[lit-ideas] More on John Kerry's background

  • From: Eternitytime1@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 6 Oct 2004 10:39:11 EDT

This does not deal with the Vietnam issue, but it  does deal a bit with *who* 
Kerry is and a bit as to why I do tend to  think of him as more 'one of us' 
rather than 'one of them'.   
(He's a bit like Missouri's own Kit Bond--who  grew up in Mexico MO [not TOO 
far from Julie <g>]--and  while working at the University of MO's law library 
while in  graduate school, my boss was a woman who had gone to school with him 
 (and knew his ex-wife).   He kind of did what Kerry  did--rising eventually 
to a place where he has quite a bit of $$ and  power (for a variety of 
reasons--this article states that Kerry  married money twice..)--and while Bond 
is a 
Republican  <g>, he started out championing many public policies which  
benefited small business, children (Like the organization Parents as  Teachers 
was the one who pushed and made it happen on both a  statewide and nationwide 
basis), etc.  (Of course, Bond took a  break and kind of 'lost' it for a 
while-but has returned to what and  who he used to be these past few years. 
speculation is that  he 'lost' it when he ended up in the Senate because of too 
much  playing around--which is when he ended up divorced--but has 'grown'  
and his marriage to a woman who held him at arms length for  some time 
totally turned him back into who he *used* to be.)   Dang, but I digress.  
Too much in my head, I fear.
Anyway, I highlighted in bold what his ideas  are/have been in regards to 
(esp) ealthcare/insurance  costs.  I had not really heard quite the analysis as 
to why  Hilary Clinton's healthcare proposal failed.  
So, here is an article (by Boston Globe  columnist...I guess that is why they 
focus on Kerry alot...he is  from that area...) which also talks about how he 
tried to go upward  without 'work' after Vietnam by running for Congress 
because he  was so upset at the whole Vietnam War.  He eventually realized  
that he
 needed to start at the bottom and went to Law School and  then started out 
as an assistant prosecutor (kind of like most of  the rest of the 
I look at this as how he has had to learn what I  think is both a major life 
lesson (that of learning that we have to  do things step by step) and how he 
uses that lesson for good.   

His ideas  of the government stepping up and  paying for the cost of a 
medical procedure/situation if it costs  more than $50,000 is kind of 
It still allows for  private medical insurance, but takes away the insurance 
companies  screams that they have to charge everyone a fortune because of a few 
people's procedures.  I am going to see what else is written on  it...
_The Kerry I Know_ (http://www.prospect.org/web/view-print.ww?id=8118) 
So he's not Mr. Charisma. But he has  courage, judgment, and intellect. 
Imagine that! 
By _Thomas Oliphant_ 
Issue Date: 08.01.04  

The first two times I  dealt with John Kerry, when he had his initial brush 
with notoriety  many years ago, I didnâ??t know what to make of him. It was 
actually a  little later, after he had screwed up and taken one on the jaw, 
that  I 
became intrigued by him. He lost his first political fight, and  deserved to; 
but instead of slinking off to a privileged corner of  his world, he decided 
on a slow climb up the public-service ladder.  Not for the last time, his grit 
surprised me.  
Now, on the threshold of his more than decent shot  at the presidency, 
something un-chic has occurred to me: Odds are  that he could be a successful, 
excellent, president. No hero  worship here. Knowing somebody is supposed to 
mean knowing him as a  human being, zits and all. Part of my confidence 
involves the  meeting of a particular kind of public figure and his times; part 
it is this inner drive of his that survived the bright flash of  sudden fame 
that burns out just as quickly and accepted the  non-flashy way up the ladder 
long ago.  
I like Kerry a lot. I admire how he got to this  place. And I think he is 
well-prepared to preside over the sausage  making that lies ahead of him if he 
wins this fall. It is likely to  be a tough grind -- more or less the way he 
likes it. (His  successful discussions with John Edwards about a partnership  
displayed a sensible pol with the confidence to reach beyond his  familiar 
the fact that my genius daughter helped discover  â??two Americasâ?? for 
and now writes for the ticket only proves  again that she has figured things 
out faster than I have.)  
In non-Bush America, a far more prevalent symbol of  sentiment these days, 
rather than outright affection for Kerry, is  the â??Anybody But Bushâ?? pin. 
Anybody But Bush avoids Kerry. It also  contains more than a little bit of 
and disrespect -- common  attitudes in a modern Democratic Party that seems 
able to take the  concept of unity only so far. Democrats (political writers, 
too)  love second-guessing, relentless kibitzing, pseudo-biographical  
psychobabble. In todayâ??s political culture, progressives tend to be  
conservatives fanatical.  
The best cure for this neurosis is not artificially  induced adulation but a 
rational decision to recognize Kerryâ??s  strengths. This is a contemplative, 
serious person -- well-grounded  in progressive principles -- who has the good 
habit of getting  interested in new ideas that survive scrutiny. His work 
habits  reveal an iron butt for grunt work, as well as considerable  experience 
working across party lines. A non-Bush president will  have to repair 
considerable damage abroad and at home, complex tasks  that will resist grand 
and reward the patience and tough  negotiating that are Kerry attributes. But a 
non-Bush president will  also have to think and act big and new, and the work 
Kerry has  already done on a range of issues should inspire confidence.  
He is a sober yet imaginative person for sobering,  dangerous times, but his 
looks and wealth conceal the steel that got  him this far and often cause him 
to be underestimated. It was a  long, strange trip, hardly befitting someone 
with a first-class  education who married money twice.  
After Kerry returned for good from Vietnam, he  impulsively entered one of 
the eraâ??s many congressional fights in  which pro-war politicians were being 
challenged: a weirdly  gerrymandered Massachusetts district that stretched from 
the western  Boston suburbs north toward New Hampshire. The year was 1970, and  
the incumbent was a go-along Senate Armed Services Committee  stalwart, Phil 
Philbin, ripe for the plucking.  
The anti-war candidates had agreed to abide by a  vote at a mass gathering of 
the principal organization in the state,  Massachusetts Political Action for 
Peace (MassPAX). The overwhelming  favorite was the Reverend Robert Drinan, 
then dean of the Boston  College Law School. But during the MassPAX meeting at  
Concord-Carlisle High School, Kerry made a riveting speech --  previewing 
themes of soldier betrayal and new-recruit determination  the nation would hear 
the following year in Washington -- that won  high praise. Kerry still lost, 
I kept his phone number and made  sure I stayed in touch as he became 
involved in the fledgling  Vietnam Veterans Against the War.  
What Kerry did in the spring of 1971 still amazes  me. The power and 
eloquence of his statement to the Senate Foreign  Relations Committee gets most 
of the 
attention because the film  survives, but what amazed me more was the quiet 
leadership he and a  few pals showed in guiding perhaps 2,000 veterans -- many 
severely  wounded, angry, bitter, and passionate -- for a week that stunned  
the country with its nonviolent effectiveness.  
At the time, Kerry told me that he assumed his  actions had precluded a 
political career, a sentiment experience had  taught me to share. I was 
therefore, to hear of his  intention to run for Congress in the McGovern year 
of 1972 in a  Massachusetts district centered on the blue-collar city of 
Lowell.  Not surprisingly to me, the rookie made a mess of his race. Anti-war  
fervor in the Democratic Party had propelled George McGovern past  Edmund 
and Kerryâ??s congressional campaign was at first  almost entirely based on 
Vietnam. But a changing economy had made  the area around Lowell, always a 
of lunch-pail economics  anyway, unusually interested in what a new Congress 
would do for  ordinary people. By the time Kerry realized his message was way  
off-key, it was too late; 1972 was a McGovern year in the spring,  but it was 
a Nixon year in the fall.  
I was more pleasantly surprised somewhat later when  Kerry told me he had 
decided to enter Drinanâ??s onetime haunt at  Boston College Law School. I 
he still wanted a public life,  but now he was going to do it the hard, and 
better, way.  
A young guy who had been a decorated Naval officer  was among the most 
effective spokesmen against the war he fought in;  a rather typical liberal 
became a pretty good, ambitious local  prosecutor in the most important 
county in the state. His  rise up the ladder was now conventional, methodical. 
It has always  impressed me that he won his intraparty fight for the  
lieutenant-governor nomination in 1982 and the one for the Senate in  1984 much 
differently than he lost his race for Congress in 1972.  The younger Kerry had 
an upscale, one-issue candidate; this  older guy was much less the darling of 
Beacon Hill, the Back Bay,  and the nicer suburbs and much more the favorite 
of the older  suburbs and tougher cities. The first thing an observer noticed 
was  the veteransâ?? connection that would become such a visible element  years 
later in his presidential campaign. On top of that, Kerry  grafted ideas and 
messages that were much more Democratic than  merely liberal. His majorities in 
the primary victories of 1982 and  1984 were from Lawrence and Fall River and 
Framingham more than  Cambridge and Brookline.  
From the beginning of his 20 years in the Senate,  Kerry was able to deal 
maturely -- as his pricklier, outspoken  predecessor, the late Paul Tsongas, 
often did not -- with the  overwhelming fact of his junior status to Ted 
Kerryâ??s  legislation list is relatively sparse. Big deal. What he did,  
though, was take what was there: foreign policy, high-profile  investigations 
shady international businesses, crime and drugs,  and terrorism. He became a 
true expert on affordable housing, a  passionate and authoritative advocate for 
the public financing of  federal elections, and gradually emerged, with Al 
Gore, as a leading  spokesman on energy and the environment.  
In our meetings and meals during his first term,  though, it was occasionally 
obvious that a painful separation and  divorce had left his life unsettled 
and not all that happy. I  remember dinners during that first Senate term when 
would drop him  off at a dump of an apartment in Foggy Bottom, almost always 
putting  a damper on an otherwise lively evening of argument and  
reminiscence. After his re-election in 1990, his first stab at  national 
politics -- a 
poor attempt at positioning to get on Bill  Clintonâ??s vice-presidential short 
list -- showed a person not ready  for the game yet. Eight years later -- 
remarried, happy, and  grounded -- he had the maturity to take a brief look at 
what  Bill Bradley tried to do against Gore and wisely take a pass.  Instead, 
he worked like a dog as a Gore surrogate in New Hampshire,  and this time 
around was a natural finalist for vice president.   
And, finally, to the present, and his own race. When  Kennedy took Kerry 
around eastern Iowa (largely working class and  Catholic) shortly after 
intervening to turn the latterâ??s sagging,  résumé-based presidential 
campaign around, 
the senior senator  regularly used a story that captures the best of Kerryâ??s 
last two  decades. As Kennedy told it, accurately, there was nothing to be  
gained and much possibly to be lost when Kerry and John McCain set  out in the 
1980s to bind up the countryâ??s wounds from the Vietnam  War. For months on 
there was not a syllable of press coverage  as they painstakingly put old 
prisoner and missing-in-action myths  to rest and began assembling the case for 
establishing relations  with Hanoi. Inch by inch, they brought the country 
with them.  From a master of hard political work like Kennedy, it was deserved  
praise, and a genuine sign of what Kerry is capable of.  
After nine times around the track, Iâ??m convinced  that the presidency is 
something that requires more fate than  ambition. Sometime Jupiter aligns with 
Mars, sometimes it doesnâ??t.  And when Kerry started campaigning in earnest in 
early 2003, he --  not for the first time in his career -- came out of the 
 miserably. Since 1982, every one of his fights has required a second  wind. 
What I think is most relevant to a possible Kerry presidency  is that he has, 
up until now, always listened to criticism when he  has been screwing up, and 
he has responded forcefully.  
The initial year of his presidential campaign was  almost fatal because of 
two rookie mistakes influenced by hubris:  Kerry bought into front-runner-ism 
via fund-raising yardsticks, and,  worse, he bought into a presentation based 
mostly on himself, his  war record, and his résumé. What was missing from the 
calculus was a  Democratic electorate in Iowa and New Hampshire (and 
 that was more interested in how national policy might improve its  members 
lives, not just in Iraq or even in the much-celebrated  â??anger.â??  
What I still find arresting is that Kerry not only  listened and responded to 
the simple message that he was tanking, a  regular occurrence in the 
political career of someone who mostly  understands that campaigning doesnâ??t 
naturally to him; he also  took his new campaign manager and communications 
director straight  from the top of Kennedyâ??s Senate staff, more at his senior 
colleagueâ??s insistence than recommendation. Not only that, Kerry had  the 
guts to 
walk away from the reason (the importance of neighboring  New Hampshireâ??s 
primary) that there have been so many New England  presidential candidates over 
last four decades (John F. Kennedy,  Muskie, Ted Kennedy, John F. Kennedy, 
George Bush Senior, Michael  Dukakis, and Tsongas).  
People come up with shrewd and brilliant ideas in  presidential politics all 
the time, but the tactic of Kerryâ??s will  be studied for ages. Based on the 
diagnosis that he was sinking like  a stone in New Hampshire, the recommended 
cure was to leave the  state after mid-December and try to use Iowa (where he 
was also  plummeting) as a slingshot to propel him back into contention in the  
Granite State. Put yourself in Kerryâ??s shoes as he decided he had to  give up 
on neighboring New Hampshire and head west; it took balls.  It also took 
discipline to talk, town after rural town, much more  about kitchen-table 
and less about foreign affairs and  much less about himself. Kerryâ??s comeback 
was a lot of  things, but it was not out of character. Once again, it was the 
more  difficult path to success.  
Itâ??s also helpful to know that his comeback was  political and personal, but 
-- quite contrary to the â??flip-flopâ??  label the Bush team has sought to 
on him -- it did not involve  a single change in his approach to the big 
questions of our day.  Normally, positions on issues donâ??t work well for me 
clues to a  presidency, or as stand-alone reasons to be for someone. In  
case, however, he has made three contributions -- in health  care, on energy, 
and in foreign policy -- to the national discussion  over the past year that 
are vintage Kerry and powerful evidence of  how his political mind works. They 
are not derivative, and, in each  instance, the contributions were formulated 
not by the pollsters or  the advisers but by Kerry himself.  
On health care, as Kerry grappled with the  mess of todayâ??s nonsystem, he 
made a critical conceptual  breakthrough in his analysis of why the great 
in 1993â??94  under Bill and Hillary Clinton flopped. In his mind, and heâ??s  
correct, the problem was that universal-coverage schemes tend to  focus on the 
roughly 15 percent of the public that lacks insurance  at any given moment, 
instead of the 85 percent who have what could  be charitably called coverage 
(many of whom despise it almost to  apoplexy).  
Kerryâ??s second conceptual contribution was  his determination to find and use 
savings from inside the wasteful  status quo to finance health careâ??s reform 
and expansion, focusing  on the third of all health-care costs that are not 
clinical. His  third was to invest in and use new technology and other 
qualitative  strides in medicine to accumulate still more savings. His fourth 
was  to 
build toward universality using the existing mix of private and  public 
delivery systems, not to jerry-rig a new one, the best  example being his 
of tax credits to assist individuals  who want to buy into the choice-laden 
federal employeesâ??  health-insurance plan.  
Finally, to deal with viciously escalating  insurance costs, Kerry went for 
the idea of federalizing  catastrophic costs, above $50,000 for a condition or 
illness. After  careful vetting (a version of this had been on the table as 
far back  as the Nixon administration; more recently, it has attracted  
considerable business support), he was able to claim that this would  reduce 
costs an average of $1,000 per beneficiary. This is  vintage Kerry: part 
traditional progressive (meaning Ted Kennedy),  part new thinking, and designed 
politically for swing voters in  Congress.  
His conceptual contribution on energy was  similar in its focus on using the 
existing energy business system,  as opposed to new taxes or general revenues, 
to produce a revenue  stream for investments in new technologies for old 
fuels like coal  and natural gas, as well as renewables. The idea is to use 
royalty  payments from oil and gas exploration to finance a trust fund for  
conservation and renewable investments that could, over a decade,  reduce 
imports by 2 
million barrels per day -- about what comes from  the Persian Gulf currently. 
It is an investment both in lower energy  costs and in economic growth in new 
industries. It is also a plan  designed to avoid many of the regional and 
special-interest  political fights that have bedeviled presidents for 30  
Kerry sought from the beginning to plan big on the  energy front, both to 
find a grand, worthy national effort along the  lines of the space program in 
1960s and to serve a larger  foreign-policy purpose. A national policy to 
gradually end the  addiction to imports from the Persian Gulf is likely to do 
more  to â??transform the Middle East,â?? to borrow the silly Bush  
than invading Iraq almost unilaterally with no workable  plan for the 
aftermath. Kerry would back it up with a reactivation  of the Middle East peace 
process, with an activist United States at  the center again and allies and 
moderate Arab states enlisted to  provide aid to -- and put pressure on -- the 
Palestinian Authority.  A long period of tacit and not so tacit acquiescence in 
Ariel  Sharonâ??s postures and actions would cease. Vigorous diplomacy -- in  
conviction that it really works, Kerry is very much his  
fatherâ??s son -- would define him in large  part, not merely in the Middle 
East but also in Iraq, Iran, and  North Korea; with trade agreements; the Kyoto 
Protocol process; and  the various nonproliferation regimes. My pal Mark 
Shields once  observed that, more often than not, each president is the 
antithesis of his predecessor. Kerry is a worker as well as a  thinker.  
Kerry has also shrewdly insisted -- from the  beginning of his campaign -- on 
a requirement, as economic policy,  that the budget deficit be halved within 
four years in order to keep  the business recovery from hitting a wall of 
higher interest rates.  It is often noted, accurately, that Kerry seeks a 
to the  basic ideas Bob Rubin followed for Bill Clinton in the â??90s. What  
observation misses, however, is the fact that Clinton got all  the way through 
his first campaign in 1992 decrying the economyâ??s  stagnation and advocating 
stimulus. Kerry, by contrast, has stuck  his neck out on fiscal sanity almost 
from the moment he declared.  Kerry is a real Democrat in his commitment to 
significant new  expenditures on priorities like health care, education, energy 
independence, child care, and additional tax breaks for the middle  class and 
working poor. However, he is also a New Democrat  in his belief that the 
overall context must be anti-deficit for the  sake of long-term economic 
Kerry is not by instinct a visionary, which is both  a statement of fact and 
a legitimate criticism. He will have to work  hard on coherent statements of 
purpose. Beginning in Iowa, however,  I noticed two constant themes that got 
through to the caucus-goers  and then to the primary voters in New Hampshire 
made his  nomination inevitable: that encouraging and rewarding work as a  
government priority should dwarf rewarding wealth, and that  combating 
international terrorism and promoting Americaâ??s interests  in a dangerous 
world are 
tasks that require allies.  
Kerryâ??s other, overarching political thought is that  the election of a 
Democratic president this year would liberate an  unknowable number of 
governance-minded Republicans from the iron  grip of the GOPâ??s congressional 
no matter who is in the  majority. In the House of Representatives especially, 
the party  discipline Tom DeLay can invoke on President Bushâ??s behalf would  
almost by definition be less powerful under a President Kerry. On  any given 
domestic issue, there would be 20 or more Republicans  available with the 
enticements and atmosphere. For those to  the left of center who recall that 
JFKâ??s belief in 1960 was that the  country could do better, not that it could 
be revolutionized, Kerry  is the kind of person and politician I believe to be 
worth trusting  for this grubby, central task of coalition building.  
In his remarkably thorough book on Kerryâ??s formative  youth, Douglas Brinkley 
tells a story about the two of us in the  moments just before Kerry began his 
statement to the Senate Foreign  Relations Committee in 1971. We had walked 
from the Vietnam  veteransâ?? encampment on the National Mall together, taking 
detour  while he defused a potentially volatile demonstration outside the  
Supreme Court. When we entered the Dirksen Senate Office Building  and raced up 
the stairs a few minutes before he was due to speak, we  were struck by the 
absence of people in the stairwell and in the  long corridor approaching the 
hearing room. It felt like a Sunday.   
But when we reached the door and opened it a crack,  Kerry drew back 
suddenly, stunned at the sight of a completely  packed room. I nudged him 
again and attempted to cut the  tension by saying, â??Go ahead. Be famous. See 
if I 
It never occurred to me or to him where that moment  might one day lead. I 
think itâ??s important that the presidency looms  on his horizon not as a 
in some trust fund, a virtual  entitlement by virtue of lucky birth. Instead, 
it looms at the end  of a long climb up the ladder from assistant county 
John Kerry is a good, tough man. He is curious,  grounded after a public and 
personal life that has not always been  pleasant, a fan of ideas whose 
practical side has usually kept him  from policy wonkery, a natural progressive 
the added fixation  on what works that made FDR and JFK so interesting. I know 
it is  chic to be disdainful, but the modern Democratic neurosis gets in  the 
way of a solid case for affection. Without embarrassment, and  after a very 
long journey, I really like this guy. As one of his top  campaign officials, 
himself a convert since the primaries ended,  told me recently, this is pure 
Merle Haggard. Itâ??s not love, but  itâ??s not bad.  
Thomas Oliphant is a columnist for The Boston  Globe.   Copyright © 2004 by 
The American  Prospect, Inc. Preferred Citation: Thomas Oliphant, "The Kerry I  
Know", The American Prospect, The Kerry You Should Know, August  2004

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