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Kerrey Addresses Range of Topics at Presidential Lecture Series

Bob KerreyFormer U.S. Sen. and Nebraska Gov. Bob Kerrey, HON’93, stressed the importance of democracy during a 90-minute conversation on Creighton’s campus Tuesday.

“It’s not easy to make it work, especially in such a large and diverse country,” Kerrey said. “But if we give up on democracy, it’s a far worse world than what we’ve got now.”

Kerrey, who served in the Senate from 1989 to 2001, engaged in a wide-ranging discussion about the state of American politics, his experiences in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and more at Creighton University’s Mike and Josie Harper Center. Kerrey spoke with a moderator, retired Omaha World-Herald columnist Mike Kelly, and answered audience questions as part of the University’s Presidential Lecture Series.

Prior to his time in the Senate, Kerrey served as a Navy SEAL and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Vietnam War. He later served as the governor of Nebraska from 1983 to 1987. After leaving the Senate, he served on the 9/11 Commission and on the advisory boards of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America organization and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

During the discussion, Kerrey discouraged Americans from romanticizing the past and lamenting the present. As a country, Kerrey said, Americans have “a tendency to glamorize all generations other than their own. We treat our current generation worse than others.”

And that’s a problem, Kerrey said, because, in trying times, despair causes people to lose faith in the democratic and Enlightenment ideals the country was founded on. Instead, he urged tolerance.

“The more you get to know the ‘them,’ the more you realize they’re just like ‘us,’” he said.

As an example, he spoke of interviewing former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani during his time on the 9/11 Commission. Giuliani, he said, had called the city’s undocumented immigrants “the most patriotic people in our city.”

Kerrey also kept things light, telling a story about one of the first times he crossed the Omaha pedestrian bridge named after him. A man buzzed passed Kerrey on his bike, stopped and proceeded to tell the former senator that he had never voted for him and never supported the bridge’s construction.

“But I was wrong,” the man on the bike told Kerrey. “This is great. Thank you.”

Still, Kerrey, a Democrat, did not minimize the current political moment. He criticized Attorney General William Barr for recent remarks that, Kerrey said, aimed to drive a wedge between religious and nonreligious people. He spoke out against President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from Syria. And he voiced his support for the U.S. House of Representatives’ decision to launch an impeachment inquiry against Trump.

“I would rather it not be going on,” he said of impeachment. “It’s an unpleasant thing to go through, but I think we’ve got to go through it.”

Kerrey also spoke of his time in the hospital recovering from wounds he sustained in Vietnam. The experience, he said, taught him the importance of allowing yourself to be vulnerable.

The Presidential Lecture Series was launched last year in honor of the University’s 140th anniversary. The series, said Creighton President the Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, SJ, PhD, in his opening remarks, “brings esteemed national speakers to our campus and to the Omaha-area community – fostering insight into, and discussion about, issues of national and global importance.”

Past speakers have included former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright, PhD, and retired Army Gen. Colin Powell.

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