Former U.S. Sen. and current Secretary of State John Kerry swept across Massachusetts Thursday in a show of appreciation to local residents before moving on to the world stage. He capped the day off in an address last night at Faneuil Hall. Eight hundred supporters showed up to say goodbye, for now.
A full minute of applause greeted America’s new top diplomat. Kerry was preceded onstage by Gov. Deval Patrick, and by Elizabeth Warren, who was just sworn into office this month and is now the state’s senior senator.
The front row of seats in the hall was occupied by a who’s who of the state Democratic Party establishment. It was also a lineup of intrigue with U.S. Rep. Ed Markey sitting a few seats away from the man who is challenging him for Kerry’s former Senate seat, U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch. Sitting between them, the man picked by Gov. Patrick this week as the interim Senator.
Kerry went on to introduce family members, his wife Theresa Heinz, and longtime staff members. And then he noted the historical surroundings and the significance in to his own life mission:
“It is really special to be here in Faneil Hall,” Kerry said. “This is the place where Fredrick Douglass gave a rousing Independence Day speech that stated that we cannot celebrate our freedom until all are as free as they are created equal. It’s here were stirring cases were made, rousing exhortations for abolition and women’s rights and peace – some of those things still elusive as I stand here tonight.”
Kerry, in the waning moments of his career as a politician, took direct aim at conservative orthodoxy that views America as a model of exceptionalism. Kerry offered a slightly different worldview.
“Everyone here knows we are an exceptional country,” Kerry said. “But we’re not exceptional because we say we are, or because of birthright. It’s not automatic. Being exceptional is not on automatic pilot. Being exceptional requires not that you talk about it. It requires that you do exceptional things, and we have to continue to do that.”
The former senator also cautioned the nation about the consequences of Congressional gridlock.
“The unwillingness of some to yield to national interest is damaging to America’s prospects in the world,” he said. “We’re quick to talk about the global economy, and global competition and global opportunity, but it’s our own procrastination and outright avoidance of obvious choices that actually threatens our own future. And other nations, believe me, are very happy to step up and fill the void where we leave them that opportunity. If Washington favors inaction over courage, and gimmicks over common ground, then we will fail to move forward.”
“But it’s not just that we’re going to fail to move forward, folks. It’s that we will actually fall behind.”
Kerry then told a story about traveling to Vietnam with Sen. John McCain and standing in a prison cell where McCain struggled to survive for five years. Kerry said at that moment he and McCain vowed to work together on behalf of the nation -- a story he said is still relevant today.
“We found common ground in that cell,” he said. “And I’m telling you, if John McCain and I can find common ground in that cell, every United States senator can find common ground on the floor of the United States Senate.”
When Kerry came to Washington as an antiwar protestor in the 1970’s, he railed against U.S. foreign policy. Now, he will lead that policy as the nation’s top diplomat; taking on issues of vital importance from North Korea’s long-range missile development, to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, to the continuing social and political fallout from the Arab Spring.
But I also overheard Kerry speaking with four local fishermen at Faneuil Hall as he was exiting. As a U.S. senator, Kerry saw himself as a staunch defender of fishermen and their families. He said he would not forget them in their ongoing fight to save jobs in the industry. In his speech moments earlier Kerry had made a point of saying he planned to be around.
“I’m leaving the Senate,” he said. “But I’m not leaving our state.”