at Howard. And just yesterday --
SEN. KERRY: How many political science majors are here, just out of interest? (Cheers from crowd.) Wow. (Inaudible) -- how many history majors? (Slight response, followed by laughter.) Philosophy? Philosophy majors? Economics majors? Psych? How many psych? What? Anthropology? Medical students-how many medical students are here? Wow, that's impressive. Okay. I just wanted to get a sense. That's interesting. A lot of Poli-Sci.
Q I wanted to say that just yesterday in one of my honors courses we were discussing that there are 19 -- at least 19 states in which the black vote will be very influential in this fall's campaign. And so I would like you to speak on the issues that you feel you're working on that encompass those black voters, and any history that you have on working on those issues.
SEN. KERRY: Absolutely. And it's very interesting. I met in New York this morning with Al Sharpton, and we were talking about exactly how we are going to try to get the community to get over some of the frustration that I know exists, and he know exists-he knows exists. And I met with Jesse Jackson in Chicago last week on the same subject. And both of them are committed to be working in this effort, as are many other leaders-Elijah Cummings, Jim Clyburn, Harold Ford from Tennessee is one of my chairmen nationally, Gregory Meeks from New York-I mean, so many people are involved. And we're going to be trying to reach out broadly across the country.
And you say on what issues? Well, let me tell you something. I have found all across this country that when you-are there a set of issues that are specific to the community? Sure there are, I understand that. Respecting affirmative action. Making sure we don't have racial profiling, and dealing with the discrimination that exists in the job market or in housing. I understand those. And I've worked all my life on each and every one of those, like making sure we have a Community Reinvestment Act and banking, for instance. I worked hard as chairman of the small business that minority set-asides, so that minority-owned businesses were able to get their share of contracting from the federal government, which incidentally this administration doesn't enforce at all, and is getting worse rather than better. So, there are those set of issues.
But you know what the main issues are? The main issues are the same issues that are important to every other part of America. It's jobs. Creating jobs. Having decent jobs. Being able to earn a decent wage and have access to take care of your family. It's health care, which we desperately need for everybody in America.
And I have a plan that will stop America from being the only industrial country on this planet that doesn't have health care not as a privilege and a-you know, for the elected or the connected or the right, but as a right for all Americans. And we're going to provide it as a right for all Americans. (Applause.)
Third-third, education. Parents are desperate about their kids and education. People are working harder and harder, trying to put money away. The tuitions are going up. And the separate and unequal school systems. You go into an urban community, and you see 1,900 inner city kids struggling with no gymnasium, with no lockers, with no equipment, with schools that are crumbling. And you go out to the suburbs, and you see schools that have everything else. That's a disgrace. And I'm going to change that. We're going to fund Title 1. We're going to fund education. I have fought for that all of my life. We have to-we have to make up that difference for communities that don't have a tax base and aren't able to do it.
Environmental justice. What I was talking about earlier, the disparity between communities and their power to be able to stop being the places that have lead in their water and bad air, and toxic dumping sites, and so forth. And I'm going to have a division of environmental justice in the Justice Department. We're going to have an assistant attorney general for justice, and I have environmental empowerment zone-program that will-like the empowerment zones for economic purposes, we're going to have them for environmental purposes, to make sure we clean up the brown fields, tear down the old buildings, build decent housing, and change the quality of life.
I think those are the three, four most important issues that unite Americans. And it goes back to your question. That's what we need to do-bring people together around those issues that make the greatest difference to our quality of life and stop being seduced by bumper-sticker slogans that divide people along cultural lines that have very little to do with your ability to be able to live better and do better in the United States of America. And I'm going to stay focused on those key issues that bring us together. (Applause.)
Q Senator Kerry-how are you doing? I'm Shakuan (sp) Lewis (sp), a political science and economics double major from Dallas, Texas. Don't hold it against me for being from Texas, but -- (laughter) --
SEN. KERRY: Well, are you-are you a Democratic?
SEN. KERRY: Okay. Well, we won't hold it against you. (Laughter.)
Q My question for you is, one of the situations we find ourselves is this economic quagmire in the country, and should you be elected, one of the dubious tasks that you have is bringing us out of that, and also, give us some of the things that you were talking about, like the $225 billion tax cut and expanding health care, doing that, while operating on the deficit. What kind of charges of fiscal irresponsibility can you level against the Bush administration, and what will you do to avoid those once you occupy the Oval Office?
SEN. KERRY: Well, I can level all the charges in the world, right? But I won't.
Look, I believe in fiscal responsibility, and I have a record to back it up. When I came to Congress in 1985, we had deficits going out as far as the eye can see. Ronald Reagan had taken us from less than a $1 trillion deficit to about $5 trillion of deficit in spending. We did more to grow the debt of our country in five or six years under Reagan-Bush than we did from George Washington through Jimmy Carter. I'm serious. George Washington through Jimmy Carter, and the debt of our country was $1 trillion-less, nine-hundred-and- nine -- 960-something billion. But in the few years of Ronald Reagan, with an economy that went down, with tax cuts that went, you know, huge tax cuts, and increase in military spending-sound familiar? -- we drove up the biggest deficits you've ever seen.
Now, I came into the Congress in 1985. The first thing I did, I joined with Fritz Hollings of South Carolina and Warren Rudman of New Hampshire, and Phil Gramm of Texas, and became one of the original authors and sponsors of the first balanced budget deficit reduction effort that we engaged in. And in '93, when Clinton came in, we again, without one Republican vote, not one Republican voted with us, by a one-vote margin in the House and Senate, we passed the Deficit Reduction Act that put this country on the course of economic recovery. We had the lowest inflation, the lowest unemployment. We balanced the budget. We paid down the debt for two years in a row, and we created 23 million new jobs while we did it.
Now, that's what I intend to do. I have pledged that I am going to cut the deficit in half in four years. And to do that, I have to tell you the truth, obviously, about our choices in this race, and here is the truth: if we're going to do what I just said about investing in education, and health care, and create jobs, we can't keep spending money the way we're spending it.
So, how do we get some revenue back? And what I'm going to say to America is, if George Bush wants to run around America defending giving a third round of tax cuts to the people earning more than $200,000 a year, he can go do that. I think there is a better choice. And I'm going to ask America to roll back George Bush's unaffordable tax cut for the wealthiest people in the nation, and we're going to use that money for health care, education, job creation -- (applause) -- environmental clean up, the things we need to do in this country. That's the choice, and that's how I'll be fiscally responsible.
Q Good morning --
SEN. KERRY: We've got to make this one of the last questions. How are these microphones appearing on everybody? I'm so-I thought I had a little power here to choose somebody. Welcome.
Q Good morning, Senator. My name is Amanda Lyndhart (sp), and I am a freshman broadcast journalism major from New York City.
SEN. KERRY: Good for you. You're auditioning right now. (Laughter.)
Q My question for you is as chief diplomat, the president has to deal with international affairs, and I understand the importance of that. But it seems like there is not enough money going into domestic affairs such as education and health care. What are your ideas on that, and how do you feel the money should be allocated between international and domestic affairs.
SEN. KERRY: Well, let me just say to you, do you know how much we're spending on Iraq right now?
Q A lot.
SEN. KERRY: Guess.
Q Billions, almost trillions of dollars?
SEN. KERRY: Well, we're spending nearly $200 billion in the last year-and-a-half, two years. And they're hiding some of that. More-it will be more expensive than that. It's going to go up, and you'll see.
So, here is -- (audio break).
So we've already spent four times the entire education budget of the United States of America for a year to do Iraq.
Now, do you know how much we spend in our overall foreign policy budget, everything we do-all our embassies, all our anti-drug programs, all of our foreign aid programs, Egypt, Israel, everything? About how much? Anybody want to guess? What percentage of the budget do you think it is? What percentage of the American budget do you think it is? Twenty percent? Thirty?
(Off-mike discussion among attendees.)
Fifteen percent? One percent, he says. Anybody else? He's right. It's about one percent.
America spends about one percent of all of our money on our entire relationship with the rest of the world, while we're spending-and do you know how much that is in money? It's about $27 billion or so a year. Now, under Ronald Reagan in 1986, when half the world was closed to us because of the Cold War, we were spending $36 billion a year. Here we are, with the need to do more public diplomacy, with the world opened up to us, with much more challenging issues of public diplomacy, with radical Islamic extremists distorting Islam, and the need to reach out and bring the world together, and we're spending less money than we were with Ronald Reagan during the Cold War. It doesn't make sense.
So, I am for doing something more robust, but I obviously understand there are limits, because we have these priorities at home. And I'm committed to growing our economy, to fixing our schools, to having health care for all Americans, and doing what I've said about the environment. And we will find money that we need to be able to do these other things in a responsible way, but we've got to be more involved with the rest of the world if we're going to be safer. Look at it as money well spent compared to that $200 billion in terms of how we are going to protect our country in the long run, and that's what we're going to do.
Q Excuse me, Senator --
Q (Inaudible) -- Senator Kerry --
Q Excuse me --
SEN. KERRY: Where is that coming from?
Q That's me. You talked about giving --
SEN. KERRY: Sort of the voice of God-I don't know where it's coming from. (Laughter.)
Q You talked about giving a $225 tax cut to the middle class and five percent to corporations, but you never mentioned giving a tax cut to lower class people who actually are going to need it, and who are actually going to spend that money once they get it. So, I'm wondering what your plan is on that, one.
And then two, yesterday, a women in New York asked you about, she talked about how she was in-she was living-she paid about $1,200 in rent and had three kids --
SEN. KERRY: Right. Right.
Q-and couldn't afford to pay for everything on her wages. She talked about raising the minimum wage to maybe $10 or $12 an hour and you said that Congress wasn't willing to even have a bill on the floor for 6.50. So, I'm wondering, are you willing to change the minimum wage to a living wage for individuals who aren't able to be able to just find clothing and feeding their children, and then that-and also giving them a tax cut for the lower class, which would begin to stimulate the economy, because that's how you get it. It's been proven that people in the lower class actually spend a larger percent of their money. So, what is your plan?
SEN. KERRY: My plan is as follows. And it's a very good question. When I talk about the middle class, I should actually probably expand that because I do have provisions-for instance, I raise the earned income tax credit. I raise the child care credit so that we're trying to make it more possible for people at lower income levels to be able to take care of children and also hold on to more money. We also significantly-my health care plan would greatly reduce the costs to people at lower income levels and give access to health care, which puts money in people's pockets in a very significant way. For people who are working, for instance, who get their health care at work-and there are a lot of folks at low income levels for whom that is also true, some who don't get it but some who do-we're going to be lowering their cost of health care because we're sending the money that I take back from the rollback of George Bush's tax cut. I create a fund which we used to take the catastrophic cases out of the private system. That means that no longer will a working person be paying a premium that includes the most expensive cases. We're going to pay for them out of the federal fund. That lowers the cost of health care for everybody, which enormously helps lower income people in the country.
We're also going to be helping with respect to-excuse me-with respect to the-with housing, as well as the education subsidy. So, there are real ways we're going to do this.
Now, let me-I forgot to tell you something earlier, and I want to add it to this as I do-I'm going to-you know the national service program I talked about earlier? Let me tell you how we're going to fund it. We're going to fund it because today, student loans have a federal loan guarantee. Correct? So, that if it's paid back, they-the bank gets the money, and the federal government has guaranteed the rate at which the bank collects interest. Now, the money only costs the bank 3.5 percent, but Congress sets the legal level of interest that they collect, and it's about 9.5 percent, or nine percent. So, there's a spread there which is sort of a windfall to the banks which Congress is guaranteeing. Now, why was that set at nine percent when it only costs them 3.5 percent? Because lobbyists and people with power were able to get it passed at that level. And it's costing you a whole bunch more money.
What I believe in is the marketplace. Let's, rather than have Congress set that price, let's put it an open auction. Let banks compete for the business, and the people who offer the best deal are the people who get the deal. That's the way it ought to work. And we do that, we will save $14 billion, and with that $14 billion, that's how we're going to pay for this program.
So, you see, we can be smarter and more creative about how we help people at lower income levels to be able to get education and get help. It doesn't always have to be in the income. There are ways to do things that help people by taking other pressures off of their backs.
Finally, what will I do with respect to the wage? I am for raising that minimum wage, but you have to do it at a rate where you're not creating upheaval in the economy. But, in many public places, we have living wages already being put in place. I went to Harvard University, for instances, and stood with the students who were striking over the issue of a living wage for the people working there. Harvard University has one of the largest endowments in the country, and yet people were not working at adequate wage. Well, because of that, we were able to raise the living wage to about $10- and-something -- 10.25 or something like that. In the city of Boston, the mayor has agreed to raise, for those public employees, there's a minimum wage of about 10.75, or 10.65 -- somewhere in there. So, I'm very much in favor of individual efforts, federal government and others moving to help create the ability for people on the wage to be able to make it and do better. But within the private sector, I think we have to ratchet it up at a rate that is acceptable to the marketplace so we don't have an economic dislocation. But we have to start to get people able to earn more.
We're trying to raise it in the Congress to $6.55, which is not a lot, folks, and we still can't get a vote on it. As president, I will fight hard to get that minimum wage increase to an appropriate level. (Applause.)
I think we've got to wrap-how much time do we have? I beg your pardon? We've got to wrap it up?
Q Senator Kerry -- (inaudible) --
SEN. KERRY: (Inaudible) -- yes. You want this --
Q Thank you. I appreciate it. It seems like there's the recurrent theme today is the economy, that people are really worried about this economic depression that we're in-people are scared to say "depression." Now, I do a lot of traveling and I read a lot of international papers, and one of the things that are being said in Europe, Russia, and other places, is that the U.S. dollar system is about to crash, that the system is going to -- (inaudible) -- very soon, the housing market bubble is going to go, the mortgage bubble is going to pop, and that these figures that Greenspan and his buddies have been cooking up are so fraudulent that they're actually going to detonate the whole blowout sooner than we think.
Now, I think that you --
(END OF AVAILABLE AUDIO.)
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