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Kennedy Blasts Bush on War, Affirmative Action

By Elizabeth W. Green, Crimson Staff Writer

Senator Edward M. Kennedy ’54-’56 (D-Mass.) blasted the White House’s stance on war with Iraq as “chip-on-the-shoulder foreign policy,” Friday in a speech at the Kennedy School of Government’s ARCO Forum.

As a prelude to President George W. Bush’s State of the Union address on Tuesday, the speech was a broad ranging critique of administration policy which, in addition to Iraq, touched on domestic issues ranging from taxes to affirmative action.

Kennedy said that a war waged without allies would only serve to damage U.S. relations with the rest of the world. It would also distract national attention from the more pressing “clear and present danger” posed by international terrorism and North Korea, he said.

“If we go to war with no support, even though we win it, we may well lose it because of all the damage it will do,” Kennedy said. “If this were a court of law, the Administration’s case for war would be laughed out of the courtroom.”

Kennedy said the international community is right to demand further proof of weapons violations. “We must recognize that weapons inspectors are doing their job and doing it well,” he said. “There’s no need to pull the trigger on war.”

Kennedy’s comments closely followed those made by fellow Massachusetts senator and presidential candidate, John F. Kerry, earlier this week. Kerry criticized the administration for “blustering unilateralism” and said Bush risked straining key alliances. Kennedy said again yesterday that he supports Kerry’s presidential bid.

In addition to condemning Bush’s foreign policy, Kennedy’s address called for a “new era of common purpose” in America, laying out a point-by-point platform for legislative reform of tax, education, health care and civil rights policies.

The new era Kennedy envisioned is one, he said, where “the unselfishness we saw in 2001 must not give way to a return of selfishness in 2003.”

Kennedy criticized Bush for arguing against the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policies in a government brief filed with the Supreme Court last week.

“A commitment to equality is just empty words when it is followed by a frontal attack on affirmative action, issued of all days on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday,” the senator said.

Kennedy also censured the administration for its tax cuts during a time of tightened budgets. “We cannot say it is wartime for the rest of America, but still peacetime for the rich,” he said.

The packed Forum audience was largely receptive to Kennedy’s address.

“The senator did a good job pressing the democratic platform and challenging the Bush administration,” said R. Gerard McGeary ’04, president of the Harvard College Democrats. “It’s nice to hear a truly liberal critique.”

But one first-year who approached the question-and-answer microphone following the speech said the audience was going easy on Kennedy, calling their questions “too friendly.”

Kennedy’s response was impassioned, but finally wound down as he wished the student well. “Thank you very much,” he said, “and good luck on your exams.”

—Staff writer Elizabeth W. Green can be reached at egreen@fas.harvard.edu.

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