John Kerry was born December 11, 1943 at Fitzsimmons Military Hospital in Aurora, a suburb of Denver, Colorado. At the time of his birth, his father was being treated for tuberculosis in the same hospital. After his father's recovery, the family moved back to their home in Massachusetts.
Kerry received his degree from Yale University, which seems to have turned into some kind of presidential prep school these days. Kerry became president of the Yale Political Union and give a speech criticizing American foreign policy at his class' graduation in 1966. From there, Kerry joined the Navy, which he had voluteered for a year earlier. For his service in Vietnam as an officer on a swift boat in the Mekong Delta, Kerry was awarded a Silver Star, Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts.
Upon his return from military service in Vietnam, Kerry would make the first of many controversial decisions in what would develop into a very politically active life. Stating he was "compelled to question decisions he believed were being made to protect those in positions of authority in Washington at the expense of the soldiers carrying on the fighting in Vietnam," Kerry would join the protest against the war. This decision turned many veterans of the Vietnam War against him and won him the support of others. It all depended on the perspective.
Kerry was a founding member of Veterans Against the Vietnam War and testified before the United States Senate about what he regarded as the unwinnable nature of the war as it was being conducted. He also became a co-founder of the Vietnam Veterans of America. One line from his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee regarding Vietnam became one of the most powerful and controversial statements made by someone who had been there.
"How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"
A Journey Continues
There used to be a running joke in Massachusetts about how the state so pined for John F. Kennedy that they would keep John F. Kerry and Teddy Kennedy in the senate forever. You know, if you put their names together...
Following the Vietnam War, Kerry would dedicate himself to holding "the political system accountable" and became a prosecutor in Middlesex County, Massachusetts after graduating Boston College Law School in 1976. There he would put an organized crime boss behind bars and create a special rape crisis unit as part of an effort to modernize the District Attorney's office. In 1982 he would be elected Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts under then Governor Michael Dukakis.
Using private contibutions, John Kerry became the first modern era United States Senator to be elected without the help of contributions from political action committees (PACs) in 1984 and continues to run without such contributions. While some may contend that the fact that he is very wealthy makes this unnecessary, he has managed to create a very large base of individual contributions that serve as the foundation for his campaigns for political office.
Senator John Kerry
Because the other senator from Massachusetts is firmly entrenched as a de facto "senator for life," John Kerry remained the junior Massachusetts Senator in his fourth term. He spent sixteen years serving on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He has served on, and continues to serve on a number of committees, including the Senate Finance Committee and the East Asian and Pacific Affairs Committee.
Labels are always easy, and Kerry has worn the mantle of "Massachusetts Liberal" unapologetically. Since the 1990s he has been pigeonholed as a "Clinton Democrat" even though he broke with the former president on a number of issues. One of those issues was his vote against the Defense of Marriage Act, which was supported by then Vice President Al Gore and signed into law by Bill Clinton. He also co-sponsored the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 1996, which would have prohibited employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. It was narrowly defeated in the Senate. He also spoke out against the language of Bill Clinton's Don't Ask, Don't Tell military policy, supporting a 1993 amendment that would have eliminated the ability of the military to quietly dismiss via dishonorable discharge any soldiers based on sexual orientation and would have given final say in individual cases to the commander-in-chief.
His other work in the U.S. Senate is very long and detailed. Eighteen plus years is a lot to break down into a few short paragraphs. He has shown an ability in the past to break from party ranks and build coalitions to support ideas he believes in. He co-authored "The American Small Business Emergency Relief and Recovery Act of 2001" with Republican Senator Christopher Bond, worked together with Senator John McCain on a bipartisan compromise on fuel efficiency standards, and supported the Gramm-Rudman Deficit Reduction plan.
The only serious opposition John Kerry has faced in his re-elections to the U.S. Senate came from former Massachusetts governor William Weld in 1996. Trailing as the race came down to the wire, Kerry took off his gloves and demanded Weld explain what programs he would cut to pay for his ambitious tax cut program. When Weld couldn't answer the specifics of the question, the race turned and Kerry won by a comfortable seven point margin.
John Kerry on Foreign Relations
"We need to win some friends on this planet."
Sixteen years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee probably taught John Kerry a thing or two, but one can never be sure someone is paying attention. Kerry has consistently spoken about the need to build on and improve relations with other countries of the world. "Not since the Romans, has any nation been so economically and militarily dominant," Kerry said in a recent speech before speaking about the kind of responsibility that carries. His stance on the need to improve foreign relations has come with a drive to respect other nations rather than looking down on them. This led to Kerry's controversial push, along with Senator John McCain, for the establishment of full diplomatic relations with Vietnam after sponsoring an intensive investigation of the POW/MIA situation there. A conservative Republican who spent years as a POW in Vietnam and a liberal Democrat who served in Vietnam and then joined the ranks of war protesters were able to work together for a common goal.
John Kerry 2003: The War in Iraq
"The United States of America should never go to war because it wants to go to war;
it should only go to war because it has to go to war."
Kerry has been vilified by those holding more "extreme" viewpoints regarding the 2003 War in Iraq and the policies surrounding it. A quick web search will produce dozens of venom filled rants against Kerry from anti-war protest groups as well as from strong supporters of the war. This is the result of Kerry's position, which is more complicated than what some want. There are those who want the rubber stamp of "this war is good" and those who want a rubber stamp of "this war is bad." Kerry believes it is not a black and white issue.
Kerry has been accused of "waffling" on his position on the War in Iraq, based on the fact that he supported George W. Bush's resolution for the power to go to war with Iraq and now speaks out against Bush's war policy. His opposition is based on the unilateral and pre-emptive nature of the war and Bush's estrangement of American allies in the process. His official position on the war was that if Iraq was found to be in "clear material breach" of the United Nations resolutions to disarm, he would support "joint action" against Iraq. Kerry's chief concern with the progress of the Iraq war was the alienation of other nations and the perception of the United States that resulted from that alienation.
John Kerry: 2004 Presidential Candidate
It is said by many that John Kerry began his run for the 2004 U.S. Presidential Election the night that Al Gore conceeded the 2000 election to George W. Bush. He has since been seen as one of the front runners for the Democratic nomination amid a muddled field of candidates.
There are issues other than the War in Iraq and the post-9/11 United States, but these issues are now at the forefront of the American consciousness. In 1997, Kerry authored a book entitled The New War, in which he discussed how the U.S. was not prepared for new threats to national security that would be "stateless in origin." Little attention was paid to his fears at that time, as Americans like to believe they are prepared for everything.
On other issues, Kerry is an opponent of capital punishment, and in favor of indexing the minimum wage to cost of living and economic stimulus through cutting the payroll tax. He has spent time on committees trying to find ways to promote small businesses. He is rated very high on voting "report cards" by both the AFL-CIO and the League of Conservation Voters.
Most importantly, Kerry is able to see that a candidate with radical viewpoints on key issues will not win over an electorate with varied viewpoints on these issues. A radical position may win you over a religiously loyal sect of voters. Kerry knows he is running for the presidency of the United States of America, meaning he would become the leader of all the citizens of his country, not just a choice few. A presidential candidate has to speak to the people about issues that concern them as a whole. In recent speeches in the early stages of his nomination bid, he has been referred to as "presidential."
Personal Life: Yes, He is a Rich Man
John Kerry was already fairly well off financially before 1995, when he married Teresa Heinz, the widow of the later Republican Senator H. John Heinz III. Inheritance from the Heinz fortune has her estimated net worth at $550 million dollars. Still, Kerry tends to rely on his own ability to raise public money when running for political office, feeling it is the only way to cleanly run a campaign. Yet, many feel if he wins the nomination, this money he says is "not mine," but his wife's, may be necessary to compete against the incumbent president who many estimate could raise somewhere in the neighborhood of $250 million without public money.
Kerry has two daughters, Alexandra and Vanessa, and his wife has three sons, John, Andre and Christopher. They live in Boston, Massachusetts.
Update January 28, 2004:
John Kerry has begun to resemble Andrew Jackson's $20 photograph.
This writeup will not be updated. There will be reason for another complete writeup after this one. I'd rather stay true to the date stamp on this writeup, as it has something to do with why I posted it in the first place. Thank you.