John Kerry devotees, health care professionals, and curious and concerned constituents gathered at a rally at Longshoremen's Hall this past Saturday to hear the former presidential candidate speak about the state of America's health care system.
"A nation like ours cannot sustain itself with a health care system like this one," insisted Kerry, much to the audience's pleasure.
The event, sponsored by the Charleston County Democratic Party, is part of a speaking tour Sen. Kerry is doing to stump for his "Kids First Act." The act intends to provide health insurance to all of the uninsured children in America by expanding state coverage, increasing parental responsibility, and improving the current enrollment system.
"Eleven million children in the richest country in the planet have no health care at all — the only developed nation that acts like this," said Kerry. "This can lead to a lifetime of disability for some children because of a lack of intervention at the right time."
The senator's plan received a middling amount of enthusiasm from the crowd — murky as it was with legislative logistics, numbers and percentages. According to the proposal, states will receive fiscal relief from a partnership with the federal government — totaling a $264 billion savings in 10 years.
To pay for the proposal, the bill would repeal the portion of the Bush tax cut that goes to taxpayers earning more than $300,000 per year. This perked up the groggy Saturday morning audience.
"No one can suggest that there is any virtue in cutting children out of health care so that the wealthy can receive a tax cut," said Kerry. "We need to make this country fair again with a tax system that works for the middle class."
He also received an enthusiastic rise from the audience with criticisms of the Bush administration's Iraq war. Kerry argued that only $55 million is spent nationally on health care technology, while $2 billion a day is spent in Iraq.
"This administration thinks health care is fine, but this administration also thinks everything is fine in Iraq," said the Senator to an explosion of applause.
When asked a question from the audience about the dwindling funding being provided for veteran care he responded by saying, "I am tired of these guys who have never served sending other people's children to Iraq and then not funding veteran care. There is nothing that says more about patriotism and duty than how we treat our men and women in uniform."
Of the current conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, Kerry cautioned that the Bush administration's handling of the situation in the Mideast has made for the best recruitment poster for Al-Qaeda.
"These guys are making the world more dangerous and America less secure. I don't want these people (the Republicans) coming at us and trying to convince and scare us into thinking that this conflict is something that it isn't, so that they can use it to win an election again," said Kerry.
The senator closed his speech with talk of the environment. Part of an increasingly popular communication strategy, the senator introduced his comments on the environment by saying that environmental protection and conservation is a moral issue, concluding, "We have to reclaim the real conscious and the real values, and the real future of this country of ours."
After the rally, the City Paper pressed him for his environmentalist opinion of the Deep Oceans Energy Resources Act — supported by Rep. Henry Brown (R-Charleston). The senator responded with a politician's most valued resource — the glittering generality. He would not commit to how he would vote on the bill's impending Senate vote, but did indicate that he believed drilling should continue in the areas were oil has already been discovered — such as the Gulf — before we began poking holes into the floor of the Atlantic.
Kerry was equally evasive when asked if he intended to run for president again in 2008. "I have not made a decision about that yet. I am focusing on what is happening here in 2006," was the rehearsed response. However, early nonverbal cues indicate that the Senator is quietly gathering forces for a second assault on the presidency.
After the rally and a quiet lunch at Saffron, the public schedule had the senator leaving Charleston and heading to Columbia for a fund-raiser for local democratic races. But reports from local insiders indicate that an off-the-books meeting occurred between Kerry and early campaign supporters at the private home of a local downtown Charleston Democrat.
With speculation already swirling around the candidacies of John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico, and Mark Warner, the former governor of Virginia, election '08 is already underway. Last Saturday, at the national meeting of the Democratic National Committee, South Carolina secured its position as the fourth state to vote in the crowded Democratic Primary. As such, the local social calendar will be increasingly full of political rock stars in the months to come.