Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry lauded Ronald Reagan’s legacy of bipartisanship Sunday and said he would suspend “overtly political” campaigning in honor of the former president’s death.
“Yesterday, we lost one of our greatest optimists,” Kerry said in remarks prepared for delivery at the Bedford High School graduation. “President Reagan’s belief in America was infectious. And because of the way he led, he taught us that there was a difference between strong beliefs and bitter partisanship.”
Kerry said Reagan was “the voice of America in good times and in grief.” He remembered Reagan’s tribute to the men who fought at Normandy on D-Day — whose 60th anniversary was celebrated Sunday — his challenge to bring down the Berlin Wall and his poignant remembrance of the Challenger space shuttle astronauts.
“Free men and women everywhere will forever remember and honor President Reagan’s role in ending the Cold War,” Kerry said. “He really did believe that communism could be ended in his lifetime, and he helped to make it happen. Perhaps President Reagan’s greatest monument isn’t any building or any structure that bears his name, but the absence of the Berlin Wall.”
Kerry’s speech to the school’s 372 graduates was scheduled to mark the D-Day anniversary, and he went ahead with the appearance despite Reagan’s death Saturday at age 93 after a 10-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
Senator challenges students
As the Massachusetts senator remembered the 40th president and the “greatest generation” of World War II, he encouraged the students to serve their country and “find the greatness that’s in you.”
“I wish, just as I wished for my own daughters on their graduation day and just as your parents wish for you today, that we could send you out into a world of peace, a world of justice, a world that is fair and free for every person on this Earth,” Kerry said in the text. “Yet we know this is not our world. Your generation will face great challenges, and you will find, as you already have, that life brings setbacks as well as success, hardship as well as hope.”
Although Bedford High School is in Temperance, Mich., the commencement was held across the state line at the University of Toledo.
Kerry came to the graduation after receiving a letter from Brandon Spader, a senior and editor of the student newspaper, who had requested an interview about the area’s sagging economy. Spader also requested an interview with President Bush, but said he did not get a response.
Bedford school board member Steve Lennex protested Kerry’s participation, saying he was using the ceremony to stump for votes in Michigan and Ohio, two swing states in the presidential race. But many in the community favored Kerry’s appearance and Lennex withdrew his re-election bid in the face of criticism for his stance.
Denver campaign stop canceled
In observance of Reagan’s death, Kerry canceled a campaign trip to Denver after the speech. He was returning to Washington, where Reagan’s body was being flown later in the week.
“We’re going to suspend any sort of overtly political rallies, events like that,” Kerry said earlier Sunday, after attending church in Boston. He said he would probably still hold private meetings with advisers, but it remained unclear how long he would be off the campaign trail.
Of Reagan, Kerry added: “I think he had a sense of idealism and a sense of optimism of the possibilities about our country that defines leadership. We will miss him, no matter what party, no matter what our beliefs. He was a leader and we’ll miss him.”
Kerry canceled campaign trips to Colorado, California, Arizona and New York, but will travel to Los Angeles Tuesday and Wednesday to attend daughter Alexandra’s graduation from the American Film Institute and a screening of her 15-minute film, “The Last Full Measure.” He plans to spend of the rest of the week in Washington, where Reagan’s body was being flown on Wednesday.
Kerry and the Democratic National Committee were canceling joint fund-raising concerts that were to feature Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Bette Midler, Jon Bon Jovi, John Mellencamp and others. Tickets cost as much as $1,000. New dates will be announced when the concerts are rescheduled, Kerry’s campaign said in a statement.
Report: Kerry seeks ‘principled travel’ to Cuba
Separately Sunday, The Miami Herald reported that Kerry said he would, if elected, encourage “principled travel” to Cuba and lift the cap on gifts to its people. In an interview conducted Friday, Kerry said he backed the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba and support for dissidents. But he criticized Bush’s restriction of travel and cash gifts to Cubans as a “cynical and misguided ploy for a few Florida votes.”
Florida, site of the decisive recount in the 2000 presidential election, has nearly 500,000 Cuban-American voters. Four in five supported Republican Bush in the last election, which was decided by just 537 votes.