Remarks at the Truman Scholarship Foundation Reception

Remarks
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
June 21, 2016


SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: All right – or not. (Laughter.) I’m the shorter secretary. (Laughter.) Good evening and thank you all for being here. Today we are celebrating an important milestone in the life of a remarkable organization, and thanks to our host, Secretary Kerry, we are able to do this in the most wonderful and fitting venue. We are grateful to you, Mr. Secretary, for having us here and for taking the time to join us this evening. We are especially pleased to have Clifton Truman Daniel and President Truman’s oldest grandson participating with us, and I think his stories and everything have just added so much. So thank you very, very much. He now serves on the Truman Scholarship Foundation, and I have worked with him on a number of projects and I’m really very proud now to be able to call you a friend. Thank you so much. (Applause.)

Being back in this room brings back a lot of memories of fine receptions held during my time as secretary, as well as a few diplomatic incidents which I’ll keep to myself. (Laughter.) But one very particular time was the special dinner that we gave in this room after naming the State Department building in honor of President Truman. And I have to say Michael Beschloss talked a little bit about this story, but someone thought it would be fun to recreate menu from the White House dinner hosted in honor of visiting prime minister in 1949.

And those who were aware of the meal’s historical roots were absolutely delighted to eat the foods from President Truman’s day. Those who were not were a little bit confused. And as we served ginger ale and peach salad with toasted Triscuits at the State Department, what did happen was some people came up to me and said, “Don’t you know better than to serve Triscuits at the State Department?” So anyway, since leaving government I’ve hosted a – fewer gala dinners that I have, in terms of many of the other (inaudible) but none has given me more pleasure than serving as president of the Harry S. Truman Foundation.

For 40 years, the foundation has identified young people from every state and territory and supported them on their paths to becoming outstanding public service leaders. And I think watching the video made that very clear. We had the opportunity to hear from these distinguished Truman scholars and in the course of the day to spend some time answering their questions and listening to their views. They are, in fact, a living memorial that President Truman wanted to have as his legacy, and I know that he would be proud of what has been accomplished. And Clifton, you’ve made that also very clear.

Those accomplishments are a tribute to President Truman, but they would not have been possible without the support of the United States Congress which created the foundation and has sustained it as the presidential memorial for public service. So I want to thank and recognize the senators and representatives here with us this evening, and Senator Coons for having participated in our panel discussion and Senator McCaskill from the great state of Missouri – by the way, the Missouri delegation is what made it possible for us to name this building in honor of Harry Truman – (applause) – Congressman Ted Deutch and Congressman Charlie Dent. And I also want to thank the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin, which sponsored this wonderful 40th anniversary event with the support of the Bernard & Audre Rapoport Foundation.

Finally, I want to acknowledge and thank Andy Rich, who is the executive secretary of the Truman Foundation. (Cheers.) He and a very dedicated staff bring tremendous energy and vision to the foundation’s work, which is really good because we live in an era that will demand even more of this organization and public servants it produces.

Our host this evening can – is an attestment to that whole thing. Since volunteering to serve in the U.S. Navy 50 years ago, John Kerry has lived an incomparable life devoted to public service. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY KERRY: It’s the 50 years. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: You’re younger than I am, so yeah. (Laughter.) Should I have not mentioned that?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, it’s fine. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Okay. Some of us were first introduced to him as a young Navy lieutenant testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Others encountered him when he became a member and then chairman of that committee. But even those of us who knew John and recognized that he would make a great secretary of state have been astounded that any human being could possess his energy and his determination to make diplomacy happen.

Perhaps we should not have been surprised. In every position he has held, Secretary Kerry has succeeded. And that’s because he both understands and reflects what is best about America. Like Harry Truman, we admire John Kerry because he dares to build amid high winds and heavy storms. As we survey the world today, we should be grateful that he is here in this position at this time, and I know I am. So ladies and gentlemen, it’s now my pleasure to introduce a good friend and my neighbor, the 68th Secretary of State, John Kerry. (Applause.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. I’m taking inches off of Madeleine Albright right here, moving this forward. (Laughter.) Well, leave it to Madeleine to arrange for the storm as she introduces me. (Laughter.) All powerful. I am really honored to be here with Madeleine Albright – a pathbreaker, an unbelievable woman, as all of you know, great secretary, and more importantly a great, great friend. And thanks to her tenure here for a number of years and my tenure now and the proximity of our houses, we have the safest alley in Washington for a long period of time. (Laughter.)

Clifton, thank you for leadership and for being here to carry on. And to all of you, it’s really wonderful to welcome you here this evening to this 40th anniversary and good to see you on the first full day of summer, believe it or not. What you see out there is a little intimidating. If I were smart, I’d talk on until the storm passes and you can go home, but I won’t do that. I am reminded though that since it is the first day of summer, we have to think about what Harry Truman said about if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of Washington. (Laughter.) So that’s good warning to all of us now that we’re getting into the dog days.

I took office three and a half years ago, and after thinking about Madeleine Albright’s extraordinary tenure and her record, and then the subsequent service of Secretaries Condoleezza Rice and Secretary Clinton, I dared to hope on coming into office that my appointment would allow little boys across America to dream that they too might become secretary of state. (Laughter and applause.)

And so this afternoon I welcome you to these beautiful rooms, with which, as we just heard, Secretary Albright is more than familiar.

It’s appropriate that we come here together for this 40th anniversary, because I think in many ways this reflects our coming together in lots of ways. As many of you know, Harry Truman was Madeleine’s first president, then the commander-in-chief, when the ship carrying her family sailed around the Statue of Liberty and she arrived on these shores.

And she was forced to emigrate because the communists in Czechoslovakia had made it impossible for small-d democrats to live freely in their native land. And it was under President Truman that NATO was then formed to defend against the Soviet bloc. So it was only right that when the Cold War ended and the Czech Republic, along with Poland and Hungary, joined NATO, they did so in a ceremony at the Truman Library in Missouri presided over by Madeleine Albright. Pretty significant turn of events and of history.

It was also her idea to name this building – the home of American diplomacy – after a president whose international leadership in the face of multiple challenges has rarely, if ever, been surpassed. So this structure stands as a very proud monument to Harry S. Truman.

But as Madeleine mentioned, there’s a second monument, which is what Harry Truman wanted – a living, breathing, learning, living monument, prepared for really a future monument, if you will, embodied by the Truman scholars themselves.

Now, obviously, you don’t need to dwell on what – I don’t need to dwell and you don’t need me to, to talk about what the Truman Scholarship does, what the foundation does; to remind you, as Madeleine already did, that so many members of Congress and the cabinet and current national security advisor, others who you heard this afternoon – all represent the extraordinary, distinguished track record of this scholarship and of the foundation itself.

But let me just thank you – all of you – profoundly for being part of and supporting this great program. And I want to just say a couple of words in the context of 40 years of history and what Harry Truman’s vision was of where we find ourselves and where future generations of scholars will have some work to do.

In the world today, every one of us here understands that this is as complex as it gets – in many ways much more complex than the Cold War that I grew up in, many of you here grew up in: a bipolar world with two great forces in contest with each other. Today, rather than state actors confronting each other and writing a history of two World Wars and Korea and Vietnam and so forth, we see non-state actors dominating the playing field – though not exclusively, but mostly.

And compared to earlier times, when you think about it, we are also operating with tremendous advantages, which I don’t think get enough play in the back-and-forth of our media today. Across the globe, a child born today is actually more likely than ever to be born healthy, more likely to be adequately fed, more likely to get the necessary vaccinations, more likely to attend school – more likely, in fact, to lead a long life.

People in most places are benefiting from new technologies that have made incredible breakthroughs in communications, in education, health care, diseases that have been cured, longevity of life that has been extended for everybody. And in just the last 30 years, the number of democracies has doubled while the quantity of nuclear weapons has fallen by two-thirds.

What all of this means is that, much as Harry Truman envisioned, we have built a strong platform for progress, whether in developing new strategies for attacking the root causes of violent extremism; finding fresh and more secure ways for whistleblowers to expose corruption; revolutionizing the means by which we produce, use, and store energy; identifying additional channels for cooperation in protecting our oceans; or taking on a host of other vital jobs.

I think we sometimes behave here in the United States as if we were a poor country, and it bothers me. And it must bother any scholar or anyone here who understands the fundamentals of the mission of our nation. We behave like a country with barely a dime to our name when we are, in fact, by far the richest nation on the face of this planet, with an $18 trillion economy. And I’m sure as Madeleine remembers only too well and as many of you experience day to day in the work you do, we only spend one penny of every dollar in our federal budget each year on all of our international programs, including everything from countering terrorism to promoting our business interests to advocating for human rights. Already America is more deeply involved in more ways in more parts of the world than at any time in American history, and these are important issues with respect to our security and the future of the planet itself. We have the capacity to surpass one penny on every dollar.

And I believe it is important for us to undertake that mission – to make clear that we’re going to approach the future with a determination and confidence that comes from our ability to make a difference in the world. There isn’t a challenge ahead of us that we cannot meet if we are willing to lead, if we are willing to invest, if we are willing to make full use of every available foreign policy tool.

I say this in part because of the conviction that when America stands for what is right, we never stand alone.

As President Truman said in his inaugural address back in 1949:

“We are aided by all who wish to live in freedom from fear…

By all who want relief from lies and propaganda…

By all who long for economic security…

By all who desire freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom to live their lives for useful ends.”

To the Truman scholars who are here, to the Truman Foundation, I thank you for trying to lead those lives and for setting an example, and to the foundation for making it possible. I urge all of you here to have faith in what we can accomplish together. Whether your particular field of interest is development or security, the empowerment of minorities or women, or the protection of human rights or fighting back against epidemic disease, we are lucky to live in a country that fundamentally knows only one direction: forward, onward – onward from FDR’s New Deal to Harry Truman’s Fair Deal to John Kennedy’s New Frontier to the next frontiers that lay ahead; onward even when the odds seem stacked against us.

And believe me, the fear of falling short can never be used an excuse for the failure to try. In the words of Nelson Mandela, “All the hardest jobs seem impossible until they are done.”

So once again, I thank my wonderful predecessor and friend, Madeleine Albright. I thank all of you for being here. I urge you, enjoy the evening and keep on marching. God bless us all. Thank you. (Applause.)

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Secretary Kerry, thank you so very much for hosting us and thank you so very much for representing this country so brilliantly and telling it like it is. Thank you so much, and please all enjoy the reception.