Kerry’s Moment: A Listening Tour

Photograph by Scott Eells/Bloomberg

Senator John Kerry, a Democrat from Massachusetts, during day three of the Democratic National Convention.

John Kerry came to the back of the 2004 campaign plane, where some reporters were milling in the aisle.

We were having a mundane conversation about the way we connect our traveling laptop computers with the home office.

The lanky senator from Massachusetts, a candidate for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, asked us somewhat awkwardly what we were talking about. Our answer about our technology seemed equally trivial.

“I don’t even use a BlackBerry,” Kerry explained of his own lack of knowledge about such matters. “When I want to tell someone what to do, I just call them on the phone.”

It sounded, at the time, like an insight into the way a powerful and privileged man does business. He went on, after all, to secure his party’s nomination for president in Boston: “John Kerry, reporting for duty.”

It’s safe to assume that Kerry skipped the Berry and went straight to the iPhone.

It also appears that the career senator, now his home state’s senior statesman, stands to achieve a role that he so ambitiously sought eight years ago: Representing the United States of America around the world.

Should President Barack Obama nominate Kerry, by all private accounts the leading contender for Secretary of State now that UN Ambassador Susan Rice has withdrawn her name, the Senate once again will be sending one of its own to the front lines of American diplomacy. Hillary Clinton, a former senator from New York and first lady, is ready to retire the post.

Kerry, a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War who returned home to protest American involvement there, has a long and storied political career. The Swift Boat that he commanded in the rivers of Southeast Asia became the emblematic name for an assault his political adversaries effectively waged against him in the 2004 campaign. George W. Bush, the wartime president, won re-election.

Should Kerry emerge from the roiled political waters of Rice’s confrontation with Republican senators as Obama’s nominee for the nation’s top diplomat, he will immediately face some healing at home. It’s not lost on anyone that the architect of Rice’s defeat is another senator, John McCain of Arizona, who also sought the presidency — twice. Losing to Obama in 2008, McCain has prevailed in his first contest with a re-elected president in 2012.

Like that “listening tour” that Clinton made during her campaign for Senate, the senior senator from Massachusetts will have to spend as much time hearing out the opposition on Capitol Hill — with Republicans, chiefly McCain, questioning Obama’s resolve in foreign theaters such as Syria — as he will in engaging other world leaders.

Less time calling people and telling them what to do.


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