Kennedy said that the current administration’s policies were based on the “politics of fear,” citing the president’s approval of domestic wiretapping, the war in Iraq, and human rights abuses at Guantanamo Bay.
“Their aim was simply to stoke the fear and anger of those who oppose these ideas, and use that fear and anger to score cheap political points,” Kennedy said in his speech. “Such policies are a far cry from the values our leaders embraced when the IOP was founded in 1966.”
Kennedy also highlighted the importance of public service and commemorated the Institute’s success in engaging undergraduates in government during his talk.
“We hoped that by engaging students in major policy issues and exposing you to the world of politics, the Institute would motivate you to see politics as it should be—and to work to make it that way,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy praised the Institute for rekindling the political spirit within students over the past forty years.
“When I first arrived in the Senate, the young people were the ones who marched with Dr. King, they marched against the war, they were the ones who joined the Peace Corps,” Kennedy said in an interview after his speech. “I think they want to play that kind of role today. The real challenge is giving them the opportunity to do it.”
Kennedy said that part of the IOP’s legacy was its ability to translate material taught in classrooms into real-life scenarios.
“A number of students have come and worked in the Senate, in the House, so they are taking their experiences at the Institute and are getting a lot of opportunities for public service and I think that’s exciting,” he said.
The IOP was originally founded as a memorial to President John F. Kennedy ’40 after his assassination in 1963. When it was created, it was intended to be a live memorial to the late president.
“The idea was not to make it a research entity, but to think about a place that could be a living memorial,” Jeanne Shaheen, the director of the IOP, said in an interview before the event. “As they talked about a memorial, they talked about someplace that was alive, where real people came through.”
The anniversary celebration began with a video montage of some of the IOP’s most memorable moments, including a clip of Robert McNamara’s trip to the Institute during the Vietnam War.
Other highlights of the IOP over the past forty years include the recent visit by former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami and past visits by President Bill Clinton and actress Barbara Streisand, according to information provided by IOP communications director Esten Perez.
Kennedy’s speech was followed by an interview with Judy Woodruff, former host of CNN’s “Inside Politics.”
Shaheen said the event was meant to strengthen the IOP as much as to celebrate it.
“Part of what we’re trying to do with the 40th anniversary is not just to recognize what’s happened over the last forty years and all of the exciting people who have been here, but to recommit to that mission of engaging young people in politics and government,” Shaheen said.
Kennedy’s speech was the first in a series of discussions held over the weekend as part of the Institute’s 40th anniversary. Panelists from Saturday included Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, author Alvin Toffler, and Biotechonomy CEO Juan Enriquez.