John Kerry for president?
2004 U.S. presidential election
Article added on October 31, 2004
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
John Kerry: A Call to Service. My Vision for a better America.
Hardcover, Viking Books, 2003. Get the hardcover edition from Amazon.com.
Paperback, Penguin Books, 2004, 224 p. Get it from Amazon.de
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
Michael Kranish, Brian C. Mooney, Nina J. Easton: John F. Kerry. Get
the biography from Amazon.com.
German edition: Rowohlt Berlin, 2004. Deutsche Biografie bestellen bei Amazon.de
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
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.