View Full Version : John Kerry

July 23rd, 2004, 10:55 AM
The New Yorker


Voters need to believe that John Kerry can put the country back on track.
Issue of 2004-07-26
Posted 2004-07-19

During the loneliest days of his campaign for the Democratic Presidential nomination, last December, when he was trailing Al Sharpton in some polls and reporters covering the race were placing bets that he’d drop out before the first voters were heard from in the Iowa caucuses, Senator John Kerry came to New York to address the Council on Foreign Relations. It was hard, then, to find anyone outside his immediate family who would speak with unaverted eyes of the likelihood of a Kerry comeback. Even among the Democrats in his audience, which was packed with soberly tailored politicians, diplomats, military officers, and captains of finance, industry, philanthropy, and think tanks, there was a sense of near-certitude—for some delightful, for others grim—that Howard Dean was unstoppable. As a governor, Dean had been spared having to take sides when the resolution authorizing President George W. Bush to invade Iraq was passed in both houses of Congress, in October of 2002, and he’d made himself a scourge to his rivals in the primary race who voted for it. He called them “Bush Lite.” Kerry’s deeply recessed eyes, small as an elephant’s, appeared more than usually narrowed in those days, and his smile, too, had tightened into the sort of skeptical wince that a cartoon dad displays to signal his endurance of adolescent noise. But he didn’t waste a word on Dean when he addressed the council.

Kerry had stayed up late for several nights, crafting his speech, and it was as succinct and cogent a summation of his case against the President as he has offered to date. “Simply put,” Kerry declared, “the Bush Administration has pursued the most arrogant, inept, reckless, and ideological foreign policy in modern history”:

In the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks, the world rallied to the common cause of fighting terrorism. But President Bush has squandered that historic moment. . . . He rushed into battle—and he went almost alone. . . . I believed a year ago and I believe now that we had to hold Saddam Hussein accountable and that we needed to lead in that effort. But this Administration did it in the worst possible way: without the United Nations, without our allies, without a plan to win the peace. So we are left asking: How is it possible to liberate a country, depose a ruthless dictator who at least in the past had weapons of mass destruction, and convert a preordained success into a diplomatic fiasco? How is it possible to do what the Bush Administration has done in Iraq: win a great military victory yet make America weaker?

Kerry called on the Administration to “swallow its pride” and do what it should have done in the first place: bring in the U.N. and the “international community” to help America succeed instead of inviting failure alone.

Kerry’s position has not changed, and, seven months later, his critique of Bush is shared by a growing majority of voters. But passionate antipathy to Bush has not translated into a corresponding enthusiasm for Kerry. Even after his astonishing sweep of the primaries, and the widely celebrated selection of John Edwards as his running mate, Kerry perplexes much of the electorate. Although he has led Bush in the polls during the runup to the Democratic Convention, many voters still complain that they do not know what he stands for. Kerry can be frustratingly vague and inarticulate, but then Presidential challengers—who have no power to take action—have always thought it wise not to box themselves into specific foreign-policy commitments. In a race that is sure to be uncommonly harsh and uncommonly dirty, Kerry has sought to limit his size as a target. His ever-sharpening attacks on an ever more vulnerable President aside, he avoids taking firm positions on the immediate tactical questions of Iraq policy (whether the U.S. should send more troops, how to deal with the insurgents, how much de-Baathification is too little or too much), preferring to talk about strategy in broad terms that create the maximum contrast between his position and that of the President. Indeed, when it comes to Iraq, Kerry has been largely content so far to allow the Presidential race to play out as a one-man scramble, Bush vs. Bush.

Throughout the spring and early summer—with exposés of Bush’s rush to war stacking the best-seller lists, while the September 11th commission hearings filled television screens, alongside reports of rampant insurrection in Iraq and the irreparable disgrace of Americans torturing Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison—Kerry seemed to be measuring out his comments on the war with deliberate reserve. “A few months ago,” Richard Holbrooke said to me, “I couldn’t go down the street in New York or Washington without people stopping me and asking, ‘Why isn’t he speaking out more clearly on Iraq?’” But Holbrooke, who is considered a leading contender for the post of Secretary of State in a Kerry Administration, thought that Kerry had just the right strategy. “We are in the throes of the greatest crisis since Vietnam and maybe even worse. Kerry has to allow events to unfold. But he should not be expected to lay out a plan significantly more detailed than he has, because it’s not necessary at this point. Everyone knows he would do it differently.” Sandy Berger, who was Bill Clinton’s national-security adviser and who is now advising Kerry, agreed, and he went further. “There are no silver bullets on Iraq,” he said. “So if people are waiting for John Kerry to say, ‘The answer is Rosebud,’ there is no Rosebud.”

Americans are unaccustomed to questions of foreign policy, grand strategy, and war figuring decisively in a Presidential contest. In the nearly thirty years since our evacuation from Vietnam, such matters have been the province of specialists, addressed on the campaign trail with a minimum of partisan passion, either in broad abstractions (Reagan’s “evil empire,” Bush’s “new world order,” Clinton’s “assertive multilateralism”) or technocratically (arms control, U.N. resolutions, weapons systems, trade agreements). The shock of the September 11th attacks in 2001 forced these issues to the center of public consciousness and, simultaneously, muted political debate as the leaders of both parties allowed the President and his most favored ministers—Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, John Ashcroft—an extraordinarily free hand to promulgate and implement his war policy abroad and at home. It took Dean’s brief and sensational antiwar candidacy to bring this go-along-and-get-along period to an end. Since then, the unravelling of Bush’s case for attacking Saddam Hussein, and his retreat from his original ambitions for postwar Iraq, have left him increasingly on the defensive.

Subtract Iraq from the equation, and this would be a completely different election. Had Bush prosecuted the war differently—with the degree of international backing that Kerry advocated—or focussed his warrior energies after September 11th on making a success of rebuilding Afghanistan and pursuing Al Qaeda, who would now hold it against him? Ten years ago, Henry Kissinger identified “two contradictory attitudes toward foreign policy” in American history: “The first is that America serves its values best by perfecting democracy at home, thereby acting as a beacon for the rest of mankind; the second, that America’s values impose on it an obligation to crusade for them around the world.” Adherents of the America-as-beacon school were disposed toward isolationism, while those who subscribed to the notion of America as crusader were compelled to commit America abroad. When Bush ran for President, four years ago, he was an old-school beacon man, hostile to “nation building” and the overextension of American forces. After September 11th, he came out as a crusader, with an absolutist twist—a unilateralism so uncompromising that, as Kerry put it to me, “we’re the ones isolated.”

Despite the bloody and embittering disarray of Iraqi life after more than a year under the American dispensation, Bush describes the Iraq adventure as a great success for the cause of freedom—exactly as he said it would be before the war. The main change in attitude lies in the grammatical perspective, a shift in tense from future perfect to present continuous. If anything, Bush’s insistence on the righteousness of his script has intensified. He jokes about never reading newspapers, lets it be known that he communicates with the Almighty, and dismisses his critics as pessimists. He told the nation that if he had made any mistakes he was unaware of them, and he said, “I fully understand the consequences of what we’re doing. We’re changing the world.”

Last month on c-span, Kerry responded, “If you haven’t made mistakes, you’re not a living human.” By way of an example, he pointed to his own Senate vote, in October of 2002, for the Iraq war resolution. His mistake, he said, was “to trust what the President said” at the time. But Kerry didn’t repudiate his vote; he never has, even when the temptation was enormous. On the day after his appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations, last December, he spent the better part of two hours at the Upper West Side apartment of the comedian and Democratic activist Al Franken, trying to justify the vote to a couple of dozen pundits and reporters. It was a parochial gathering, all male, overwhelmingly Jewish, and, with the exception of a few professional agnostics, openly identified as liberal or, at least, unhappy with Bush. A friendly crowd, you would think, but Kerry tied himself in knots, rehashing all the what-ifs that he’d struggled with following Bush’s challenge to the U.N., a day after the first anniversary of the September 11th attacks: Join us in enforcing the many long-standing Security Council resolutions against Iraq, or we’ll do it our way without you. No politician at the time doubted Saddam’s mendacity, or questioned the existence of his arsenal of illegal weapons of mass destruction, and Bush promised that he would make war only as a last resort, and only with the fullest possible international support. It was obvious to Kerry that a President should have the authority to back up diplomacy with force, and he had announced before casting his vote that he was voting not for war but to prevent it. The attitude at Franken’s place was: Yes, sure, but how could you? Kerry said again that he’d been misled, and, when that still wasn’t good enough for some, he shouldered a measure of blame. “I believed,” he said, and he repeated the phrase several times: “I believed.”

On the campaign trail, Kerry’s oratorical style often brings to mind a man hailing a ship—one hand clutching a mike in front of his Adam’s apple, the other hand pistoning from shoulder to waist like an oil-field pump jack, his voice hammering along to the same relentless rhythm, a seesaw booming. At his declamatory worst, Kerry can turn good, sound thought and cogent argument into a swamp of sound that inclines the listener to tune out, much like the mwah-mwah-mwah of adults in “Peanuts” cartoons. But at the end of April, in Fulton, Missouri, he spoke about Iraq in the gym of Westminster College—a forum made famous by Winston Churchill, who first used the term “iron curtain” there, in a speech that is remembered as an opening salvo of the Cold War—and, reading from a teleprompter with both hands clutching the lectern, Kerry shed the grandiosity and sounded more the way he does in serious one-on-one conversation, firm and direct, comfortably in command. The shift in Kerry’s tone reflected his purpose, which was to speak, for once, not as a candidate must to score points and win votes but as a President should, and he spelled out the obligations of that purpose step by step as he went along: to name the “hard truths,” then to describe “what is possible,” and, finally, to explain, “Here is how we must proceed.”

Kerry owed his presence in Fulton to Dick Cheney, who had spoken at the hallowed gym a few days earlier and had spent so much of his time there Kerry-bashing that the school president—a retired brigadier general—had invited the Democrat to speak for himself. Cheney’s negative example required Kerry to demonstrate statesmanship by offering an alternative, corrective agenda. “This may be our last chance to get this right,” Kerry said, and, as always, that meant “We have to truly internationalize both politically and militarily: we cannot depend on a U.S.-only presence.”

The mission he had in mind was elaborate: involving the U.N. and nato and an international high commissioner in a dizzying hatchwork of overlapping and shared authority. It was as lavish an expression of multilateralism as the Bush mission is stark in its unilateralism. But, while there were too many notes in the composition of Kerry’s dream coalition, it struck the signature chord of his campaign’s foreign policy unmistakably: that “America is safer and stronger when it is respected around the world, not feared,” and that such respect must come from strong alliances, forged by the hard work of diplomatic persuasion under committed Presidential leadership. “Now the question,” Kerry announced. “Why would others join a cause that they did not support in the first place? For one simple reason: it’s in their profound self-interest. And the President needs to put that self-interest on the table and before the world.”

Kerry can’t be specific about what he would do in Iraq if he is sworn in next January 20th, because nobody knows what will be happening there then. He said that “America must lead in new ways” to meet “new threats,” “new enemies,” and “new opportunities” with “new approaches” and “new strategies,” to forge “a new era of alliances” and “a new direction in Iraq,” but there was nothing novel in the foreign policy he described. What he was calling for was a renewal of the approach to world order that Churchill envisioned in 1946—the preservation of international security through the web of alliances of the newly established United Nations. For all its inadequacies and failings, the Churchillian ideal of international coöperation had been upheld as the best way to safeguard America’s security and interests by every president until the Bush Administration kicked it over. This is the nut of Kerry’s argument on foreign relations—that Bush, despite his campaign slogan of “Steady leadership in times of change,” is a radical, whose “with us or against us” doctrine of preëmptive unilateralism amounts to a Texas-twanged cry of aux barricades! By contrast, the Senator from Massachusetts came across at Westminster as the conservative in the race.

But did this “plan” for multilateralism as an expression of naked self-interest amount to a countervailing Kerry doctrine? “I think it’s such a mistake to try to find one or two words, fancy slogans, to reduce a complicated process,” Kerry said to me, during a lengthy conversation in a muggy old athletes’ training room at Westminster, where he draped his elongated limbs over a too small chair. The notion of a Kerry doctrine seemed to take him by surprise, and not pleasantly. “You have to be careful of ideology clouding your decision-making process, which I think this Administration has been exceedingly guilty of,” he said, and added, “I don’t want to use the word ‘doctrine,’ but I do think it is time for a new—I said it today—a very new calculation of how we protect our interests and balance them in the world.” At the same time, he allowed, “There are times and places where you may lay down a law of behavior that amounts to a doctrine—you know, how you take a nation to war. Pretty firm in my belief system is the notion that, with the exception of an immediate emergency you have to respond to, it’s a last resort.” As a naval officer in Vietnam, Kerry had learned that he could kill when it came to that, and he told me, “I would never hesitate to use force to protect our country in any moment in time if I thought it was critical.” But he didn’t say how he might make that judgment.

Kerry has a habit of phoning around among a far-flung network of counsellors to gather conflicting opinions before reaching a decision. One result of this spongelike method is that it can be very hard for the person on the other end of a conversation with him to know just where he is heading as he circumnavigates an issue. It is not always obvious that Kerry knows, either, and his disinclination to codify his thinking on international relations, beyond a broad internationalist critique of the Bush doctrine, is generally seen as a political handicap.

“If you’re an extremist, everything’s clear,” Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was Jimmy Carter’s national-security adviser, said to me. “You’re fighting terror, period, wherever it is—it’s evil. Or you love everybody and foreign policy consists of being sweet to others, period. Whereas if you’re in the middle you have to sort of say, Well, we have to use power, but we have to be sensitive to principle, and you have to sometimes deal with dictators, yet promote democracy, and sometimes you have to use force, but generally speaking you have to be careful not to be excessive. You know, that kind of stuff. And that’s always much more difficult to explain.”

Kerry, however, makes no apologies for viewing foreign policy as a balancing act. After all, our chief enemies abroad, whether they be jihadi terrorists or North Korean Communists, are radical fundamentalists for whom dogma is impervious to reality. “Steady leadership in times of change” is a slogan that could apply equally to Kim Jong Il and Osama bin Laden. But Kerry contends that the slogan does not properly describe George Bush, and his objection is as much to the word “steady” as it is to the claim of “leadership.” Throughout the Democratic primary race, Kerry assailed Bush as “the biggest say-one-thing, do-another” President he’d ever seen, a charge the Bush campaign simplified to “flip-flopper” and hurled back at him in a seventy-million-dollar advertising campaign attacking him as if he were the incumbent. The accusations sound the same—each man is calling the other a liar—but there is a sharp difference between Bush’s complaint that Kerry is confusing and his positions elastic, and Kerry’s argument that Bush sows confusion with words and deeds that are deviously at odds. In Kerry’s view, Bush may come on as an ideologue, but his actions, whether in Afghanistan or Iraq, or in regard to homeland security, are invariably opportunistic, insufficient, and lacking the commitment that true conviction requires—in a word, cynical. In contrast to Bush’s dogmatic rigidity, Kerry’s flexibility—a difficult selling point for a candidate in any other context—can seem reassuring. His objection to ideology appears to be both visceral and intellectual, and in advocating what might be called a return from a faith-based foreign policy to a reality-based approach, his greatest challenge in running against Bush without an opposing doctrine is to make the case for being nonideological without seeming unprincipled.

“I have a thirty-five-year record of making it clear what my foreign policy is,” Kerry told me a few weeks ago in Washington. “I supported Bosnia. I supported Kosovo. I supported Haiti. I supported Panama. I support military action when I think it is appropriate. I supported deploying troops in the Western Pacific when we needed to stand up to the testing that the Chinese were doing with respect to Taiwan. I’m clear about my willingness to use force if necessary to protect our interests in the world and obviously to protect the security of our country.” At the same time, he said, “There are some clear routes by which you build alliances and make yourself stronger . . . build legitimacy for what you might have to do on your own otherwise.” After all, he said, “nineteenth-century and twentieth-century leaders didn’t have it all wrong as they understood the machinations of alliance politics and the need to negotiate your interest to the degree that you can until you’ve exhausted every possibility of doing so. You go backward to Disraeli and Metternich and forward to Henry Kissinger, in more recent times, and see how effectively we’ve moved on that stage. I don’t think this crowd has moved with great effect at all. I think they’ve been strangely and uniquely ideologically obsessed, Iraq-centric, to the exclusion of other critical priorities on the face of this planet and our security needs as a nation.”

In 1971, as a leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Kerry was called to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he argued that it was not too late for America to reverse its course in Vietnam, so that “thirty years from now, when a man is walking down the street without an arm, or a face, or a leg, and a little boy asks him why, he will have to say ‘Vietnam’—and mean not a desert, not an obscene memory, but mean instead a place where America finally turned and soldiers like us helped in the turning.” President Nixon was rattled. A White House tape made the next day, and quoted by the historian Douglas Brinkley in his book “Tour of Duty,” recorded Nixon telling his national-security adviser, Henry Kissinger, and his chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, that Kerry was a “real star,” and that, unlike the usual run of “bearded weirdos” protesting the war, “he was extremely effective.” (Within a week, Nixon’s counsel, Charles Colson, was looking for dirt on Kerry. “He is sort of a phony, isn’t he?” Nixon asked hopefully.)

Kerry believed that the American mission in Vietnam could not be saved, but he has opposed calls for a withdrawal from Iraq. At a campaign stop at City College, in Manhattan, in mid-April, when the Marines’ fierce, and ultimately failed, campaign to pacify the Iraqi insurgent capital of Falluja was at its deadliest, Kerry was harangued by another former Vietnam War protester, a retired math professor named Walter Daum. “What the United States is doing is bombing hospitals, bombing mosques, sniping at civilians, killing hundreds of civilians, wounding thousands of civilians. And you say, ‘Stay the course?’” Daum shouted. Kerry waded toward him through the audience. “This is an imperialist country that’s fighting an imperialist war,” Daum said. “People hate George Bush. By the end of your Presidency, people will hate you for the same thing.” Kerry had drawn to just beyond arm’s reach of Daum. “We are where we are, sir,” he said firmly. “And it would be unwise beyond belief for the United States of America to leave a failed Iraq in its wake.”

Being attacked as a hawk from the left while being dismissed as a dove from the right has helped Kerry to position himself as a centrist on both domestic and foreign policy. But questions about how and when he would use force abroad have vexed him throughout his Presidential bid, not least because he voted against the original Gulf War. Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait was an act of naked aggression, Kuwait was an ally, and vigorous American diplomacy had mustered a broad-based international coalition, including troops from five Arab nations, to join in the fighting under a U.N. mandate. During the early primaries, Howard Dean upheld the first Gulf War as being every bit as legitimate as the current one was unjustified, and he questioned Kerry’s judgment as a potential Commander-in-Chief.

Kerry defends his stand on both wars on the same ground: that the action was needlessly rushed, when a little bit more time could have been used to build a lot more support—in 1990 among an almost evenly divided American public, and last year among potential allies. In fact, in his Senate speech against the Gulf War resolution in 1991, Kerry repeatedly invoked the failures and agonies of Vietnam, arguing that the country was not ready to sacrifice another generation to the horrors of combat. He maintained that diplomacy could get Saddam out of Kuwait, and although he insisted that he was not a pacifist, he sure sounded like one when he read to his colleagues from the classic antiwar novel “Johnny Got His Gun.”

After Saddam’s surrender, in 1991, the first President Bush declared that America had been cured of its isolationist Vietnam syndrome, and, by all indications, Kerry was proof of that. In the subsequent decade, his willingness to approve force evolved, crisis by crisis, from a stated principle into a practice. A member of his Senate staff told me that, like everyone in Washington, he had agreed with the Clinton Administration’s refusal in 1994 to acknowledge the genocide in Rwanda, much less approve an international intervention there, even without American troops. “We learned a lesson: what happens if you don’t act to stop these kinds of crimes, and that we had to do it, that that was our responsibility,” the staffer said, and Kerry later supported American interventions in the Balkans. “Republicans hated—hated!—Clinton for going into Kosovo and Bosnia,” the staffer said. “And now they’re all gung ho.” Bush has lately claimed the Iraq war to be a Kosovo-like “humanitarian intervention,” but that notion has never had more than a minuscule following among Democrats; and although Dean’s candidacy imploded in Iowa, and voters united around Kerry as the best bet to beat Bush, a deep vein of disapproval for his Iraq votes still runs through the Democratic base.

That unease is compounded by the obvious political calculation of Kerry’s vote last fall to withhold eighty-seven billion dollars of auxiliary support for the military in Afghanistan and Iraq. As one of his advisers put it to me, “Off the record, he did it because of Howard Dean. On the record, he has an elaborate explanation.” Kerry originally supported an amendment sponsored by Senator Joseph Biden that would have funded the war by temporarily reducing Bush’s tax cuts to the wealthiest one per cent of Americans. But Biden’s bill had no chance of passing in a Republican-dominated Senate, and Kerry’s absurdly abbreviated account of the matter—“I did vote for the eighty-seven billion before I voted against it”—has left him open to relentless Republican ridicule. Biden himself ultimately voted for the money, and he confirmed that Kerry’s decision not to was “tactical,” an attempt “to prove to Dean’s guys I’m not a warmonger.”

Kerry prefers to describe his opposition as a protest vote, since he cast it knowing that the measure would pass, and he considers it a minor matter compared with the Bush Administration’s own inconsistencies about Iraq. “They have flip-flopped every step of the way in this thing,” he told me. “They flip-flopped on their rationale, they flip-flopped on what they said they’d do, they flip-flopped on each of the promises the President made about how he’d conduct it. They flip-flopped on when they would transfer authority. They flip-flopped on to whom. They flip-flopped on the U.N. They have flip-flopped on the intel, and they have obviously flip-flopped on the numbers of troops needed and how they would manage those troops, what the deployment times would be. I mean, this is an unbelievable series of flip-flops, with grave consequences.”

At campaign rallies, Kerry often says of Bush, “If you think I would have taken us to war the way he did, you shouldn’t vote for me.” This line is carefully formulated, he told me, “Because I might well have been in Iraq if Saddam had stiffed the U.N., continued to not allow inspections, hidden things. But I would have brought other countries to the point of impatience with him. Then they would have been there with us. And the President could have done that. I know it because I spent the time to go up and meet with Security Council representatives. I talked to them at great length prior to the vote.”

Kerry was the only senator to go to New York for such a meeting. “I came away convinced that they were serious, that the resolutions did mean something, that they saw it as a moment for the U.N. to stand up for itself,” he said. “But they had political issues in their own countries, their own populations weren’t ready, they needed to go through a certain walk up to it. That was legitimate, and the President never gave them a chance to do that—forced it down their throats, built up so fast—and they became aware that he just intended to go do this. He sent them a message of disrespect without the process. Then they got their backs up, and that led to a series of stubborn encounters that resulted in a failed foreign policy.”

Last month, when the Bush Administration secured a resolution from the Security Council lending a stamp of international legitimacy to the new Iraqi interim government, Kerry told me, “They’re moving in my direction. What they’re doing is what they’ve been advised to do from Day One, and stubbornly refused to do.” But he pointed out that immediately after the U.N. vote Bush hosted the heads of state of the G8 at Sea Island, Georgia, and they rebuffed his request for more substantial assistance. “No debt relief, no troops, no money,” Kerry said. “Finally, the Administration is begrudgingly trying to take some international steps, and it’s probably too little too late.” At nato meetings in late June, Bush was again denied any help on the ground in Iraq by our allies.

Kerry remains confident that if he were President he could succeed where Bush has failed. Indeed, he seems to attribute all that is strained in the transatlantic alliance to the Administration’s hubris and its diplomatic incompetence. “It will be easier for a Kerry Administration to call on our allies to fulfill their responsibilities,” James P. Rubin, one of Kerry’s senior foreign-policy advisers, said to me. “When a President can go to countries and say ‘I’m going to take steps that you’ve been calling for,’ he can also say, ‘Now take steps to do what we need.’ It won’t be easy, but at this point there’s a political cost for countries to coöperate with the U.S. With a Kerry Administration, that cost will change.” But European resistance to the Iraq mission was stubborn from the outset, and an influential European diplomat in Washington told me, “If what John Kerry says today is that he thinks that Europeans could drag that car out of the mud now, I believe this is not a realistic expectation.” European leaders would certainly welcome a change of American Presidents, but they have their own elections to think about, and it is not clear that they would make much of a sacrifice for the new man. “Because of how it’s been handled so far, Iraq is really not a good case to demonstrate the great advantages of transatlantic coöperation,” another diplomat said to me. “It is actually the worst possible case. Iraq is simply too much of a mess.”

Kerry rejects the notion that Iraq is a quagmire. Watching the ferocity and the futility of the siege of Falluja, he said, reminded him of “a Hamburger Hill kind of mentality.” But he does not agree with other leading Democrats, like his friend Edward Kennedy, that Bush has created a new Vietnam in the sands of Arabia. “It could become one,” Kerry said. “Is it yet? No, it is not, and it doesn’t have to be.” Indeed, the possibility horrifies him. One of his proudest achievements in the Senate was his work, in collaboration with his colleague and fellow-veteran John McCain, to establish the normalization of relations between Washington and Hanoi—an effort that required intense diplomacy not only with the Vietnamese but also, more painstakingly, at home, where persistent claims that Vietnam was still holding American prisoners of war, and withholding the remains of Americans listed as missing in action, had first to be laid to rest. Nevertheless, he said, “the lessons of the war I fought in are clear and strong and powerful, but they’re not the whole definition of my foreign policy by any stretch of the imagination.”

Kerry allowed that, for a young man at war, “seeing people killed and being asked to use guns against other human beings has an impact.” But he said, “The real impact is in what it taught me about setting mission goals; what it taught me about the promises you make to Americans; what it taught me about telling the truth about what you’re into and not lying to the American people about what you’re trying to accomplish or how; what it taught me about obligations to those who serve; what it taught me about feeling left alone by your own government and not having the support of the nation.” Kerry didn’t think George W. Bush had learned those lessons about war. “He saw it in a big sort of distant way,” Kerry said. “He didn’t even read his father’s book, the critical page—or, if he did, he ignored it.”

The book, “A World Transformed,” was written by the first President Bush and his national-security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, and the page in question describes why Bush the father left Saddam Hussein in power at the end of the Gulf War. To eliminate him would have incurred “incalculable human and political costs,” they claimed. “We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well. . . . Furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-Cold War world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations’ mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different—and perhaps barren—outcome.”

At the time, Kerry was one of many critics of the first President Bush’s abandonment of the oppressed Iraqis. But, in criticizing the second President Bush’s failure to plan for a post-Saddam Iraq, he told me, “Everything you’re seeing today was laid out in his father’s book.” As it happens, a number of things we’re seeing today were also laid out in a book by Kerry’s father, Richard Kerry, who was a mid-level diplomat in the Foreign Service in Europe in the fifties and sixties, where many of his assignments involved American relations with nato. In 1990—twenty-eight years after his retirement, and ten years before his death—he published a short book called “The Star-Spangled Mirror: America’s Image of Itself and the World,” a critical analysis of American attitudes toward other countries, political systems, and cultures, and particularly toward our nato allies. “On occasion we seemed to be telling them that we understood their vital interests better than they did,” Richard Kerry wrote, adding, “On many occasions the need to consult them in advance before taking unilateral action was simply ignored, and we often showed visible impatience with consultation.” What troubled him was what he perceived as an “ethnocentric” strain in the spirit of American exceptionalism, an approach to the world based on a stubborn conviction that “everyone ought to be like us.” Although the book was published after the Berlin Wall was breached, it was obviously completed while the wall still stood, and at its core it is an argument for what is known as a “realist” foreign policy—driven by a strict sense of national interests, with respect for other sovereignties, however alien or unsavory their values may be.

Richard Kerry took an equally dim view of Reagan’s “fatal error of seeing U.S. security as dependent on illusions of propagating democracy,” and of Carter’s “practice of asserting a ‘linkage’ that injected human rights into strategic issues.” The elder Kerry was an anti-crusader, without quite being comfortable with the idea of America as beacon, either. “The struggle to put policy in touch with reality was difficult enough before the siren song of promoting human rights,” he wrote. There wasn’t a President in the last half century whom he didn’t find to be infected by the zeal to divide the world into us and them. He was vexed by “those characteristics of the American mind which appear unalterably set against any contradiction by reality.” As for America’s involvement in Cold War proxy wars in the Third World, he wrote, “it requires a measure of self-righteousness to see unilateral measures as an act of collective security.”

Richard Kerry was a first-generation American, born in Boston in 1915. His parents, Fritz Kohn and Ida Lowe, were born Jewish—his father in what is now the Czech Republic, his mother in Hungary—and when they married they changed their name to Kerry (taking the name from a map of Ireland, the story goes) and converted to Catholicism before emigrating to America, in 1905. Fritz had become Frederick, also known as Fred, a businessman, who made and lost several fortunes in the shoe trade and as a sort of management consultant who reorganized department stores. One day, when Richard Kerry was six, Fred Kerry went to the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston and shot himself in the head with a handgun. His widow took their three children back to Europe, rearing them in France and Germany. Richard Kerry returned to America to attend Yale as an undergraduate, and law school at Harvard, after which he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He met his wife, Rosemary Forbes, in Brittany, where her family had a summer house. She was as pure an American aristocrat as they come, a descendant of John Winthrop, the first governor of Massachusetts, and of the Reverend John Forbes, who was posted to Florida in the service of the British Empire in 1763, only to side with the Crown during the American Revolution and return to England, leaving behind two sons, who grew wealthy in the China trade. During the Second World War, Richard Kerry tested planes for the Army, until he contracted tuberculosis, and he was in a military hospital in Denver when his first son, John Forbes Kerry, was born, sixty-one years ago this December.

So Richard Kerry was a man of many worlds and many perspectives. He served America, and found America strange—“virtually the only nation that defines itself by dedication to a value system.” Others were defined by blood and soil or by raw power, and that made sense to him, too: if they didn’t want to change us, why should we seek to change them? Richard Kerry left the diplomatic service a disappointed, perhaps even disillusioned man, according to those who knew him. He had wanted to be an ambassador. The passion of his later years was sailing. He taught John Kerry to fly, but he never told him of his own father’s Jewish birth or the details of his suicide; a Boston Globe reporter broke that news, just two years ago. John Kerry’s younger brother, Cameron Kerry, a Boston lawyer, describes the relationship between the father and his eldest son as close and “sometimes contentious,” with “competitiveness from both sides” and “arguing about politics, adolescent kinds of battles.” Cameron Kerry, who is one of his brother’s closest advisers, told me that his father bombarded the Senator with faxes, telling him what to do on political issues—and “if he really meant it” every word was in capital letters. It was “his way of asserting himself, and taking, I think, great vicarious pleasure in John’s achievements and position,” Cameron Kerry said.

The example of the two Presidents Bush stands as a strong caution against ascribing to a son the politics of his father, but it is impossible to read the sub-headings of Richard Kerry’s chapter on the Vietnam War without hearing an echo in John Kerry’s view of Iraq: “The Course of Escalation,” “The Inability to Come to Grips with Reality,” “The Inability to Admit a Mistake,” “The Inability to Remain in the Context of Limited War” (i.e., Al Qaeda, not Saddam), “The Inability to Do Without Absolutes.” Like his father, John Kerry is often described as a foreign-policy “realist.” He recently told the Washington Post that he did not think human rights should be the defining issue in international relations, and he also shares his father’s aversion to grandiose expressions of American exceptionalism. He came of age believing that a misguided foreign policy is one of the greatest threats to America’s well-being. One of his Senate aides told me that he recoiled in dismay when Madeleine Albright, speaking about Iraq as Clinton’s Secretary of State, declared, “If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further into the future.” Of course, the aide said, “it is true that we are the biggest guy on the block. But I think in John Kerry’s mind that phrase, in the ears of others, rang very poorly.” Kerry did not dispute Albright’s contention, but he expressed the sentiment differently. “It has fallen to us to be that country,” he told me. “It’s not romantic, it’s not arrogant, it’s just a reality, that we’ve been needed to lead in so many situations to make something happen.”

Kerry acknowledges his father’s influence “as a sort of thoughtfulness about listening and about culture and history, aspirations of other countries, and trying to see them through their perspective, not just your own, because you’ll understand better how to get from here to there if you do that.” But, even as Kerry expressed filial gratitude and respect, he stressed that he’d also disagreed with his father on many issues. “He could sometimes come to an outcome that was less ready to use force than I might have been,” Kerry told me. “He was not thrilled with Kosovo or Bosnia, and I felt it was critical.”

For all his caution about gunboat diplomacy, and his qualified view of the value of human-rights-driven foreign policy, in the past year Kerry has criticized the Bush Administration for refusing to send marines into Liberia, when both sides in that country’s devastating civil war pleaded for an American intervention, and for failing to intervene more swiftly during political turmoil in Haiti. He has also called for urgent American involvement to stop the genocidal campaign against the people of Darfur, in Sudan, where the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development recently warned, “If nothing changes, we will have a million casualties. If things improve, we can get it down to about three hundred thousand deaths.”

There is no guessing what Kerry would do about Liberia, Haiti, or Darfur if he sat in the White House, but he says that the Iraq war needn’t drive America back into the isolationist attitudes of the Vietnam syndrome. He insists that Iraq be seen as the Bush Administration’s mistake, not America’s, and that in the future, when there is a legitimate rationale to act in America’s interest “with respect for the American people, with an openness, with truth, with legitimate cause and intelligence,” then “Americans will follow the truth and respond to the real needs of our country.”

No other Vietnam War hero has ever been nominated for President, nor has any other former antiwar leader, and, while Kerry presents himself as a unifying figure, he embodies a conflict that is still surprisingly raw. “He’ll often thrash around in the night,” the filmmaker George Butler, who is one of Kerry’s oldest friends, told me. “He smashed up a lamp in my house in New Hampshire, in the bedroom where he was staying. Most Vietnam veterans go through this.” Butler, who made Arnold Schwarznegger famous outside the weight-lifting community with the documentary “Pumping Iron,” is now making a film about Kerry, based loosely on Douglas Brinkley’s book, which tells the story of Kerry’s service as a naval officer in command of Swift boats in 1968 and 1969. Kerry was in combat in Vietnam for four months, and he came home with three Purple Hearts for relatively minor wounds, a Bronze Star “for heroic achievement,” a Silver Star “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action,” and with what he called his “war notes,” hundreds of handwritten pages of journals and impressions. Excerpts from these writings form the best part of Brinkley’s book. There is no more intimate glimpse into Kerry’s inner reaches available, and what comes across, even when he is surrounded by the absurdity and waste of war, is the sense of a young man keenly alive to the world around him and to the strength of his own voice.

After a ferocious firefight, during which the corpse of a Vietnamese fighter he had known lay at his feet—“the alive shooting over the dead to remain alive”—Kerry wrote:

I was amazed at how detached I was from the whole scene. I just lay in the ditch, not firing because I wanted to save ammo and because I couldn’t see what I was firing at and I thought about what was happening in New York at that very moment and if people really felt that I was doing something worthwhile, while they went down to Schrafft’s and had another ice cream sundae or while some fat little old man who made another million in the past months off defense contracts was charging another $100 call girl to his expense account. And then, when the shooting stopped, I came back to where I was.

On another occasion, he wrote several pages about a mission to drop off Navy seal commandos close to the Cambodian border:

Running the rivers at night was something like flying a plane on instruments. The only difference was that we didn’t have any instruments. When it was pitch-black and there was no moon, the banks would blend in with the water and looking through the glass windows in the pilothouse, it was exceedingly difficult to find a horizon and tell where one was in the river. One could feel a graceful motion from the calm cut of the boat through the water, and this only lent further to the feeling of vertigo that sometimes caught the drivers. . . .
A group of the Vietnamese junks pulled in alongside us and we sat there listening to their small engines burp into the quiet of the night. Across the river, perhaps fifty yards away, we could see the villagers moving around in their huts, silhouetted by the fires that burned throughout the small town. The peculiar smell of their wood burning blew across us in wisps. All over Vietnam this smell had been the same. It was a smell that brought to mind poverty and dirty food and the ground to sleep on at night and it made me feel very clean and out of place.

Beyond the physical sensitivity of Kerry’s fine-tuned prose—his acute alertness to the shifting elements of sight, sound, smell, and movement that compose his narrow riverine universe in the jungle—what is most striking about this passage is that so little of it is about him. Only at the end, as if in afterthought, does he step back from his immersion in the Vietnamese night to register his awareness of himself as an alien intruder. Even when he tells of dissociating himself from battle by shutting his mind’s eye and thinking of Schrafft’s the focus is on all that lies outside him.

This quality of apartness—some call it aloofness; some call it shyness—remains one of Kerry’s most striking characteristics. In his boyhood, the Kerry family had no fixed address: they lived for a while on a farm outside Boston and for a time in Washington, then hopscotched around Europe on diplomatic postings of a few years each. When he was eleven, John Kerry was sent to boarding school in Switzerland for two years. Loneliness may be something one is born to—no formula can precisely correlate such inner states to external context—but Kerry’s boyhood required him to fend for himself emotionally at an early age. His bloodlines carried a sense of privilege and noblesse oblige, but his parents’ means were limited, and he could not take his position for granted. “We’re not the Forbes fortune, unfortunately—not in the direct line,” Cameron Kerry told me. “We were often exposed to it, around it, but not of it.” When John Kerry was sent to prep school at St. Paul’s, a great-aunt paid his tuition. In that bastion of sniffy Wasp insularity, Kerry stood out as a Catholic and as an unabashedly ambitious and serious kid. To boys with less, he might appear effete, but to those in his milieu who came from money and power sufficient not to question their entitlement he was often seen to be trying too hard.

“That irony is there,” Cam Kerry, who eventually went to St. Paul’s, too, said. He called the school “a very narrow place,” and acknowledged that his brother had not always known how to connect. “When you’re moving so fast, you don’t get a chance to see the things around you, and John’s always moving at a frenetic pace. Sometimes if you’re going eighty-five miles an hour in a car, you don’t see the things at the side of the road. If you’re going slower, you have more time to do that.” Cam Kerry explained his brother’s hurtling momentum as “metabolic”—“I mean he just has extraordinary energy and drive.” And John Kerry told me, “Listen, I can veg out on a beach like everybody else and be very happy. But I am a person who likes to get things done.”

Kerry’s earnest intensity was better suited to Yale, where he forged passionate and enduring friendships. As a champion debater, the head of the Yale Political Union, a member of Skull and Bones, and, ultimately, class orator, he was already understood to have an eye on the White House. He claims that his great love in those years was aviation, and jokes that he “majored in flying” during his senior year, spending a lot of time in the air with his fellow-Bonesman Frederick Smith, who later founded FedEx. Kerry has attributed his decision to enlist in the Navy rather than the Air Force to his father’s warning that the strain of serving as a pilot in wartime can dim the pure joy of flying for its own sake. Having volunteered for service, Kerry volunteered again for combat, although when he asked to be assigned to the Swift boats he thought they would be patrolling the South China Sea. “I didn’t really want to get involved in the war,” Kerry wrote later, and, he explained, “when I signed up for the Swift boats they had very little to do with the war.” By the time he got his first boat, however, the Swift fleet was reassigned to the Mekong Delta, which was then one of the nastiest and deadliest arenas in Vietnam. Kerry’s death-haunted journals are filled with fantasies of escape—to be a little boy again playing in the attic, to be like a toy bird, free “to hop on a breeze and be blown restlessly to some new horizon with new hope and strength.”

These days, Kerry surrounds himself on the campaign with fellow-veterans, and he features his naval career heavily in campaign ads, but he prefers not to speak in any detail about what he went through in Vietnam. Few voters knew the story of how he won his Bronze Star for saving a man’s life until that man, a lifelong Republican named Jim Rassmann, showed up in Des Moines during the last days of the Iowa primary race and returned the favor, helping to save Kerry’s political life by describing how Kerry, wounded and under fire, pulled him, hand over hand, from the water after he was blown off another American boat. Even then, Kerry said almost nothing about the incident, leaving the talking to Rassmann, with whom he’d had no contact in the intervening thirty-five years. He also resists speaking publicly about the incident that won him the Silver Star, but his surviving crewmates have told how, when they were ambushed by a Vietcong guerrilla firing rockets from the riverbank, Kerry made an instantaneous decision that evasive action was impossible, turned his boat directly into the fire, beached it, and leaped ashore, to the astonishment of the man with the rocket launcher, who popped up from his spider hole and fled. Kerry chased him and killed him. Navy men were not supposed to leave their ships during combat, and before recommending Kerry for the medal his commanding officer quipped that he wasn’t sure whether he shouldn’t court-martial him instead.

Reading Brinkley’s book, one wonders why Kerry’s campaign does not make more of another occasion when Kerry was sharply reprimanded for having stepped ashore. On a narrow tributary of the Duong Keo River, he and his crew came upon what looked like a deserted village. Then someone thought he saw a man running away. There was no response to a call for surrender, and Kerry took his gun and went to have a look. As he approached, forty-two Vietnamese—women, children, and old men—appeared with empty hands raised. They were in desperate shape, hungry and sick, and although Kerry received radio instructions to leave them and get on with the business of killing enemy combatants, he herded the villagers onto boats and took them to the nearest American base to receive food and medical care. “For an afternoon,” he told Brinkley, “it felt good to really be helping the Vietnamese instead of destroying their villages.”

Even before he volunteered for Vietnam, Kerry had begun to question the wisdom of the war, and, in a photograph of the pinning ceremony when he received the Bronze Star, he appears in his stiff dress whites and peaked cap, with his chin held high, his mouth turned downward in a grimace, and his eyes fixed far away, as if he were bracing himself for the stab of an inoculation. Two years later, Kerry began his antiwar testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by recounting hearings that the Vietnam Veterans Against the War had recently held in Detroit, where “many very highly decorated veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia.” These crimes, Kerry said, were committed “on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command.” To hear these veterans’ stories, he said, was to understand “the absolute horror of what this country, in a sense, made them do”:

At times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.

That same week, on “Meet the Press,” Kerry said:

I committed the same kind of atrocities as thousands of other soldiers have committed in that I took part in shootings in free fire zones. I conducted harassment and interdiction fire. I used .50-calibre machine guns, which we were granted and ordered to use, which were our only weapon against people. I took part in search and destroy missions, in the burning of villages. All of this is contrary to the laws of warfare, all of this is contrary to the Geneva Conventions and all of this is ordered as a matter of written established policy by the government of the United States from the top down. And I believe that the men who designed these, the men who designed the free fire zone, the men who ordered us, the men who signed off the air raid strike areas, I think these men, by the letter of the law, the same letter of the law that tried Lieutenant Calley, are war criminals.

A few months ago, Kerry again appeared on “Meet the Press,” where Tim Russert replayed that thirty-three-year-old clip and asked, “You committed atrocities?” Kerry said he regretted the word: “a bad word,” he called it, “an inappropriate word.” Such language reflected the anger of the time, he explained, “and I don’t like it when I hear it today.” But he did not disavow the underlying judgment. “It was honest,” he said. He knew that his critics took his remarks as a blanket condemnation of anyone who had served in Vietnam, and of America itself, and he told Russert, “I want you to notice that, at the end, I wasn’t talking about the soldiers and the soldiers’ blame, and my great regret is, I hope no soldier—I mean, I think some soldiers were angry at me for that, and I understand that and I regret that, because I love them.” When Russert declared that a lot of the stories of hideous criminality that Kerry recounted in his Senate testimony “had been discredited,” Kerry cut him off: “Actually, a lot of them have been documented.” After a moment, he said, “Have some been discredited? Sure, they have.” But Kerry remained proud of having taken a stand and of the stand he took. “I think we saved lives,” he said.

The length of Kerry’s answer, with its convolutions, qualifications, and repetitions, obscured the logic of his argument. This has been a persistent problem for him. While his habit of hedging may reflect an agile mind eager to preëmpt any possible misunderstandings, even those close to him complain that it can make his most consistent statements sound inconsistent. “John is substantively more sure-footed than he is politically adept,” Joseph Biden, a longtime friend and colleague of Kerry’s on the Foreign Relations Committee, told me. Another Kerry adviser said, “He talks Senate-speak, which is confusing.” Biden, who prefers to think that being a senator and being clear are not mutually contradictory propositions, said, “My plea to John is: ‘John, I don’t want to hear you explain another ****ing thing. Be declarative.’ And he’ll say to me, ‘Well, I’ll say it and explain it.’ I say, ‘Don’t explain it! Say it! Question and answer, period.’” Kerry’s ability to deliver swift, unambiguous statements has improved in the course of the campaign, and for now the controversy of his antiwar speeches has died down. In fact, the issue vanished abruptly from the news as soon as the story of torture at Abu Ghraib prison broke.

Bob Kerrey, the former senator, who lost a leg in Vietnam and won a medal of honor, and has since acknowledged being involved in atrocities while on a mission there, admires John Kerry’s advocacy against the war. “It was an act of courage,” he told me. Given the passions of the time, he said, “I thank God the microphone wasn’t on and recording everything I said when I was twenty-five years of age.”

Samuel Popkin, a political scientist at the University of California at San Diego, remembers the effect of John Kerry’s testimony in the Senate in 1971, as “second only to Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’” speech. Popkin had avoided the draft in an unusual manner, by going to Vietnam, in 1966, on a government-funded research grant to study village life during the war, and he had concluded, “The Communists are bad people, and it’s better for Vietnam if we win than if we lose. But we’re gonna lose, and it’s not worth it for America.” Still, he couldn’t relate to the draft dodgers back home. When he heard Kerry’s impassioned critique of the war, he said, “I was truly moved by being able to be antiwar without being anti-American. And I’m not very moved by most antiwar people, because they—not everybody, but many—were trying to make a moral principle out of cowardice. When somebody came and said, ‘I’ve been hit three times and let’s get out’—it’s just different at that point. I’d never heard of Kerry before that. And it was extraordinary. It reminded me of those medieval agrarian revolts where they’d go to a nobleman and say ‘Speak for us.’”

Later, when Popkin was living in Boston and studying American political campaigns—work that led to his classic book “The Reasoning Voter”—he met Kerry at several dinners, and his reaction was “Where’s the fire?” He found Kerry to be “powerful, thoughtful, but not crisp, and lacking in relaxed warmth.” On reflection, this made sense to Popkin. “That’s a thing about real warriors and great generals who are definitely very cool under fire,” he said. “True heroes aren’t flamboyant hyperbolists like the Ollie North types who look like they’re ready to fly off. Real warriors are often more like chess players than like steroid-crazy defensive linemen. They’re cold, quiet types, who only wake up when they have to act.”

Popkin argues that Kerry’s heroism in Vietnam, and the courage of his conviction in his Senate testimony—particularly when compared with Bush’s avoidance of the war, and his absenteeism from the Texas Air National Guard—is more important to the campaign than the particulars of his position on Iraq, because voters know what they think about Vietnam and remain confused by Iraq. “I want to know that, if push comes to shove, this guy’s going to do the right thing,” Popkin said. In his view, Vietnam is “a character magnifier,” and, just as Kerry’s war record can only help him, Bush’s can only hurt. “He’s been President for four years, so why does something he said about the National Guard matter? Here’s the answer: if you have doubts about now, that magnifies the doubts. It’s really easier to divorce him if you find out that he wasn’t honest in the first place—or if he’s having trouble paying you back and you find out he was bankrupt once.”

Rand Beers served with the Marines in Vietnam, and he has served as a foreign-policy or national-security officer under every President since Richard Nixon. In August of 2002, the Bush Administration named Beers Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Combating Terrorism on the National Security Council, a post he’d held under Ronald Reagan and the first President Bush. This was a version of the job that had previously been held by Beers’s good friend Richard Clarke, who is now famous as the author of “Against All Enemies,” the best-selling exposé of Bush’s Iraq and terrorism policies. Within a few months of his assignment, Beers concluded, as Clarke did also, that the Administration’s focus on Iraq was sapping its attention to the war on terrorism and the demands of homeland security. But his alarm at the resurgence of warlordism in the former Al Qaeda strongholds of Afghanistan was ignored, and on the eve of the invasion of Iraq he resigned from the White House “in opposition to the war” and, he told me, “because I wanted to be part of changing the regime” in Washington. “We were supposed to be facing the most important enemy that we had, Al Qaeda, and we were moving off of that.” Beers soon had a new job, as the top foreign-policy and national-security man on the Kerry campaign.

Beers had admired Kerry’s work in the Senate on the Iran-Contra investigation, on narco-terrorism, and on the restoration of relations with Vietnam. But he was especially encouraged by the speed with which Kerry began to question the Bush Administration’s dedication to fighting Al Qaeda after September 11th. Kerry was among the first public figures, in 2002, to charge that Bush had not matched his action to his rhetoric in pursuing Osama bin Laden but had in fact let him slip away in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan, where American commanders hired tribal fighters of dubious allegiance to pursue him instead of sending in our Special Forces. (“After all the chest-thumping, and commitment of America to avenge what happened and to capture Osama bin Laden, we were timid—to say the least—at Tora Bora, and in our response,” Kerry told me.) “We didn’t know then what we know now” about Bush’s eagerness to shift the theatre of war to Iraq, Beers said, but Kerry’s “prescient” recognition that the fight against Al Qaeda was being neglected convinced him that Kerry was the man to back against Bush. As it turned out, Beers said, “Iraq, for better or worse, has become part of the war on terrorism if only because it is an inspiration to Al Qaeda in its recruitment efforts.” But he told me, “At the same time, we’re going to have to figure out how to strengthen the war on terrorism more broadly, which is why we come back to that central point, which is, we have to find a way to bring more of the world into this part of the struggle.”

Beers’s prominent position in the campaign reflects Kerry’s desire not to allow Iraq to define the limits of the foreign-policy debate. In late May and early June, Kerry gave a series of speeches about national security, in which his focus was pointedly on areas that have been eclipsed by Iraq: nuclear proliferation, homeland security, and the expansion and transformation of the military. In these speeches and on the stump, Kerry rarely speaks directly of the September 11th attacks, cutting a strong contrast to Bush, for whom that was the date when “everything changed,” an all-defining political conversion experience that serves as the equivalent of his renunciation of alcohol in favor of Christianity. What was destroyed for Bush on that day was all that came before, and he seemed to welcome the destruction as if it filled a great void. Afterward, he joked that he could now increase the national deficit. War, recession, national emergency, he said: “Lucky me, I hit the trifecta.”

July 23rd, 2004, 11:06 AM

Bush’s three-horse apocalypse set him free; as a “war President” he has felt justified in doing whatever he likes and nothing he doesn’t care to. But the immediate popular heroes of September 11th were the firemen and emergency medical technicians, whose national unions have both endorsed Kerry. That day was truly “a central moment,” Kerry said to me, but he added, “There are certain rules of behavior and standards of relationships that have served us for centuries, which didn’t change. The need to be strong through alliances didn’t change. The need to be strong through a military that is well equipped and second to nobody in the world in its execution and capacity to meet the challenge of the moment didn’t change.”

Kerry went on, “I think this Administration has made America less safe in the world generally. . . . They haven’t transformed the military the way they should’ve. Our troops are overextended.” The Pentagon’s policy of forcing National Guard and reserve troops to remain on active duty after completing their tours amounts to “a back-door draft,” he said. In the meantime, “we haven’t contained the loose nuclear materials we should’ve in Russia. How are we safer with so much nuclear material available to terrorists? I think if you just measure these threats—go around the nation, ask hospitals if they’re prepared for an emergency bio-terror attack—there are inexcusable, glaring deficiencies.” There was no reason for America to be so weak, and it was not just a question of military defense. The country needed to “unleash the full panoply of weapons in our arsenal, which includes our economic assistance—economic clout—our aid programs, our Peace Corps, our ideas, our values, our health care, our technology.” Winning the war of ideas is a challenge, Kerry said, “but it’s not a clash of civilizations. It’s a clash of civilization vs. uncivilization.”

Kerry’s litany of all that the Bush Administration has ignored is very nearly as big as the world: China’s rise as a huge power, Russia’s uncertain transition, Iran’s nuclear program, and North Korea’s unchecked accumulation of atomic bombs. Ronald Reagan was willing to sit down with Gorbachev and work for disarmament. “Did the Russians cheat?” Kerry said. “You’re damn right they did. Did we continue to talk to them? You’re damn right we did. Did we eventually get to a more intrusive verification? You bet we did. And ultimately that’s how you go down the road.” But Bush abandoned comparable efforts with North Korea because, he claimed, he didn’t want to reward bad behavior. Now Pyongyang was “moving in the other direction, building a new round of nuclear weapons, scrapping treaties, and literally sending messages that they’ll do whatever they want,” Kerry said. “That is not a way to create a safer world.”

Where was America? Kerry kept asking. Why doesn’t the Secretary of State spend more time on airplanes? “Get out front,” he said. The Israelis and the Palestinians need help: “This Administration disengaged for fourteen straight months in an unprecedented fashion, allowing the Middle East to sort of spiral down.” Kerry acknowledged that America has “a special relationship with Israel,” and that “the fact is Israel has no negotiating party today” on the Palestinian side. But he said, “I believe we should have been consistently engaged. I think we should be engaged in economic transformation. We should be engaged in more direct efforts with the Saudi Arabians, the Egyptians, and the other countries to develop that entity that Israel can deal with, to stop the support for Hamas, Hezbollah, the Al Aqsa Brigade, and to be legitimate. And to do that you’ve got to be viewed as willing to be an honest broker.”

After thirty-five years in public life, Kerry is still very much a work in progress, as anyone who dares to be President must be, until he is defeated or retires. He is also uneven, alternating between intensely focussed discipline and lucidity and phases of vagueness, when he goes into a sort of battery-saver mode. “John always hits the long ball when he’s ready to call it, and he’s always capable of rising to the occasion,” his friend George Butler told me. “But in a curious kind of way he does play possum in the unimportant moments, almost as a way to divert people’s attention from his ultimate goal.” Every politician claims to prefer it when the punditry “misunderestimates” him, as President Bush put it, but John Kerry didn’t appear to be enjoying it a bit in December, when he was getting slaughtered in the polls, and even members of his staff shook their heads when he pronounced himself “a good closer.” Anthony Trollope, writing about love and politics, observed, “Men are never gentle in their triumph.” But there was no mistaking the sweetness Kerry was savoring on primary night after primary night this year as he embraced his wife, Teresa, at his victory parties.

Shortly after his Senate testimony on Vietnam, in 1971, Kerry was featured in a segment of “60 Minutes,” titled “First Hurrah,” during which he was asked if he wanted to be President. “Of the United States?” Kerry said. “No. That’s such a crazy question.” But he has wanted to be where he is, running for President in an epochal election, for a very long time, and the ferocious contest he finds himself in is well suited to him, not because he likes combat, exactly, but because in combat he tends to handle himself well. Of course, as he knows, many good soldiers have fallen in battle.

“It seems to me that John Kerry is as perfect an embodiment of our national passage since 1965 as John F. Kennedy was for an earlier generation,” Richard Holbrooke told me. “John F. Kennedy and George Bush senior were good heroes in a good war. Kerry was a good hero in a bad war, and then turned against the war. Ever since then, he has stood for a committed internationalist foreign policy. He believes in American values passionately, and he also believes in the limits of military power, and in its application when necessary. John Kerry is normally a cautious person, except that every once in a while he does these amazing things, like turning his Swift boat right at his Vietcong attackers. He is both careful and fearless, cautious when he approaches an issue, and then very decisive. He’s not scared of head-on confrontation.” But Holbrooke said, “This is a referendum on Bush and Iraq. We’ve got a long way to go to the election, and three undetermined events are key here—what happens in Iraq, whether we kill or capture bin Laden, and whether or not there is a terrorist attack in the United States.”

Kerry doesn’t disagree, although he told me, “No matter what happens, the economy is going to be important. But I think these guys—what they’re trying to do to me reflects their bankruptcy of ideas. They don’t have a real economic plan, except for the tax cut. They don’t have a real health-care plan. They don’t have a plan for education, except the broken promise of ‘No Child Left Behind.’ So, therefore, what do they do? They attack, they attack, they attack, they attack. And I will continue to talk throughout this campaign about foreign policy and the war on terror and how to make America more secure.” That was the bottom line, he said: “I think we can do better. I know we can do better. I absolutely know we can do better.” By John Kerry’s own assessment, doing better is a woefully low standard—and that, he told me, was precisely what made him run for President. “I just said, ‘This has gotta stop.’”

July 28th, 2004, 02:26 PM
Sandy Berger, who was Bill Clinton’s national-security adviser and who is now advising Kerry, agreed, and he went further. “There are no silver bullets on Iraq,” he said. “So if people are waiting for John Kerry to say, ‘The answer is Rosebud,’ there is no Rosebud.”

That's a good line.. too bad Berger turned out to be Citizen Kane.

August 1st, 2004, 02:25 AM
President Kerry?

After the strongest speech he has ever given, the Democratic candidate is starting to convince America he can oust George Bush

Sunday August 1, 2004
The Observer (UK)
Paul Harris

Democrats are confident Kerry will win

The fireworks exploded in the night sky and illuminated John Kerry dancing on the stage next to Boston harbour. It was way past midnight and he had delivered the most important speech of his life.

The man who would be president punched the air and gleefully pointed at the colourful explosions like a teenager. As the theme from Star Wars blared out at the public party, his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, laughed and mimed playing a violin. Their children looked on in celebration.

The Kerrys had every reason for feeling pleased with themselves. The Democrats had just completed one of the most remarkable conventions in their recent history. Normally famed for squabbling, the party united solidly behind Kerry. From left to right internal critics morphed into firm supporters. The party draped itself in patriotism and the heroism of Kerry's Vietnam record.

It was a stunning turnaround. Just a year ago, as Democrat activists scanned an unknown and fractious field of contenders, it seemed Kerry and his ilk were battling only for the right to lose to President George Bush. Kerry, if he won the nomination, would be a sacrificial lamb.

What a difference a year makes. Democrats have energised and united as Republican woes have piled up. Now talk of President Kerry does not seem ridiculous. Some experts see it as likely. Democrats now genuinely expect to win. Kerry's convention, seen as a crucial test, has finally introduced him to the national American audience. Many may have liked what they saw.

But in reality the fight is far from over. Though Kerry was late to bed on the Thursday night after his speech, he rose at dawn from his mansion in the plush Beacon Hill district at Boston's heart. Before morning was over on Friday Kerry was already hundreds of miles away, in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, hitting the campaign trail on a two-week tour across the mid-west swing states that will decide his fate. He hopes it is a road that will lead to the White House.

If Kerry wins it is men like Bob McLane who will have sealed his victory. Wearing a camouflage jacket, McLane stood up in front of a room packed with Vietnam veterans who had come to Boston to campaign for their former comrade-in-arms. 'Welcome home, brother,' one veteran called. 'It is good to be home, brother,' McLane replied.

McLane's voice then quivered with emotion as he detailed his tour of duty in the Vietnam killing ground of Khe Sanh. He praised Kerry's service and later stance against the war. 'He stood up to tell the world about the war that he saw at his own hands,' McLane said. He appealed for veterans to get out and vote and then said bluntly: 'I am going to a swing state.' He turned on his heel to leave the room, the applause ringing out behind him.

Like no other Democrat candidate, Kerry has wrapped himself in the respect veterans such as McLane command in America. Specifically, Kerry's service in Vietnam has become the defining idea of portraying Democrats as strong on defence. It is a powerful tool, especially when compared to the dubious national service of his rival Bush. 'Kerry is not your typical Democrat challenger,' said his foreign policy advisor Susan Rice. 'He is a decorated, battle-hardened veteran. He understands war.'

Vietnam and the three Purple Hearts Kerry won while commanding river boats there dominated the convention. Pictures of Kerry in uniform covered the walls. A nine minute video, produced with the help of Steven Spielberg, used it as a centrepiece to tell Kerry's story.

It was a clever move. Kerry's record in Vietnam neutralises the Democrats' traditional weakness of being seen as soft on defence. It also helps flesh Kerry out as a person. His former crewmates, whom Kerry refers to as his 'Band of Brothers', travel everywhere with him and were a regular feature at the convention. They speak movingly of their ex-commander. 'We were all with John Kerry in that damn stupid war. For the 30 years I have known John Kerry he has never lied to me,' said Del Sandusky, a shipmate aboard Kerry's PCF-94 boat.

Kerry's family have also played a role in trying to put across a fuller picture of 'John Kerry the man' both to convention delegates and a wider America. At one meeting of women delegates last week Kerry's wife and two sisters gave speeches. They were backed up by John Edwards's wife, Elizabeth, and their daughter Cate. The convention was a family affair.

In Boston Kerry's relatives were deployed as never before. His daughters, Vanessa and Alexandra, were regular speakers. They helped introduce their father with childhood stories. Kerry's stepsons, Chris and Andre Heinz, were also regulars at breakfast meetings, lunches and dinners. They all embraced Vietnam. In her speech to the convention, Alexandra Kerry recounted stealing upstairs as a child to read her father's Vietnam letters. 'Who knew a 23-year-old could have seen so much, so young?' she said.

But there is another war that got less attention at the Democrat convention. That is the conflict in Iraq in which Fernando Suarez lost his soldier son, Jesus. Suarez was not shy about mentioning Iraq and he had a message for Kerry in Boston. 'My son died. For what? Because Bush lied. Pay attention Mr Kerry. The people watch your actions,' he said.

But Suarez was not a speaker at the convention. He was at a peace rally on Boston Common a mile and a half away. Inside the hall itself and at countless convention meetings very few strayed off the simple message: don't mention the war. That was an astonishing achievement. Polls show that 93 per cent of delegates in Boston were against the war, far more than most Americans. Iraq has been the most dominant and divisive issue in American politics for a generation. It is the reason behind much of the Democrat hatred for Bush. It is the main reason why Democrats are so energised to win.

But both Kerry and Edwards voted for the war. Speaking out strongly now would seem hypocritical and it would also open them up to Republican attacks on their patriotism. A spat over Iraq could shatter the carefully built up picture of strength on national security. Democrats at all levels have made the decision to back Kerry in the belief that he can win. Speeches were vetted and dissent was not tolerated.

'It is taboo. The war is why I am here but it is an issue only for the outspoken,' said Democrat activist Vanessa Chapeton. Mentions of Iraq, which became more common towards the end of the week, stuck to the line of supporting the troops and criticising only the lack of intelligence and ineffective post-war planning. The message was ruthlessly enforced.

Almost. Even in Boston cracks in the newly unified edifice of the Democratic party did appear. It was only a few minutes into Reverend. Al Sharpton's speech that the main teleprompter began to whirr up and down. The operators should have saved themselves the trouble. Sharpton was not reading from his speech. Scheduled for just six minutes, Sharpton spoke for 20. He shattered the unspoken 'no Bush-bashing' rule and launched broadside after broadside against Bush. 'In all due respect, Mr President,' Sharpton exhorted. 'Read my lips: Our vote is not for sale!' As top Democrats fumed, Sharpton was given a standing ovation. The anger in the party still boils below the surface.

Dissent was elsewhere too. At a meeting with film-maker Michael Moore and Kerry's ex-rival Howard Dean so many people turned up that 700 were locked out. Dean was introduced with the words: 'Welcome to the alternative Democratic party convention'.

Away from party handlers, Dean joked about the situation. 'No one is calling the President a fascist. You can't do that. Well, not this week anyway,' he laughed. Dean was mobbed by the throng, many of whom had flocked to his anti-war campaign when he was the frontrunner. 'We like Kerry, we will work for Kerry. But we love Howard Dean,' said delegate Maggie Hanson. On her T-shirt she wore a sticker that said: 'I am in an arranged marriage with John Kerry.' Back inside the convention hall Dean did his duty. He backed Kerry all the way.

The simple fact is that Democrats are so desperate to beat Bush that they have swallowed their differences. They know the elusive swing voters scattered in a handful of key states want moderation, not aggression. That is why another key theme of the convention was the relentless stress on optimism. In a nation starkly divided 50-50, the middle ground has to be won with smiles not shouts.

But as John Kerry travels America over the next two weeks he knows there are signs of hope. Republicans have decried the lack of huge bounce in the polls emerging from the convention. But in this election year, many voters have already made up their mind and most experts expected little movement.

In fact, by going in to his convention ahead of Bush, Kerry is already in a strong position. In the last 50 years only three challengers have entered their convention ahead of an incumbent president. All of them won. Kerry may not have to persuade America to love him, just to see him as a safe pair of hands.

Yet there is a long way to go. Polls show many voters have grave doubts about Bush but they remain unsure of his opponent. It is a problem for the Democrats that they have united, not out of love for Kerry but out of dislike of Bush.

The battleground states are still up for grabs. Bush will hold his convention in New York at the end of August. His formidable election machine has also hit the road. Bush will rarely leave the campaign trail for the next four weeks. Kerry concluded his convention speech with simple words addressed to the undecided: 'I will work my heart out. But, my fellow citizens, the outcome is in your hands more than mine.'

We are family: how electoral success is all relative

Americans are long used to relatives of their election candidates hitting the campaign trail, but John Kerry and John Edwards use their families like never before. Their large clan of wives, siblings, daughters and sons are now an ever-present factor in their bid to win the White House.

Teresa Heinz Kerry

* Wife of John Kerry

* Africa-born head of one of America's largest charities.

* Aged 65.

Chris Heinz

* Son of Teresa Heinz Kerry and stepson to John Kerry.

* Once dated Gywneth Paltrow. Close adviser to campaign.

* Aged 31.

Andre Heinz

* Another stepson to John Kerry. Famous on the campaign for his Arnold Schwarzenegger impressions.

* Swedish-based environmental consultant.

* Aged 34.

Alexandra Kerry

* Kerry's brunette daughter with his first wife, Julia Thorne.

* Actress and film-maker. Making a documentary on her father.

* Aged 30.

Vanessa Kerry

* Sister of Alexandra. A Harvard medical student.

* Told the convention a story of her dad rescuing her pet hamster.

* Aged 27.

Elizabeth Edwards

* Wife of John Edwards who is an accomplished lawyer as well as mother-of-four.

* Had two more children after accidental death of son Wade, aged 16.

* Aged 55.

Cate Edwards

* Daughter of John and Elizabeth Edwards.

* Recent graduate of Princeton.

* Aged 22.

Emma Claire and Jack

* Children born to the Edwards family after death of Wade.

* Popular and cute campaign props who have become overwhelmingly famous on the campaign trail.

* Emma Claire is 6, Jack 4.

September 24th, 2004, 09:18 AM
It so happens I had my breakfast of eggs with the Heinz Organic Tomato Ketchup...


Teresa Heinz Kerry is an uncharted element on the road to the White House.
Issue of 2004-09-27
Posted 2004-09-20

The child of nature was a creature invented by the Romantics, whose cult of authenticity informed the literature of the next two hundred years. His direct descendant is the protagonist of countless modern films and novels: the prisoner of a false self revolting against the artifice of conventional narrative. On the face of it, Teresa Heinz Kerry makes an unlikely rebel. She is a sixty-five-year-old Catholic billionaire, born into the colonial society of Mozambique, whose tastes, pieties, and hobbies—cultivating roses and collecting still-lifes—are those of a traditional, if not Victorian, lady. But when she calls herself “a child of Africa” one can hear an echo of Rousseau, and it reverberates in the impulsive salvos (playful, caustic, or profane) for which she has been ridiculed as “bonkers” and “a loose cannon.” The natural woman refuses to suppress her élan or subordinate her character to a role. “I don’t want to lose myself,” she said to me recently, “because if I do then I think my husband loses something, too.”

Three years ago, when John Kerry was discussing a potential Presidential race with a small circle of advisers, his wife “blessed his decision and accepted it as a partner,” a member of the group recalled. “She said she knew what was involved, but, to be fair, no one does, and any thinking human being would have qualms. She certainly made it clear that she would be her own person, and we wondered if she was going to be perceived as a breath of fresh air or as a threat; if her straight speaking would motivate voters—women in particular—or if we were going to spend the campaign watching our back, tensed for a blowup. We called it the Teresa factor.”

The role of First Lady is, in many respects, as archaically courtly as the title, and history suggests that a woman who plays it may be forgiven for weaknesses perceived as feminine—Betty Ford’s depression, Jackie Kennedy’s extravagance, Pat Nixon’s fragility, Nancy Reagan’s faith in astrology—but not for strengths perceived as manly. In a deeply pious country founded by Puritans, the spouse of a President is also, to some extent, the minister’s wife. She commands sympathy and reverence only so long as her conduct is irreproachable or her husband’s isn’t. Though she is not ritually invested with the sins, evils, or ill luck of the tribe, she is nevertheless a scapegoat of sorts—a propitiatory figure saddled with the culture’s burdensome ideals of wifely and maternal virtue.

Heinz Kerry has made a feminist issue of her entitlement to express herself, and if she were a man, she says, no one would denigrate her as “opinionated.” She lectures knowledgeably on the inequities that confront women in the workplace and champions the excluded and discounted women of the Third World. One of the lucky charms that she wears on a necklace (another is a four-leaf clover that Kerry gave her one Valentine’s Day) is a religious medal that her dying mother received from her confessor. He got it from Mother Teresa, who embodies the vocation for which Heinz Kerry would best like to be known—tireless caregiving. Her father, a Portuguese-born oncologist, had hoped that she would become a doctor, “and she kind of wanted to,” a close friend, Wren Wirth, the wife of Tim Wirth, a former Democratic senator from Colorado, says, “though she wanted to get married and have children even more.” At the height of the women’s movement, in the nineteen-seventies, she was the stay-at-home mother of three little boys for whom, she says, she washed cloth diapers. She calls herself “a spokesman for women’s ability to be at the center of the family.”

But Heinz Kerry intends to be the first spouse of a President employed outside the White House (Hillary Clinton gave up her legal career when her husband was elected), and though she performs her share of the expected campaign chores—reading to toddlers and laying wreaths—some of her speeches and seminars on the hustings would not be out of place at Davos. They have focussed less on John Kerry’s legislative achievements, human qualities, or political agenda than on her own eventful biography and the work of the Heinz Endowments, a charitable enterprise seeded by the family fortune of her first husband, H. John Heinz III, a Republican senator from Pennsylvania.

Many of the voters who come out to meet Heinz Kerry are middle-aged working women, chafing at constraints they have outgrown, and they applaud her defiance in breaking the mold of First Lady-like self-effacement. (Breaking molds is otherwise known as iconoclasm.) Kerry himself admires his wife’s intellect and independence, he told me, and he seems to accept stoically, if not with relish, that she is “saucy.” Even if he doesn’t, “he wasn’t blind,” she says. “He knew what I would be like, what he was getting.”

Nevertheless, recent approval ratings for the infallibly sunny and conventional Laura Bush, who is her husband’s greatest booster, are vastly superior to Heinz Kerry’s (seventy-two per cent, according to a poll taken by the Los Angeles Times, to thirty-five per cent). Even many Democrats admire Mrs. Bush. Americans in large numbers, regardless of their party, tell pollsters that they don’t vote for a First Lady and that their opinions of Laura or Teresa won’t influence their decision on Election Day, but the two wives have a significant influence on voters’ perceptions of the candidates. Kerry’s image is still sorely deficient in the warmth and human definition that Heinz Kerry herself possesses and might lend him. The adviser involved in Kerry’s early strategy meetings told me that he is surprised by her reluctance “to trim the sails” of what he and others describe as a “self-referential” presentation that has often dwelled, at inopportune moments, on her memories of Heinz and on his legacy. “She made some stirring and lovely speeches, particularly during the primaries, when you thought, Goddam right, Teresa!” he said. But her habit of running on private rails rather than on the main line has dissipated some steam from the campaign. “It isn’t as if there have been no specific conversations with Teresa about the necessity to fill in the picture,” the adviser said. “John had a few himself, but he would ask others to convey the message.” Perhaps, he reflected, she tends to reject criticism imperiously “because she’s used to tremendous deference. When you have so much money, and give so much away, everyone, from governors on down, courts your approval. I think she sometimes has problems with a secondary role.”

On the campaign trail with Heinz Kerry, I occasionally closed my eyes and concentrated on her diction and accent. She pronounces folksy locutions with upper-class British vowels, sultry Portuguese s’s, and pizzicato t’s. Her repartee is quick, with a Gallic tartness. Backstage at a fund-raiser in New York, she bantered with her son Andre, who recently moved to Pittsburgh from Stockholm, in perfect French and the convincing Swedish of a Bergman spoof. The Hispanic press in South Florida was disappointed, last spring, that she declined to be interviewed in Spanish, which she speaks fluently, though with the occasional Italian verb. She explained that it would take three weeks to get her vocabulary up to speed for a serious policy discussion, but that she would be happy to oblige the reporters with a little “chitchat.”

Despite her linguistic prowess and her worldliness, Heinz Kerry has, at times, a deaf ear for the nuances of slang, code, condescension, and vulgarity in English—for the emotion of the language. “There are these bizarre moments that make you shudder,” the Kerry adviser said. “Like calling herself African-American to black audiences.” She dismissed voters skeptical of her husband’s health-care proposals as “idiots,” and, in a television interview with a Pittsburgh anchorwoman, employed the word “scumbags” to describe some of her detractors. I doubt that she knows the literal meaning of “scumbag,” but perhaps, after forty years in America, nearly thirty of them as a political wife, observing how the flaws and contradictions of a personality as complex as hers are melted down for ammunition by the other side, she should have learned it. Close friends attribute her lapses of discretion to “naïveté.” Heinz Kerry says that they are a form of resistance to enforced conformity. “I don’t like to be told, for told’s sake,” how to behave, she says, “because I lived in a dictatorship for too long.”

During Heinz Kerry’s childhood, Mozambique—a colony of Portugal for some four hundred years—was ruled by the Fascist government of António Salazar. She hasn’t been back to Mozambique since April of 1974, when she was thirty-five, and married to John Heinz. It has changed too drastically, she says, and she is afraid the experience would be distressing. On that visit, she took her three sons to see their grandparents. Christopher, the baby, was a year old, and his brothers, Andre and John, were four and seven. The family was scheduled to return to the United States on April 25th, but the borders were closed and the airport shut down. That day, Salazar’s heir, Marcelo Caetano, had been ousted in a bloodless military coup. Its leaders were a cadre of young Army officers, many of whom had fought in their country’s African wars and returned home—like some of their American contemporaries in Vietnam—radicalized by the destruction they had helped wreak. They pledged free elections, the restoration of civil liberties, and an end to colonialism.

When the news from Lisbon reached Lourenço Marques, the capital of Mozambique, stunned and ecstatic people took to the streets. Teresa Heinz and her father attended the first open meeting of frelimo (Frente da Libertação de Moçambique), which had been waging a guerrilla war of liberation for more than ten years, and they joined the vast throng of celebrants marching through the “cement town.” (The expression, which refers to the European enclaves in Mozambique’s urban centers, alludes to their solidity rather than to their ugliness. Most Africans lived in wretched shanties on the outskirts, which were known as “cane towns.”) The parade took her up and down familiar, still well-kept avenues lined with jacaranda trees dripping pale blossoms, past the Museum of Natural History, next door to which her grandmother had lived, and past the colonial villa on the cliffs overlooking the Indian Ocean where she and her siblings grew up.

In the early months of Kerry’s campaign, Heinz Kerry rarely gave a speech or an interview that wasn’t redolent with nostalgia for the sensations of her childhood (the steamy vibrance of New Orleans reminded her of home, she said, as did the palm trees and tile roofs of Florida and the earthiness of Pittsburgh), and she continues to invoke what she sees as Africa’s lessons about nature, race, freedom, dependence, and survival. When she urges Americans to exercise their right to vote, she likes to observe that her father was seventy-one when he cast his ballot in a free election for the first time.

Heinz Kerry’s father moved back to Portugal with his wife after the Socialist regime of Samora Machel came to power in Mozambique, in 1975, and the country became independent. Machel nationalized private property. “My father wanted to die there,” she told me with bitterness. “He didn’t come to make money to take back to Portugal. He had nothing in Portugal.” But, as crime rose and the economy crumbled, white nationalists who had supported frelimo felt, she said, increasingly embattled and marginalized. “The Portuguese colonials were not bad people compared to the crooks who took over,” she told a reporter in Fort Lauderdale last March, and added that she could empathize with the Cuban exile community in South Florida because her parents had also “lost everything to the Communists.”

Heinz Kerry was in Fort Lauderdale to address a group of women supporters at a luxurious faux hacienda on the intercoastal waterway. It was a hot morning, and on the opposite bank workmen building a new mansion had taken their shirts off, and were gawking and gesturing, none too politely, at the ladies milling on the terrace and in the garden. Some members of the construction crew had evidently gone to the trouble of lowering a scaffold from which to spray a graffito, about ten feet high, in red paint, on the side of the bulkhead: “Liberals Ruin U.S.A.”

The guest of honor arrived late, as she tends to. Her staff tries to keep her to a tight schedule, but she says that she’s “too old to be bossed around.” As a speaker, she often gives more of herself than she is asked for, lingering in reception lines and becoming absorbed in an anecdote or the answer to a question. She speaks in an intent, unhurried fashion, and without notes. Her facts are hard and her command of them impressive, though her tone is whispery and caressing. Heinz Kerry describes herself as shy, and in the early months of the campaign she often hid in the corner of a stage, blushed at an introduction, covered her face, or did an awkward little pirouette of embarrassment before grabbing a mike with both hands and ad-libbing for an hour. Part of her reserve seems to be a reluctance to perform or emote on command. “My back goes up,” she says. It also rises when she is asked questions that she considers demeaning, hostile, or intrusive, and she is, apparently, unaware that her provocative rebuffs encourage reporters to keep asking them. A friend in Washington who has known her well for decades sees her displays of intemperance as a function of anxiety. “When Teresa is calm and relaxed, in a small group, among supporters, or one on one, she is an utterly delightful human being: loving, funny, and kindhearted. Her friends adore her, and she’s devoid of malice. But she’s very spoiled, and it’s not clear to her that in politics the attention—which she likes—comes with heat.”

Heinz Kerry has an unlined complexion, elegant gestures that punctuate her speech, and the well-tended simmer of a retired Latin film star. Her dark eyes are widely set and, like her temper, have an emphatic flash. She dresses with expensive understatement, however. A consultant versed in the semiotics of campaign style may have suggested the bright-red ensemble that she wore to the Democratic Convention (red is said to telegraph sentimental warmth to women voters), but throughout the spring she travelled in the same three or four black, taupe, or beige designer suits. She accessorized her outfits with a misshapen straw hat; prescription sunglasses; a cardigan; Chanel boots; a large diamond ring; a Hermès satchel; a rhinestone campaign pin and a polyester scarf with a print of Kerry’s initials that she helped design; and her necklace of charms. In the name of truth-telling, but also because she enjoys the incredulity of younger people when they hear that she is sixty-five, she makes a point of mentioning her age and the fact that she is married to a man five years her junior. She says that she would like to be a model for older women who feel sexually disenfranchised, and to “liberate them from the feeling that they die as women” when their youth is gone.

It should be said that Heinz Kerry is routinely cornier and more cordial than she is high-handed or inflammatory. (One of her favorite adages is “Put your arms around the problem, and it begins to get solved.”) But she sometimes seems bored when others speak. On camera, her tinted reading glasses make her look aloof. At a rally one evening in Chicago’s Union Station, wearing a low-cut white blouse and a black suit, she projected—while Kerry spoke—the languor of a maja. On other occasions, she took slugs from a water bottle, frowned, slumped, scribbled a note, fiddled with her rings and hair, or whispered to someone on the dais.

Heinz Kerry brightens visibly, however, when her husband sounds his call for ending America’s moral, economic, and diplomatic “isolation.” Kati Marton, the author of “Hidden Power,” a study of modern Presidential couples (her husband, Richard Holbrooke, advises Kerry on foreign policy), believes that, whatever her liabilities as a candidate’s wife, “Teresa would be an enormous asset” as the country’s second foreign-born First Lady. (Her only predecessor would be Mrs. John Quincy Adams, née Louisa Catherine Johnson, and in some senses she shouldn’t count. Adams’s mother was English, but her father was an American living in London, who became the United States consul there after the Revolution.) “At a time in American history when we have alienated so much of the world, Teresa, with her languages and her cultivation, could perform a real service as an envoy in a way that Jackie Kennedy or Hillary did,” Marton says.

An envoy is a stand-in, however, and Heinz Kerry seems to prefer her own ground. She defines her role in the campaign, or the one she feels best equipped to play, as “helping people to connect the dots—that’s what I like to do,” she says. “For instance, during the Iowa primaries, I was talking with small farmers and environmentalists about pesticides, aquifers, the big Ag subsidies, and what they are doing. And it so happened that the W.T.O. was meeting, and I read that the Zimbabweans had walked out, because they could no longer afford to sell their corn and compete with the American farmers subsidized by the big Ags. So I talked about it, and they got very excited to learn that what was an inequity to them was an inequity to poor people elsewhere. That is what a globalized world really does. And then I talked about aids and sars, and aspects of trade or foreign policy, and I tied it up to terrorism and how you fight it—by having the best intelligence, and investing in our firefighters, our police, our C.D.C., and epidemiology. And maybe also in a new special force at home, but, most important, in teaching languages, knowing the countries, and forging real friendships with the world, so we can get the information ahead of trouble. You know, Americans are smart, but they only know what they see and hear. How many read op-ed pages?” She would like to make a weekly broadcast, “perhaps on c-span, talking and listening and feeling part of making people’s lives better.”

In her eagerness to connect the dots for people, Heinz Kerry sometimes fails to appreciate that, beyond the Beltway, many voters have no idea what she means by “Kyoto,” “the big Ag subsidies,” “the W.T.O.,” and “the C.D.C.,” or by “Socratic dialogue” and “thinking in silos”—two of her catchphrases. The students at Bethune-Cookman College, in Daytona Beach, half of them male and most of them under twenty-one, listened politely but with glazed expressions to a digression about hormonereplacement therapy for the symptoms of menopause.

A few days before Heinz Kerry acquired a Secret Service detail, in April, she was mixing a grog for an ailing journalist (she is full of remedies and medical advice, some of it holistic or homeopathic) and lamenting the imminent end of her life “in the normal world.” Despite her belief that her wealth doesn’t or shouldn’t define her, many Americans find it difficult to imagine that a woman as rich as Heinz Kerry lives in the normal world. They expect a grande dame in the mode of Mrs. Astor, with white gloves, if not of Alexis Carrington, with scarlet claws, and when they meet her in person, at a rally or on a rope line, they are often disarmed by her lack of affectation. “She talks too long,” Jane Bell, who does market research in Des Moines, said to me after a campaign event, “and in that sense she’s worse than he is. But she comes across as genuine and very bright and deeply compassionate. It’s not her fault that she has all that money. I like it that she hasn’t started baking cookies. And that African childhood is a terrific asset.”

Maria Teresa Thierstein Simões-Ferreira Heinz Kerry was born in Lourenço Marques on October 5, 1938. She describes herself as “the dull one” of three siblings, “the easy middle one. My mom used to say I never gave them one day of worry.” Her sister and brother “were supremely intelligent, particularly my sister,” she says. “On the other hand, I got better grades than they did, because I applied myself.” Her brother, the oldest child, earned a degree from Cambridge, and her sister—so incongruously fair in a dark family that she was nicknamed bebê inglês—died in a car crash at nineteen.

The Simões-Ferreira family produced some of Lisbon’s most distinguished lawyers and judges (and also a poet, Heinz Kerry recalled, who was “crazy as a loon,” and a friend of Sartre’s), so her father’s choice of a career in medicine was, from his parents’ point of view, mildly heretical. He emigrated to Mozambique about the time Salazar seized power, and, having married a young woman from Lourenço Marques’s cliquish British colony, set up a practice in Manjacaze, northeast of the capital—an inland village that was a center of cashew-nut cultivation.

Andre Heinz describes his maternal grandmother, Irene Thierstein, as a Mediterranean matriarch of the old school. “She was sweetness incarnate,” Heinz Kerry’s friend Wren Wirth says, “and very firm about her faith.” Thierstein was born in Mozambique to a couple who had immigrated from South Africa at the time of the Boer War. Her father was the scion of a Swiss-German family living on Malta, and her mother was the half-French, half-Italian daughter of an Alexandrian shipowner who traded with Russia during the Crimean War.

When Heinz Kerry’s mother was pregnant with her first child, she contracted a kidney ailment in Manjacaze and nearly died. The family returned to Europe for a few years so that she could regain her health and her husband could study a second specialty—radiology. Thereafter, they gave up the notion of living dangerously and settled in the capital, where Simões-Ferreira opened an oncology clinic. His children had a modern urban childhood that included movies, pop music, and dating. “My life was idyllic,” Heinz Kerry says, “but more modern than Isak Dinesen’s.”

On weekends and holidays, the family stayed at a cottage overlooking the Uembje lagoon, in Bilene, a hundred miles north of the capital. There were masses of flamingos in the saline pools near the shore, and a landscape of verdant brush and white dunes. Though Heinz Kerry describes the region as “bush” (her memories of underdevelopment have a colonial flavor), it was already becoming a beach resort. But at five o’clock on Saturday mornings her father went to work in an informal clinic under the pergola in their garden. Teresa helped him make rounds—an experience that she recounts regularly to voters. The patients were desperately poor peasants living in wattle huts who had no other access to medical care. Infant mortality was then about thirty per cent, though it often took the mothers two years, she says, to overcome their fears and bring their children for treatment. Because so few rural Africans spoke Portuguese, it was difficult to communicate. Teresa’s father compiled a hand-written dictionary of Ronga, a local language, that she inherited and keeps by her bedside.

Heinz Kerry insists that even though she possesses a great fortune and its attendant perquisites, including the private jet in which she campaigns—a Gulfstream II—she could be “perfectly happy” living under a thatched roof. She also likes to say that “my Africa preserved the innocence of children.” But the insouciant egotism of privilege is its own form of innocence. Though the stamp on her Portuguese identity card categorized her, she tells voters, as “a second-class citizen,” her parentage entitled her to a first-class life. “There was a natural apartheid in Mozambique,” she says, one that was economic and social, not legalized. “There were not that many Africans going to high school yet, or who would go to a movie, or who would do some of the things that we did, but my little school did have some mulatto girls.”

When she was fourteen, Teresa was sent to a Catholic boarding school in Durban, where she was one of three foreigners and barely understood a word. Her English was still elementary, but, by working with her habitual application, she “got the hang of it.” She won prizes for French and music, but she missed her own piano. “I wanted to become a concert pianist,” she told me, but the music teacher crushed her hopes for a career, pointing out that her hands would always be too small to make an octave. “I felt so gypped,” she said. “I never had another piano lesson.”

After graduating at the top of her class, Teresa enrolled at the University of the Witwatersrand, in Johannesburg—the “Oxford of South Africa”—at a moment of heady, though not yet revolutionary, intellectual and social ferment that would shortly be suppressed. She majored in Romance languages, and she says that she especially loved seventeenth- and eighteenth-century history and French theatre. She took classes in political science, which helped shape her rosy first impressions of America. Those textbook outlines of democracy were colored in by the Hollywood movies of the period. “I really admired a country that produced the Bill of Rights and ‘Some Like It Hot,’” she often says.

In April of 1959, despite her mother’s disapproval, Teresa joined her classmates and professors in an unprecedented, prominently reported demonstration of unity (the protesters wore academic robes) against a law that would extend apartheid to the few institutions of higher education that were still integrated—including their own. The legislation passed that June, nine months before the Sharpeville massacre. Some of her friends eventually went to jail, Heinz Kerry says, but the protests of 1959 were peaceful by the standards of what was to come. She left for Europe after she graduated, and enrolled at the Interpreters’ School at the University of Geneva. John Heinz—the heir to the eponymous condiment fortune—was taking a year off from the Harvard Business School to work at a Swiss bank, and they met on a tennis court.

Heinz, the only child of divorced parents, had been sent to boarding school at a tender age. His old friend David Garth (who was a media strategist for Heinz’s five successful runs for Congress—two for the House and three for the Senate) suggests that he suffered in his relations with an overbearing father. The Heinz patrimony traditionally helped underwrite the cultural life of Pittsburgh, where the company has its corporate headquarters in a high-rise on one side of the Allegheny River and its old factory—an industrial landmark of sooty brick, crowned by a smokestack and an enormous neon ketchup bottle—on the other. The Steelers play at Heinz Field, and a walking tour of the city’s cultural district, once a combat zone of peep shows, adult book shops, and flophouses, gives one a sense both of the family’s munificence and of its mystique. According to Janet Sarbaugh, who directs the arts and culture programs at the Heinz Endowments, the formidable father-in-law of “Mrs. Heinz,” as she is still known to her staff, bought up many of the derelict properties and “spearheaded their transformation.” Among the benefactions that Pittsburgh owes, wholly or in part, to the dynasty of which Heinz Kerry is now what Wren Wirth calls “the Regent” are Heinz Hall, a Jazz Age movie palace restored to its period opulence; the even larger Benedum Center, home of the Pittsburgh Ballet and the Pittsburgh Opera; a modern sculpture garden with works by Dan Kiley and Louise Bourgeois; a public theatre designed by Michael Graves; the handsomely landscaped riverfront; and numerous buildings at the university, including the Heinz Memorial Chapel.

“I felt sympathy for this girl from Lourenço Marques,” David Garth said. He was referring to the daunting prospect of entering Pittsburgh society—a clannish oligarchy of banking and steel magnates—like the common-born upstart from a distant tropic who captivates an heir to the realm. Garth met Teresa Simões-Ferreira in New York in 1964, and was smitten with her. “John and I were a couple of bachelor jerks,” he said. “And I had never heard him serious about anybody else.” Garth had also never met a woman as unawed by the manly virtues and material comforts that made Heinz “one of the ultra catches in the country,” as he put it. “Teresa was not a rollover, and I liked that about her. She was very independent. When you met the two of them early on, she was the one who struck you as the natural politician. She was always concerned with issues—as a Senate wife, she took up the plight of Soviet Jewry, among other things—and she follows through. You don’t make an idle remark to her and think it will be lost. She has always been—I hate the word—genuine. She doesn’t watch what she says, but I’ve been involved with politics at what I consider a fairly high level for most of my life, and I’ve never seen anybody worth a damn who didn’t have her attitude.”

Heinz Kerry describes herself as an immigrant and makes common cause with other naturalized citizens striving toward the American dream. She spent her first year in this country living in a town-house apartment on East Eighty-first Street, near the Metropolitan Museum, deciding whether or not she could adjust to American life. Her future with Heinz hinged on the decision. The relentless pace and rudeness of New York overwhelmed her. But she had landed a job at the United Nations. She worked for the Trusteeship Council, “which doesn’t exist anymore,” she noted, translating and analyzing information on colonial economic activities, and tracking the progress of decolonialization. The job brought her into occasional contact with her countryman Eduardo Mondlane, the founder of frelimo. He worked at the Secretariat when he wasn’t leading the nascent revolution in Mozambique. Mondlane encouraged her research, and they reminisced about home. She was moved to hear him say that her father had made an impression on him as a boy in Manjacaze, where he was born.

Heinz Kerry’s stint at the United Nations gave her her first taste of political disillusionment. “I remember sitting in the Security Council with Mondlane, a few years before he was assassinated”—he was killed in 1969—“and they were fighting and carrying on about colonies,” she recalled. He listened to the empty Cold War rhetoric for a while, then said to her, in a weary voice, “It’s like watching a soccer match.” She realized that “the truth was irrelevant,” and “all my hard work—the facts I was searching for—meant nothing.” Her experience at the U.N., she told a Brazilian journalist in Fort Lauderdale, was a “banho”—a bath, or, perhaps more fittingly, a baptismal immersion—“de realpolitik.”

Heinz was an Episcopalian, but Catholicism, Heinz Kerry says, “is part of me, you know—part of who I am.” Even in the late fifties, her piety impressed her contemporaries as anachronistic. A Heinz family member describes Teresa as “straitlaced” and uses the word “romanticism” to characterize her feelings for the Church: “When she was a young woman, her ideas were mystical and half-baked, but they’ve gotten much clearer.” From the perspective of an orthodox Catholic like her mother, however, Heinz Kerry’s position on reproductive rights qualifies as sinful. In her early twenties, she ended an otherwise congenial romance when her suitor admitted that if he ever had to choose between saving her life and that of an unborn child he would, without hesitation, follow Church doctrine and let her die. She also had the courage—or impertinence, depending on one’s point of view—to tell Bishop Wright of Pittsburgh, in a pastoral interview that took place shortly before he presided at her wedding, that she “wanted lots of children” but that she didn’t believe in the Church’s views on contraception. “You wouldn’t talk about abortion in those days—you didn’t think about it,” she said to me. But, years later, after the birth of her three sons, she was prepared to abort a pregnancy severely compromised by high doses of a steroid medication. A miscarriage spared her from a choice that, despite her ambivalence on the subject—abortion, she says, is a “terrible thing,” and anyone who treats it lightly is heartless—she feels all women should be free to make.

The wedding of John Heinz and Teresa Simões-Ferreira took place in February of 1966, at the Heinz Memorial Chapel. A blizzard had dumped five feet of snow on the city, and the bride “cried every week” thereafter through the first year of her new life. Her husband was commuting from long hours at the family company to their farmhouse on ninety acres in the fashionable suburb of Fox Chapel, and she was homesick and lonely. “But then,” she told me, “you have a baby, and things start becoming a unit, and you grow up. I grew up with a guy. Who I was in love with. Who made me a woman, you know? Mother of his children. And an American.”

Happy marriages seem to be as rare in contemporary politics as they are in modern fiction, though the Heinzes, according to their friends, had one. “Their closeness was something you don’t see if you’ve done as many campaigns as I have, and seen as many disenchanted couples,” Garth said. The Heinz family member noted, however, that John Heinz could be difficult and dogmatic, and that, while Teresa was always “feisty,” and their tugs-of-war had a “flirtatious” tension, she lived in the shadow of his authority. “He was very tough, and he ran the show. He had the money and she didn’t,” a friend in Washington said. His son Chris describes him simply as “the boss.”

Chris is dark, muscular, and good-natured, with his father’s chiselled features. He graduated from business school three years ago and worked briefly in private banking before quitting his job to campaign for Kerry, whose steadiness, he said, supplies ballast to an “emotional family.” His oldest brother, John, sanctions no intrusions into his privacy. He began working with inner-city children while he was at Boston College, and became a Buddhist. At an alternative Buddhist school that he co-founded, in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, he teaches troubled adolescents and reproduces medieval tools and armor on a blacksmith’s forge. His wife is a doctor, and their daughter is Heinz Kerry’s only grandchild.

Andre—a polyglot like his mother—is a consultant to businesses interested in sustainable development. He jokes that his first name destined him to be the European in the family. His coloring is Iberian, and an excellent tailor and beautiful manners that are reserved without being stiff contribute to his patrician air. When I met him at a gala in New York in April, he seemed unnerved to have been swept into his mother and stepfather’s court of bodyguards, staffers, volunteers, and press. “It was all a bit surreal,” he said. “We are kind of a private family.” He calls Kerry his mother’s “kindred spirit,” though he adds that, while “John has a lot going on upstairs—he is thinking all the time, parallel processing—Mom is very intuitive. At the end of the day, she listens to her gut, and that’s why she is such a conundrum.”

Heinz Kerry described herself to the students in Daytona Beach as a “strict, bossy, witchy mother.” Her sons were forbidden to eat junk food and were restricted to thirty minutes or, at most, an hour of television a week, after which they had to write a brief report explaining why they liked the program they had chosen. “So we spent our time figuring out how to watch TV and eat junk food,” Andre said. “Mom could be terrifying,” he added, affectionately. “She was like concentrated juice: strong-willed, outspoken—a tour de force.”

The principal reason that Heinz Kerry balked at releasing her tax returns, she says, was to protect her sons’ privacy (they have complex joint trusts). John was apparently the least willing to condone the exposure. She says she initially believed that the political uproar about her taxes was just “noise from the right,” but when the noise became a general uproar she grudgingly produced a summary of her 2003 income—$5.1 million—and the effective tax she paid on it, about eleven per cent.

On April 4, 1991, John Heinz and six others, including two children, died in a collision of his chartered plane with a helicopter over a schoolyard in suburban Philadelphia. Shortly before he was killed, he and his wife had been discussing ways to find financial support for an interdisciplinary research center at the Environmental Defense Fund, of which Heinz Kerry was a vice-chairman. “I was in despair about it,” she told me. “And he said, ‘Don’t worry, you are a very wise person, it will be O.K.’ Those were his last words, and they helped me later on. Because it wasn’t something he’d ever told me—that I was wise.” For a long time, she was devastated by his death, to the point of paralysis.

In addition to around half a billion dollars—which, by the most recent estimates, has since doubled—Heinz left his widow their farm, Rosemont; a brick town house in Georgetown; a fifteenth-century barn reconstructed beside a river in Sun Valley, Idaho; a beach compound on Nantucket; and one of the finest collections of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish art in private hands. David Garth and others, including Arlen Specter, the senior senator from Pennsylvania and, like Heinz, a Republican who was willing, on occasion, to cross the aisle, urged her to run for her husband’s seat, which is now filled by Rick Santorum—an outspokenly conservative politician whom Heinz Kerry once called “a Forrest Gump with attitude.” Heinz Kerry was a registered Republican of the Rockefeller school until 2002, and she hasn’t altered her views in any essential way. When she changed her affiliation, it wasn’t for Kerry’s sake, she says, but because she felt alienated by the increasingly strident, divisive rhetoric of the Republican Party. She found the tactics that the Republicans used to defeat Max Cleland, the Democratic senator from Georgia, who lost three limbs in Vietnam, “unscrupulous and disgusting.” Cleland was accused of being “soft” on homeland security, and the conservative commentator Ann Coulter claimed that he had caused his own mutilations by mishandling a grenade. “What does the Republican Party need?” Heinz Kerry asked in a CBS television interview. “A fourth limb to make a person a hero?”

Having survived the abrupt and violent losses of both her husband and her sister—two “comets,” as Heinz Kerry put it, whose brilliance had always eclipsed her—she felt that she had, in middle age, been given a belated chance to test her mettle and achieve her own prominence. She chose to do so in philanthropy rather than in politics. Grant Oliphant, John Heinz’s former press secretary, who is now the associate director of the Endowments, gave me a tour of Heinz Kerry’s offices. They are laid out like a village street in some imaginary Southwestern town, and decorated with Early American folk art and artifacts, including a tattered flag with thirteen stars; a cigar-store Indian; and a statue of Uncle Sam from Coney Island. The exotic trees that supplied the wood came from sustainable plantations. In Heinz Kerry’s opulently spacious private aerie, a wall of glass opens onto a terrace with sweeping views of the Pittsburgh riverfront that she has helped revitalize. What was once one of America’s most polluted cities is now, according to Heinz Kerry, one of its cleanest, in part because of her environmental leadership. Like the new convention center several blocks away, for which she sponsored a design contest, the offices are so scrupulously “green” that one can, in theory, eat the carpets.

The Endowments’ assets—about $1.3 billion—generate between sixty and seventy million dollars a year, which, Oliphant says, “is distributed to an array of progressive, mostly environmental causes, but also to programs that are faith-based and conservative, such as charter and Catholic schools in the inner city, and organizations that teach parenting skills.” Still, he says, “the Endowments have been under attack for months by right-wing groups attempting to cast Teresa’s philanthropy as extremist and left-wing.” The attacks— which have been discredited as baseless smears by political fact-checkers at the Annenberg Public Policy Center—include assertions that Heinz Kerry helped to “launder” charitable contributions and that she gave money to a foundation with links to Hamas. (The editor whom Heinz Kerry told to “shove it” on the eve of her Convention speech works for the conservative Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, which aired some of the accusations uncritically.) The donations in question were a decade’s worth of support for the Tides Center and Foundation, and were earmarked for specific environmental projects in Pennsylvania and for youth and economic-opportunity programs. Tides also funds antiwar, civil-rights, and pro-choice organizations, but demonstrably not with any Heinz money. “It’s crazy,” Oliphant says, “because she isn’t an ideologue—she’s a pragmatist, and she thinks from the middle.”

Heinz Kerry broadened the Endowments’ scope and changed their philanthropic style. They still provide funding for the arts, but they also support a range of experimental initiatives in toxic-waste cleanup; community mental health; early-childhood development; preventive medicine; pensions for homemakers; prescription drugs for seniors; and education. “It’s the difference between old-fashioned patronage and investment,” Janet Sarbaugh said. The Endowments’ strategically targeted grants are accompanied by tight fiscal oversight, and recipients lose their support, as the Pittsburgh public-school system did, if they don’t meet high expectations of performance. “Rather than set ourselves up as white knights whose generosity and intercessions will save the world,” Heinz Kerry wrote in the Fall 2002 issue of H, the Endowments’ quarterly, “we need to think of ourselves as partners in the rough-and-tumble enterprise of social change.”

John Kerry, like his wife, can be prickly about her immense wealth and its influence. “Yes, she has money,” he told me, “but the money is irrelevant to who she is and how she defines herself.” (He tends to take questions like an aggressive steeplechase rider on a testy stallion: forward in the saddle and wary of the hidden trap.) Kerry doesn’t see any impropriety in a First Lady funding and directing her own “policy lab.” “That’s the world she loves,” he said, though he claims that she will also find time “to do what First Ladies have done historically,” which is to adopt a cause. When a reporter in Baltimore asked her what that cause might be, she answered coolly, “I don’t think of my work as causes—I think of it as work.”

Though Heinz Kerry likes to attribute what critics see as impolitic behavior to her experience of tyranny, she lived with an ambitious politician of lordly ways longer than she ever lived under a dictatorship. At the surprise party that Heinz organized for her fiftieth birthday, she, in turn, surprised the guests by telling them that she had “paid my dues and I wasn’t going to put up with any more stuff I don’t want to. Finito. It was the most liberating thing in the world.” Heinz was considering a Presidential bid at the time of his death, and his wife hated the idea. She told him that he would have to run “over my dead body.” I asked her why she had changed her mind this time. Two years ago, she replied, she began to have “a feeling of urgency about what’s going on in the world, and at my age it seemed a little selfish” to stand in Kerry’s way. She thought the matter over on a long hike, and decided that “I shouldn’t stop him. I should help him. And so I did.”

Teresa Heinz met John Kerry in Washington, D.C., on Earth Day, 1990. He was speaking at a rally on the Mall, and she had come with her first husband, who was also scheduled to address the crowd. Both senators sat on the banking committee, and they were collegial acquaintances. While they were waiting to speak, Heinz introduced his wife to the gentleman from Massachusetts. By the time Kerry met Teresa Heinz again—in Brazil in 1992—she had been widowed. They were both delegates to the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Kerry was impressed when she took over from a Brazilian interpreter she thought was subverting the meaning of a speech. They went to Mass at the cathedral, and chatted in French. (When two Americans lapse into French, it is usually for the purpose of flirting.) He had been divorced from his first wife, Julia Thorne, for four years, but they had lived separately for a decade. Their daughters, Alexandra and Vanessa, were students of eighteen and fifteen.

The adjectives that Kerry used in describing his second wife to me—“grounded, no-nonsense, down to earth, straightforward”—may not jibe with Andre’s image of her as a conundrum; or with Chris’s volatile, exacting Latin mother; or with the charming and “cozy” woman who, her friend in Washington says, has a tendency toward “narcissism” in times of stress. But they suggest Heinz Kerry’s allure to a rootless and aloof man with a much buffeted personal life. At forty-eight, Kerry had been enjoying—or, at least from the frequency with which his name was linked with beautiful women, seeming to enjoy—the sexual prime of a powerful bachelor, but the gossip annoyed him. He just wanted “to fall in love,” he told the Boston Globe, which had been tracking his dates, and he didn’t want girlfriends attributed to him “until I’m committed and want that relationship known.” Kerry’s finances were unsettled, too. (His most recent disclosure lists personal assets in the range of half a million to two million dollars.) Thorne had a private income, but Kerry paid child support for his daughters. He owned a small town house in Washington with a big mortgage, and in Boston he camped out with family and friends. He struck Heinz Kerry as a “gypsy” and “a pet wolf” in need of domestication, and nesting was her forte.

Heinz and Kerry met for the third time at a dinner party in the capital, and he offered to see her home. On the way, he took her to the Vietnam Memorial. A few months later, she invited a close friend, the photojournalist Diana Walker, to lunch at her house in Georgetown. As Walker unlatched the back gate and walked through the high-walled garden, where brick paths define islands of roses, she was startled by a sound that presaged the announcement of a sea change in the widow’s life: “Teresa whistling in the kitchen.”

After a brief courtship, a short period of cohabitation, and the signing of a prenuptial agreement, the Kerrys were married in a civil ceremony on Nantucket in 1995. Heinz Kerry wore the girlish dress of a first-time bride, with a ruffled neckline and puffed sleeves, and she settled into what was, in many respects, a familiar life as the consort of a public man. Her second husband, perhaps even more than her first, needed her buoyance. “I think marriage is difficult,” she reflected. “When you’re older, you bring a lot to the table, so it is harder work in some ways.” Kerry brought two teen-age daughters to the table. She believes, in retrospect, that she went about being their stepmother without enough discretion. “Because I thought, I love kids, kids love me, I’ll be fine. Baloney.” She says that a friend gave her some useful advice: “You have to treat stepchildren like pets. You’re nice to them, but you don’t get too close, or they chew you up. Well, I did it the other way.” When I asked Kerry if remarriage in middle age to a woman with a history to which she still seems deeply attached was a difficult proposition, he replied, in his staccato fashion, “Not in the least. Why would it be hard for me? Look, she fell in love and decided to marry me.”

“John makes very close friends, but few,” a woman who knows him well says. “His New England austerity is compounded by his reserve, his shyness, his politesse. He’s not a glad-hander—he was trained not to be.” As the son of a diplomat, who moved from school to school, “he had to be a loner to survive. What I love about John is that he’s immensely curious and he never condescends. He also doesn’t manipulate. But as a politician that makes him unseductive. He leads with his head.” Kerry’s seductiveness may not be obvious, but the attraction of a consummately cerebral man to an irrepressibly visceral woman is. Perhaps one of the most eloquent messages that Heinz Kerry delivers to voters on her husband’s behalf is that he was fearless enough to take her on.

Late in August, while the Republicans convened in New York, the Kerrys vacationed on Nantucket. They resumed campaigning on Labor Day weekend, and Heinz Kerry spent the holiday in her home state, marching with thousands of citizens in a Pittsburgh parade and speaking at a sparsely attended union picnic and rally in Philadelphia. It took place on a pier near the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, across the Delaware River from Camden, New Jersey. The audience of steamfitters, longshoremen, and janitors had come with their children and wore the T-shirts of their locals.

Heinz Kerry’s hair was windblown and her cheeks rosy. Her acid-green suit was the color of an immense tanker, the Chemical Pioneer, slowly steaming up the river behind the stage. “No war is worth fighting if the people in our country aren’t defended by good schools, jobs, and health care,” she told the audience. It was a new speech: lean of detail, punchy, brief, and delivered with the ease of a seasoned candidate. The shy whisper and distracting tics were gone. At one point, she leaned over to joke with an elderly black woman sitting on a folding chair in the front row who said that she was ninety and had plenty of opinions. There was laughter and applause. “I’m a woman of a certain age and I deserve my opinions,” Heinz Kerry said to the audience. “I’ve earned them the old-fashioned way.”

A week later, when Heinz Kerry was on her way to Pittsburgh with Wren Wirth (her close women friends take turns keeping her company on the road), I asked her what she thought about the increasingly vicious campaign, and the cheap caricatures of her personal eccentricities. “It’s sad that in America people have to put up with that kind of thing,” she said. “It’s sadder still that people like it.” Her voice on the phone sounded serene—neither embattled nor tinny with false optimism. Her syntax was baroque and elegiac, perhaps with fatigue, and her sentences were curiously wonkish and poetic at the same time. “I am grateful that, being as old as I am”—she mentioned her age twice in the course of a five-minute conversation—“I have developed an interesting way to deal with it that I didn’t know I had in me, which is contextualizing what is said, not reading either the puffy things which would give me an oversized head or the things which would give me a shrivelled heart.” She spoke of Bush’s promise to reduce health-care costs, pointing out that he had just raised Medicare premiums for the elderly by seventeen per cent. “I never thought there would be so many lies,” she said. “It’s been quite amazing. But I don’t dwell there, I dwell in a better house, a house of hope.”

October 25th, 2004, 10:45 AM
America Can Do Better! Vote Kerry.