Posted: Wednesday, March 17, 7:30 p.m.
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry called for a military family bill of rights in a Wednesday speech at GW’s Jack Morton Auditorium. Addressing a standing room crowd of about 300 people, the Massachusetts senator decried President George W. Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq and criticized his treatment of soldiers and their families.
“Our military is still waiting for help,” Kerry said. “This time, help is on the way, and it won’t be coming from President Bush … Never again will the wives of our soldiers have to send their husbands body armor instead of photographs.”
Flanked on stage by former cabinet members including former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, Kerry said his proposal would provide health care funding and other benefits for veterans, whom he called “the neglected soldiers of America.” He also advocated upgrades in military technology.
“To me, guaranteeing these rights and organizing our armed forces accordingly is personal,” said Kerry, reflecting on his military service in the Vietnam War as many veterans sat in attendance. “It is in my soul and it has been a large part of my life.”
University Provost John Williams and law student E. Corrie Westbrook, president of the GW Student Bar Association, were also on stage for the address.
“It is appropriate for Senator Kerry to be delivering this address here today, as our students are some of the most politically active in the world,” Williams said.
The senator thanked Williams a few minutes later, adding, “I’ve been (to GW) before on a number of occasions and it’s great to be back.”
Kerry’s appearance continued the emergence of the Jack Morton Auditorium, located on the first floor of the Media and Public Affairs building, as a popular political venue in Washington. In addition to hosting CNN’s “Crossfire” five days a week, the auditorium was used for the District’s democratic presidential debate in January, which included former candidates Rev. Al Sharpton, Dennis Kucinich and Carol Moseley Braun. President Bush also delivered a speech in the facility in October 2002.
Moseley Braun, Sharpton and former candidates Sens. John Edwards and Joe Lieberman made separate appearances at GW during the campaigns. Kerry secured a sufficient number of delegates Tuesday after winning the Illinois primary and is set to receive the Democratic nomination at the summer convention.
In his address, the Navy veteran attempted to cast himself as a national security candidate while deflecting recent criticism from Republicans for his Senate vote against an $87 billion military funding bill.
To accomplish his military goals, which include enlisting 40,000 more troops into the Army and creating a Civilian Stability Corps, Kerry said he would not increase America’s defense budget but rather “be smarter about what we spend by shifting priorities within the defense budget.”
While Kerry voted in favor of the congressional resolution authorizing the President to use force in Iraq last year, the senator continued his criticism of the way Bush has handled the war Wednesday.
“We are still bogged down in Iraq and the administration stubbornly holds to failed policies that drive potential allies away. What we have seen is a steady loss of lives and mounting cost in dollars with no end in sight,” he said. “The lesson here is fundamental: At times, conflict comes, and the decision must be made. For a president, the decision may be lonely, but that does not mean that America should go it alone.”