By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
John Kerry was an instant superstar in the early 1970s, but he flamed out. Nixon and the national Republican Party went out of their way to defeat him in his 1972 Massachusetts congressional race. Former presidential pollster Pat Caddell, now a Kerry critic for his raising special interest money, was Kerry’s pollster in his early days. Caddell didn’t see much Kerry temporizing then. Indeed, Muskie would have had a much better chance than McGovern, who lost in an historic landslide. Kerry lost, too, and just like that his political career seemed to be over. The war was winding down, the moment passing, the celebrity route to power evaporating. Kerry went to law school and became a prosecutor.
As he doggedly began climbing the mountain of fame and power once again, Kerry found himself in the unaccustomed role of the Number Two. First in 1982 to Michael Dukakis as his lieutenant governor, then to Ted Kennedy, perhaps the favorite Democrat in the country, as Massachusetts’ junior senator. Indeed, for a time he wasn’t even the most famous U.S. Senator named Kerry when Nebraska’s Bob Kerrey, a Medal of Honor winner, was elected to the Senate in 1988.
Gary Hart served on the Senate Intelligence Committee with Kerry. Hart won 26 presidential primaries in 1984, the year Kerry was elected to the Senate, but fell short of the Democratic presidential nomination at the hands of the party establishment favorite, former Vice President Walter Mondale. The front-runner for 1988, with a healthy lead over George W. Bush’s father, Hart was brought low by a sex scandal, engineered out of Florida where, as coincidence would have it, the Bushes have always been strong. This year Hart, whose prediction of major terrorist attacks in the U.S. was ignored by the Bush White House, is helping Kerry.
“John is reserved,” said Hart. “He is also, perhaps surprisingly to some given his East Coast background, very tough. Not to malign the former governor, but this guy is no Dukakis. Karl Rove better watch out or he will get his ass handed to him.”
Reserve is only one of the layers of Plexiglas Kerry puts up between himself and the public. There is the patrician aura, which seems odd in a way, given the recent Eastern European immigrant heritage on his father’s side. And there is the bafflegab of Potomac-speak.
Like most of the major Democratic candidates this time out, including the fallen Howard Dean and John Edwards, Kerry is a neoliberal. He is a fiscal moderate (backed the Gramm-Rudman/Hollings balanced-budget measure in the 1980s), a free trader, a social liberal, an environmentalist, an opponent of unilateral foreign policy and a moderate on national security policy, backing most, though not all, of America’s recent wars.
Another friend says Kerry is “a good man but not a comfortable man.” Perhaps that is because, while always linked to elite circles through his mother’s Brahmin family and his own talent, he has always been an outsider at the same time, grandson of Eastern European immigrants, his Forbes-side forebears having already dissipated most of the family fortune. The great houses of his youth belonged to others. Before he became the richest man in the Senate by marrying environmentalist philanthropist Teresa Heinz, Kerry was anything but rich. It’s because Kerry lacked the true insider status that he climbed and compromised his way back on the road to power when his great Vietnam moment, as both war hero and anti-war leader, had passed.
But in a race against fellow Yalie Bush and his mighty, nasty Republican machine, the boldness of the first of the two John Kerrys incarnated in the Democratic front-runner will be called for. Rather than circle the guns, Kerry will have to beach the boat and dash ashore as he did in the Mekong. Rather than nuance things to death as with his position on the Iraq War, Kerry will have to pose the incisive questions as he did with his Senate testimony in 1971, his pursuit of Clark Clifford in 1991, his criticism of Bush allowing Osama to slip the noose at Tora Bora.
Kerry says he feels real when he is on the edge. We’ll see if he can find the edge again and ride it to the White House.