The 2018 Texas Tribune Festival opened in front a cheering crowd with a keynote by former secretary of state and senator John Kerry.
Story by Swetha Berana
The keynote pulled at many heartstrings, especially of those who supported Kerry in the 2004 elections against former president George W. Bush. Party polarization, voter apathy, gun reform, education, the Kavanaugh hearings and their impact on the political system were among the hot topics of this year’s keynote and the festival as a whole.
American voters’ enthusiasm to participate in the midterms has declined twelve percent since 2010. Only 56 percent of Americans are certain they will vote in November-, which is the second lowest number Gallup has recorded since the first polls in 1954. Kerry addressed party polarization as a main reason for this increase in voter apathy. Because the share of Americans who express consistently conservative or consistently liberal opinions has doubled over the past two decades, a higher proportion of voters are starting to vote along party lines rather than paying attention to actual candidates. “Patriotism is not blind faith that makes you overlook imperfections,” Kerry said, citing that this increasing polarization and focus on parties and PAC’s is what drives moderates, who still make up a sizable portion of the population, away from the voting booths. “There is far too much money in American politics.”
Kerry urged the audience to turn to the youth, as in the ‘60s and ‘70s. “You have to organize. Every big movement in the ‘60s and ‘70s . . .young people spearheaded change,” Kerry said, referring to the LGBTQ+ Rainbow Power and Black Power movements that found their most ardent supporters in youth. Kerry cites the increasing polarization and inaction over the course of several years as what eventually got President Donald Trump elected. When asked about his kinship with the late Senator John McCain, he responded, “John and I agreed that division [due to] war was hurting America. If John McCain and John Kerry can find common ground, that’s a sign we can find common ground in this country.”
Regarding relations with Russia and China, Kerry warns against over-investment, explaining that the “liberal order of America is in decline.” While he admits that regarding technological development, “it’s stunning what [China is] doing. They’ve moving. We’re not.” He also urged Americans to develop the mindset that “we are indispensable” and to continue to invest in America’s youth and active workforce, especially as the population of America ages. When asked what he thought of young Americans seeking a career in the government, he responded “I don’t think there is anything nobler.” On the topic of youth and education, Kerry considers the number of uneducated youth worldwide (264 million out of the 3.8 billion people under 24) as one of the main reasons for the increase in recruitment for terrorist groups. According to Kerry, the increasing global interconnectedness enables these youth to “know what they don’t have,” perpetuating deep-rooted cultural resentments.
Finally, the million-dollar question: Kerry’s plans for the 2020 election. He joked about having too much on his plate at the moment, having to “negotiate a ceasefire between Sessions and the president . . . or Nicki Minaj and Cardi B.” In all seriousness, however, he urged the audience to vote in the midterms, saying ‘we have an opportunity to vote for one of our best [regarding Beto O’Rourke] in 40 days. . . nobody should be talking about 2020 but rather of 2018.’” The rest of his sentence drowned in thunderous applause."