WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Sen. John Kerry has accused the Bushadministration of enforcing civil rights laws only when such actionserves their “political purpose” and pledged to be strongerenforcer of anti-bias laws if he is elected in November.
The Democratic Party’s presumptive presidential nominee made thatcharge in a telephone interview with the National NewspaperPublishers Association (NNPA) News Service while vacationing inKetchum,Idaho.
“They’re not optional. And as a former prosecutor, I know a lotabout enforcing the law. When I’m president, I’ll make it one of mytop priorities to fully and vigorously enforce our nation’s civilrights laws and that’s a promise.”
Bush’s political advisers have already launched a series oftelevision commercials aimed as depicting Kerry as being tooliberal and casting him in the same mold as his state’s seniorsenator, Ted Kennedy.
In the interview, Kerry made it clear that he will not apologizefor having Kennedy’s support.
“We’re colleagues and we’re friends and I have no intention ofsidelining that,” Kerry stated. “Nobody’s fought harder forjustice, for education, for health care, for other things in thiscountry. I’m proud to have him campaigning with me. I am proud ofwhat Sen. Kennedy fights for. I’m proud of what I’ve fought forwith him, but where we are different, we’re different and peoplewill see that.”
Kerry says his involvement with social justice dates back to histeenage years. He said he gave a speech when he was a student at
“The Revolution in the South.”
Kerry recalls, “I said that we needed to break the barriers. Weneeded to rid ourselves of Jim Crow. We needed to allow people tovote. It was about breaking down the barricades, if you will.”
Kerry said as an undergraduate student at YaleUniversity, hehelped raise money and recruit volunteers to join voterregistration drives in Mississippi.However, he never traveled south to participate in civil rightsdemonstrations.
After Yale, Kerry joined the Navy as an officer and served inVietnam,earning a chest full of medals, including three Purple Hearts. Uponhis return, he became an anti-war activist.
“When I returned from service in the military, I testified to theCongress about the racism in the military, about the lopsidedapplication of the draft, the impact that it had on minoritycommunities, the lopsided number of casualties, bothAfrican-American and Hispanic, predominantly.
“And I testified to the Congress about the inequality of theapplication of the draft and the way in which they were treatedwhen they came home, left in communities that were neglected andlacked health care and education and other issues.”
Though Kerry has been a strong supporter of civil rights since hewas elected to the Senate in 1984 – he earned an A on thelast NAACP Civil Rights Report Card – he has been criticizedfor a speech he gave at his alma mater.
In that speech, Kerry said: “This shift in the civil rights agendahas directed most of our attention and much of our hope into oneinherently limited and divisive program: affirmative action. Thetruth is that affirmative action has kept Americathinkingin racial terms.”
When read that quote, Kerry responded,
“What I was doing is pointing out the problem of where we foundourselves in the effort to apply it and in the effort to have anurban agenda,” he said. “There was only a paragraph or so thatreferred to affirmative action. And I clearly said in the beginningand at the end of it, I support affirmativeaction.”
“A lot of people joined in an effort to ‘mend it but don’t end it’when it was under attack for quotas,” Kerry explains. “That’s whatI was really referring to. Maybe it was a clumsy way of referringto it.”
Given another chance to state his views on affirmative action,Kerry states: “I support it now and I will always support it in thefuture in order to achieve what we need to achieve in terms ofdiversity in this country. And it’s a strength, not a weakness.It’s not just universities that have come to realize that. It’s thewhole country.”
Most public opinion polls show that Americans do support theconcept of affirmative action. But throughout his career, PresidentBush has opposed affirmative action, most recently sending thesolicitor general to the Supreme Court to oppose a pair ofUniversity ofMichiganaffirmativeaction cases. Bush announced his opposition to the cases on Dr.Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.
The Supreme Court threw out a University ofMichiganundergraduateprocess that assigned specific numbers for various factorsconsidered in the admission process, including an applicant’s raceor ethnicity.
But the court, on a 5-4 vote, upheld a less rigid University ofMichigan Law School program as well as affirmative action ingeneral.
While public opinion polls show President Bush receiving favorableratings because he is perceived as a strong leader during wartime,recent polls show that most Americans believe that Kerry will do abetter job on domestic issues.
The Massachusetts Democrat says addressing “our separate andunequal education system” and a health care system that does notcover all Americans will be two of his priorities once elected. Hesays, “In both of them, I think there are just extraordinarydisparities.”
In general, Kerry says, “I believe in an urban agenda. I’ve spokenabout it for years. I’ve fought for it for years. Part of thesolution to the problem of spoil in America is tomake cities more livable. Clearly, the national African-Americancommunity needs to be at the table in order to do that.”
Kerry has already begun reaching out to African-Americans, meetinglast week with members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) andmeeting this week with members of the National Newspaper PublishersAssociation (NNPA). He says he will rely heavily on the advice ofCBC Chairman Elijah Cummings of Maryland andformer CBC Chair James E. Clyburn of SouthCarolina.
“They will really help me pull together the elected Black communityin order to get representatives from around the country who aregoing to be at the table with diversity,” Kerry explained.
“The first thing I’d do is appoint an attorney general of the