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John Kerry for president? 
2004 U.S. presidential election

Article added on October 31, 2004
According to the polls, the 2004 U.S. presidential race is still open, despite the fact that John Forbes Kerry remains an enigma to many observers. He has changed and diluted his opinions on many subjects many times. This can only partly be explained by an intelligent mind who adapts his visions to new information. His reputation as an opportunist and a flip-flopper cannot be attributed to conservative propaganda alone - it is well deserved. Kerry has the tendency to adjust the interpretations of his past actions according to what suits him best in the present. He is a weak decision maker who lacks executive experience.

On his mother's side, John F. Kerry's "pedigree" looks impressive: the family roots go back to the co-founder and first governor of Massachusetts, John Winthrop and the Forbes family, which played a key role in the emancipation of Massachusetts from England and became rich, notably in trade with China; the family is not related to the owner of the Forbes media empire.

On his father's side, John Kerry's grandparents were Fritz Kohn and Ida Löwe, a Jewish couple living in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In order to escape the discrimination of Jews, in 1900, they changed their name to Kerry and, a year later, converted to Roman Catholicism. In 1905 they emigrated to the United States.

Despite these illustrious ancestors and the fact that John Kerry briefly dated Janet Auchincloss, Jacqueline Kennedy's half-sister, and sailed with President Kennedy off the Rhode Island coast, John F. Kerry's direct background is more modest. His father was first a prosecutor and later a diplomat. It was his grand-aunt, Clara Winthrop, who paid for his exclusive education.

Born in Denver, Colorado on December 11, 1943, John Forbes Kerry grew up in New England and Europe, mostly far from his family, frequenting schools and colleges on both continents, notably the boarding school Institut Montana near Zug in Switzerland and the Episcopalian St. Paul's boarding school in Concord, New Hampshire. Like his father, he attended Yale University, where he became president of the debate club and, just as George W. Bush, a member of the secret association Skull and Bones. Although a good hockey and soccer player, Kerry remained somewhat an aloof Roman Catholic outsider in this Protestant milieu - a position which he continues to hold today.

After Yale, Kerry enlisted in the Navy and fought in Vietnam, where he earned three Purple Hearts, a Bronze and a Silver Star. He came home as a war hero, turned into a antiwar leader and, in 1971, was even interviewed by Morley Safer on the TV program 60 Minutes, where he was asked the question whether he wanted to become president. The young Kerry brilliantly testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Comittee with the famous words: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" The experiences in Vietnam had changed Kerry's mind. He came to the conclusion that Vietnam was a disastrous error, but did not become a pacifist.

However, his position was not 100% coherent. In April 1971, when he participated in the spectacular massive return of distinctions, he did not throw his own Purple Hearts over the fence at Capitol Hill, but the ones of other Vietnam veterans.

In 1972, Kerry made an embarrassing search for a secure suburban Boston district to win a seat in Congress, but failed. After the lost election, Kerry became an assistant district attorney in Middlesex County, was elected as lieutenant governor of Massachusetts in 1982. Three years later, he became a U.S. senator from Massachusetts alongside Ted Kennedy and has been re-elected three times since.

Kerry has a penchant toward interpreting his life as its suits him. In his 1984 Senate race, he claimed in a flier to have "worked as a young volunteer in John Kennedy's presidential campaign" and that he had "joined the struggle for voting rights in the South." In reality, "Kerry may not have played a part in the 1960 election at all" and "the most he could have done for the Freedom Ride buses was to give them a cheering wave as they set off" (Kranish et al.: John F. Kerry and Christopher Hitchens in The New York Times of August 15, 2004).

As a senator, Kerry was best known for his appetite for publicity (by 1991 his nickname was "Live Shot") as well as for his investigations, notably into the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), the drug deals by Panama's infamous general and dictator Manuel Noriega, as well as the Iran-Contra affair. As a former prosecutor, that was what Kerry could do best. Incidentally, several Democrats were involved in the BCCI scandal, including former President Jimmy Carter. After he came under pressure from fellow Democrats, Kerry handled Democrat witnesses to the scandal with velvet gloves. Still, in 1991, the BCCI collapsed thanks to investigations by Kerry and others.

The newly-elected U.S. senators Harkin and Kerry failed miserably in their independent foreign policy mission to Nicaragua in 1985. Less than one week after returning from a meeting with the Sandinist leader Daniel Ortega, it turned out that the Nicaraguan had been lying to them. He did not restore civil rights, but rather extended the state of emergency for another six months and traveled to Moscow to receive a $200 million credit.

That same year, 1985, Kerry was one of the first Democratic senators to sign the Republican Gramm-Rudman-Hollings bill to reduce the deficit, an objective the current Bush administration has completely forgotten. Later, in the 1990s, Kerry was in favor of NAFTA. He is surely no socialist (or "liberal" in U.S. terms).

In a successful bi-partisan action in 1990, together with Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, Kerry investigated the case of the American soldiers missing in Vietnam (M.I.A. and P.O.W. cases) which opened the way to Clinton's resumption of diplomatic relations with Vietnam in 1995.

In January 1991, just before the first war against Iraq, when the U.S. already had a UN mandate and a large coalition behind them, Kerry made a speech against the military intervention, warning of the horrors of waging a war against the world's fourth-largest army equipped with weapons of mass destruction. He attacked former President Bush for his "unilateral" approach. He quickly regretted his speech and, a few months later, criticized Bush for not toppling Saddam Hussein.

Preparing a possible future candidacy for president, he left the "give-peace-a-chance-corner" and was in support of the intervention in Kosovo. Thereby, he made clear that he was not against military interventions without a UN mandate.

On September 12, 2002, after George W. Bush's speech to the UN General Assembly, Kerry said that he fully stood behind the president. Two days later, as Bush pressed Congress for immediate action, Kerry said that questions still remained and that this meant a slap in the face of the UN. Later he opposed a preemptive strike against a country that was no immediate danger to the U.S.

He explained his October 2002 vote in Congress in favor of authorizing the President to go to war against Iraq with the (valid) argument that this was needed to put Saddam Hussein under pressure to accept new weapons inspectors in Iraq.

In the 2004 presidential race, Kerry's image as a flip-flopper was nourished once more. Until September 20, 2004 he did not massively attack Bush on his Iraq policy. He only reacted late to Republican attacks portraying him as being weak on security as well as to Republican-funded veterans questioning his Vietnam record.

According to the Kerry of September 20, 2004, Bush misused the authorization Congress had given him by starting a war without building a broad coalition and without waiting for the end of the weapons inspections and the final report on them. Shortly before, Kerry had said that even knowing now that there were no weapons of mass destruction, he would have still voted in favor of the authorization in Congress.

Later, Kerry changed his position and accused Bush of not sending enough troops to Iraq, and badly equipping them. But a year ago, Kerry had voted against financing the military operations and the rebuilding of Iraq. At the same time, Kerry's alternative plan on Iraq remains vague: a global summit on Iraq to raise military and economic aid from other nations is probably an illusion.

Now Kerry insists that the war against Iraq was a mistake, a deviation from the true war on terror, based on misleading information, all the while turning a blind eye to Iran's and North Korea's nuclear programs. However, Kerry opposes Bush's multilateral, six-nations talks with North Korea and argues in favor of a bilateral approach instead. It is not far-fetched to assume that if Bush had opted for bilateralism, Kerry would have asked for a multilateral approach, which is what he had demanded in the case of Iraq.

Some two months ago, Kerry, when asked by Jim Lehrer about his position on the concept of pre-emptive war, answered: "The president always has the right and always has had the right for pre-emptive strike." And then he added, that this was "a great doctrine throughout the Cold War". In reality, the doctrine was first "massive retaliation" and then "mutual assured destruction". In other words, dissuasion was the key strategy. We still live in the nuclear age. America deserves a president who knows what he is talking about.

A few remarks on Kerry's program: he opposes the death penalty; together with Michael Dukakis in the 1980s, he had helped to abolish the death penalty in Massachusetts. Kerry voted for the Patriot Act but is now in favor of letting it expire. Legislators had no time to read it before they voted it and it infringes on civil rights. Kerry opposes privatizing Social Security and plans important health care programs from which millions of uninsured would benefit. Kerry would probably be more inclined to protect the environment than Bush, who has cut back in this field, often in favor of the interests of the energy lobby in hopes of better ensuring the future U.S. energy supply.

Many people voting for Kerry do it largely because they believe in "ABB": Anybody but Bush. They think that Bush has had his chance to govern and has miserably failed. They want to give a chance to a new president in the hope that this will allow a fresh start. In a few days we will know what the majority of Americans has decided.

More articles on politics: English and German.

John Kerry: A Call to Service. My Vision for a better America. Hardcover, Viking Books, 2003. Get the hardcover edition from Paperback, Penguin Books, 2004, 224 p. Get it from or In this book, Kerry notably writes that he fully subscribes to the idea that America's interests are the same as the world's and that he fully accepts the moral and military responsibility that derives from that claim.

Michael Kranish, Brian C. Mooney, Nina J. Easton: John F. Kerry. Get the biography from German edition: Rowohlt Berlin, 2004. Deutsche Biografie bestellen bei oder citydisc Schweiz. This biography written by the reporters of the Boston Globe, who have covered him for decades, is the main source for the article on the left.

On the private note, John Forbes Kerry divorced from Julia Thorne in 1983 after thirteen years of marriage. They have two daughters, Alexandra and Vanessa. After his divorce, Kerry was in financial difficulty because he had to pay alimony to his ex-wife and children.

In 1994, Kerry began dating Teresa Heinz, the widow of Senator H. John Heinz III of Pennsylvania, with an estimated fortune of well over $500 million. They had previously met at the environmental summit organized by the United Nations in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

By coincidence, it was the elder President Bush who sent the widow of the former Republican Senator Heinz to Rio. Therefore, he was involuntarily instrumental in creating the 1995 marriage of Teresa Heinz and John Forbes Kerry, the man who may beat his son in the 2004 U.S. presidential election.

Deutsch Politik Geschichte Kunst Film Musik Lebensart Reisen
English Politics History Art Film Music Lifestyle Travel
Français Politique Histoire Arts Film Musique Artdevivre Voyages

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 ©  Louis Gerber All rights reserved.