Kerry Kennedy has experience in her own field of human rights. She wants to see experience in the White House, too.
Kennedy, the daughter of one-time presidential hopeful Robert F. Kennedy and the founder of the Center for Human Rights, named in his honor, has worked as a human-rights activist for almost 30 years. On Sunday, she campaigned in Connecticut for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton LAW ’73, even as her uncle, Senator Ted Kennedy, and cousin, Caroline Kennedy, accompanied Senator Barack Obama through a series of pre-Super Tuesday rallies across the country.
“I know Hillary Clinton from personal experience,” Kennedy told the News by phone as she left Stamford on Sunday morning. “I’ve been working in international human rights for the last 27 years. I’ve worked with her on issues facing women and children overseas, on torture, … on opening up the press in China.”
Kennedy, who, along with siblings Kathleen and Robert, has sought to remind voters that the “Kennedy endorsement” is split between the two leading candidates, echoed Clinton’s talking points when she said the New York senator has “the experience to lead on day one.”
She began by recalling Clinton’s drive and compassion in addressing human-rights issues.
Kennedy told the story of Sister Dianna Ortiz, an American in Guatemala in the early 1980s, who traveled to Central America to teach indigenous Mayan youth how to read. In 1989, she was “captured, tortured and brutally raped” by members of the Guatemala military, Kennedy said.
Although Ortiz escaped, Kennedy said, the U.S. embassy attributed her wounds to “a hundred cigarette burns” received in a “kinky lesbian love affair.” Ortiz has since sought to determine whether there is a link between her torture and the U.S. government, Kennedy said.
“I told Clinton about Sister Dianna [in 1996], and within 12 hours, Clinton was talking to Sister Dianna,” Kennedy recalled.
Clinton called together the CIA, the Pentagon, the State Department and the National Security Council and eventually got the State Department to release all files on torture in Guatemala, Kennedy said.
“I tell you that story because it clearly demonstrates that [Clinton] knows how to use the federal government to solve problems,” she added.
Soon after first speaking with Clinton, Ortiz noted in a statement to the public her gratitude for “the willingness of Hillary Rodham Clinton to speak with me. … I believe Mrs. Clinton is in good faith trying her best to help me.”
Kennedy said that in this election in particular, the country needs to elect a president with an intimate knowledge of the detailed workings of Washington who can undo the damage caused by the administration of George W. Bush ’68. In her capacity as first lady and as senator from New York, Clinton has met with over 80 heads of state, Kennedy added.
“She’s met with heads of state, of militaries, of multinational corporations, but also with the poorest of the poor,” she noted.
Asked why this kind of experience is so important, she said former President Bill Clinton’s LAW ’73 lack of experience — he was merely an Arkansas governor before being elected president in 1992 — was telling of the difficulty inherent in choosing a commander in chief new to the national scene.
Americans can avoid dealing with the problems of the first Clinton years by electing Hillary Clinton, she said.
“I was witness to the transition team from the first Bush administration to the Clinton administration,” Kennedy explained. “That transition included some of the smartest people, who were committed public servants, who had years of experience on Capitol Hill, as state leaders … it just took them a long time — realistically, it took them about two years before they understood the nitty-gritty of each federal program and how to get a bureaucracy now filled with Republicans … to bend to their will.”
She said that if the next president were taking over from a Democratic administration, she might not feel so strongly about experience. But that is not the case this time, she said.
“I’ve got three girls, three children,” Kennedy continued. “I see the direction the world is moving in, the world they are going to inherit — the human-rights issues, the economic crisis facing our country, global warming. I know that I’m going to spend the rest of my life trying to undo what the Bush Administration has done over the past eight years. That is now my life goal, and I don’t want one moment of hesitation, that distraction.”