Sunday, April 08, 2007

Kerry And Me

When I was young and foolish and liberal, I worked for John Kerry. His congressional campaign contacted me back in 1972, but my friends advised me to avoid him because he wasn’t liberal enough. Imagine that. I had been working on a monthly community newspaper called “The Communicator” with a small group of leftists who were protégés of Noam Chomsky. One was a “red diaper baby” - descended from Russian Jewish immigrant parents who were Communists.

Kerry’s campaign thought I controlled hundreds of votes in the section of Lowell, Massachusetts where I lived. I had worked with the Portuguese community there to stop the extension of the Lowell Connector, which would have gone through my house and hundreds of others. After an intense, five-week campaign, the highway was defeated by a close vote of the city council. Coincidentally, Paul Tsongas was on the council at the time and had voted against us. It all went down a month before the Democratic primary and John Kerry was facing stiff opposition. Everyone believed that whoever won the primary would easily defeat the Republican in November. Because I had a leadership role in the movement to defeat the highway, Kerry thought I could help him win. After speaking to his brother Cameron and others, I agreed, mostly because of his strong stand against the war in Vietnam. I learned a lot - enough to make me realize how distasteful modern, large-scale, electoral campaigns are. Kerry spent more money that year than any other congressional campaign in the country. Still, he lost. By the November election, I was tired of both electoral politics and of John Kerry. I didn’t like the politics of the Nixon Republican who beat him, but I liked John Kerry the person even less. I was glad he lost.

I liked a lot of the people who worked for Kerry then, but I didn’t take to him. I had no sense of what he was inside; all I could perceive there was a vacancy. There was plenty of ambition and a lot of posturing, but little else. Others saw him as a polished speaker and war hero. He reminded them of JFK - Caroline Kennedy worked on the campaign as well as several celebrities of the time. I met Peter Yarrow, Kurt Vonnegut, George Plimpton, and others. Many believed he would someday be president. Though I never heard him say it, I think that was Kerry’s intention even way back then. I had the sense that every decision he made was with that ambition in mind.

Kerry had filed nomination papers in several congressional districts that year. Only when incumbent Republican Brad Morse was appointed to a UN position by President Nixon did he decide to run in the fifth district where I lived. Clearly, he wanted to run for congress, and it didn’t matter where because it was all about him and not the people he would represent.

Now that he’s the frontrunner for the Democrat presidential nomination, I’m seeing a lot of him again. He’s older, but he doesn’t seem to have changed much. His positions on the big issues facing us, however, change often He voted for the war, but he voted against the money to pay for it and now claims the war is wrong. He voted for NAFTA, but now he’s against it. He voted against the federal Defense of Marriage Act because he didn’t want homosexual marriage to be outlawed, but now he’s against homosexual marriage. He voted against drilling ANWR, but now he supports building an oil pipeline to it. There are many other examples too numerous to list.

Kerry came to prominence as the head of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Members, including Kerry, publicly threw their medals back at the government that awarded them. Much later, I learned that Kerry didn’t actually throw his medals back. He secretly kept them and threw somebody else’s medals instead. He wanted to seem like he was throwing his medals back without actually doing it - vintage Kerry.

After losing his congressional race in 1972, Kerry went to law school at Boston College. That was smart, because BC was considered the Irish Harvard and, in Massachusetts, it was helpful politically to cultivate one’s Irishness. After passing the bar, Kerry went to work in the Middlesex County District Attorney’s office as Assistant DA. From there, he became Lieutenant Governor under Michael Dukakis and then US Senator. Somewhere along the way, he dropped wealthy heiress wife number one and picked up wealthy heiress wife number two.

With a name like Kerry, everyone assumed he was Irish, but surprise! Kerry isn’t Irish at all, it turns out. His ancestors came from eastern Europe somewhere and assumed the name Kerry. His other ancestors are Yankee Brahmins the Irish perceived as enemies. Kerry couldn’t mimic JFK unless people believed he was Irish, so that’s the impression he cultivated. As presidential candidate, he’s merged war hero and anti-war hero - brandishing the medals he pretended to throw back and criticizing the war he voted for.

I’m not so young anymore. I’m a little bit less foolish and a lot less liberal. Kerry looks older too in spite of the botox treatments, but although he changes all the time, he hasn’t really changed much at all.

Published March, 2004

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