John Kerry Reporting for State Duty

Photograph by Henry Griffin/AP Photo

John Kerry, navy lieutenant who was wounded three times in Vietnam and who has won the silver star for heroism, speaks to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on behalf of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) on Capitol Hill on April 22, 1971.

John Kerry has been in training for this for some time, his friends say.

The senior senator from Massachusetts, appearing before the committee he chairs today for confirmation of his nomination as secretary of state, first appeared there as a young veteran of the Vietnam War protesting the American engagement.

He led his party’s bid for the White House in 2004, appearing at the nominating convention in Boston in 2004 with the memorable, if unfortunate, salute: “I’m John Kerry, and I’m reporting for duty.”

His duty now, should the Senate confirm his appointment as expected, involves the execution of a post-war diplomatic strategy in a world still threatened by terrorism, a world in which unexpected crisis will be a given.

He will be the agent of the Democrat, President Barack Obama, who delivered the keynote address at that 2004 party convention in Boston. Kerry will succeed the Democrat, Hillary Clinton, who challenged Obama for the party’s nomination in 2008. Clinton was there today to wish Kerry well. So was John McCain, the Arizona Republican who was held as a prisoner of war in Vietnam who lost to Obama in 2008. It was McCain and Kerry who pressed for the normalization of American relations with Vietnam during Bill Clinton’s administration.

Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, ranking Republican on the committee that Kerry now chairs, opened the hearing by calling the Democrat from Massachusetts “someone who’s almost lived their entire life in order to serve in this capacity” — and someone whose Senate confirmation should go smoothly and swiftly.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the junior and soon-to-be senior senator from Massachusetts, introduced Kerry. “Massachusetts is also a great teacher of diplomatic skills,” Warren said. He also has made 90 overseas trips as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, she noted.

Retiring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton alluded to Kerry’s first appearance before this committee: As a young and decorated veteran and volunteer for the Vietnam War who returned home to protest that conflict.

“Obviously, the nominee doesn’t need to be introduced to the committee over which he has served as chairman for a quarter century,” McCain said. “Should he be confirmed, and I’m confident he will be… I’m sure we will have our disagreements, but I know he will acquit himself in that office with distinction.” McCain recommended Kerry “without reservation.”

“Wow,” said Corker, “you may want to rest your case there, Mr. Chairman.”

For 29 years, Kerry said, he has sat at the helm of this committee. He has never seen such a distinguished panel, he joked.

He didn’t stop there, of course.

“Everybody on this committee knows that the road ahead is tough,” Kerry said. “It matters that we get this moment right for America, and it matters that we get it right for the world.”

His opening remarks were interrupted by a woman shouting protests about American conduct in the world from the back of the room. She was escorted out, as Kerry noted that he too had first appeared there as a young man asking that his voice be heard.

It’s important that all are heard, he said, and respected.

Kerry did face some hazing about his hometown sports teams today.

“I’m taking it for the Red Sox. I’m taking it for the Patriots,” Kerry replied to one joke. “If the standard here is which team you route for, I’m screwed.”


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