Born John Forbes Kerry, December 11, 1943, in Denver, CO; son of Richard (a foreign service officer) and Rosemary (a homemaker and community service volunteer); married Julia Thorne, 1970 (divorced, 1988); married Teresa Heinz, 1995; children: Alexandra, Vanessa (from first marriage). Politics: Democrat. Religion: Catholic. Education: Yale University, B.A., 1966; Boston College, J.D., 1976.
Addresses: Office—U.S. Capitol, 304 Russell Bldg., Third Flr., Washington, DC 20510; One Bowdoin Sq., Tenth Flr., Boston, MA 02114. Website—http://www.johnkerry.com; http://kerry.senate.gov.
Served in the U.S. Navy in Vietnam, 1967-69; ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Congress, 1970 and 1972; organized Vietnam Veterans Against the War's march on Washington and testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 1971; assistant district attorney, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, 1976-79; private law practice, 1979-82; elected lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, 1982; elected to the U.S. Senate, 1984; appointed to the Foreign Relations Committee, 1986; Democratic nominee for U.S. president, 2004.
John Kerry, the Democratic party's nominee for president in 2004, became a nationally prominent figure almost overnight in 1971, when he testified before the United States Senate as a spokesman for Vietnam veterans who opposed the Vietnam War. Though his 1972 campaign for Congress ended in defeat, Kerry took a more patient path to the political power he always longed for, becoming a prosecutor, then lieutenant governor of Massachusetts before getting elected to the Senate in 1984. After 20 years developing a reputation as an authority on foreign policy, he ran for the presidency in 2004, but lost to incumbent George W. Bush.
Kerry was born December 11, 1943, in Denver, Colorado, at an Army base where his father, Richard, a test pilot for the Army Air Corps, was recovering from tuberculosis. He grew up in Massachusetts, where his father and mother, Rosemary, were from, but by the time Kerry was seven, they were living in Washington, D.C., and politics was often part of family conversation. His father became a foreign service officer when Kerry was eleven, so Kerry was educated in boarding schools, first in Switzerland, then in New England.
Politically liberal from an early age, Kerry volunteered for Edward Kennedy's campaign for the United States Senate in the summer of 1962, just after he graduated from high school. He briefly dated Janet Auchincloss, the half-sister of President John F. Kennedy's wife, Jacqueline, and one day in August of 1962, Auchincloss invited Kerry to the family estate, where Kerry met the president and went sailing with him. That fall, Kerry enrolled at Yale University, where his father had gone to college. While there, he joined the debate and soccer teams, and his political ambitions grew. He told his debate team partner that his dream was to become president of the United States.
The 1963 assassination of President Kennedy deeply upset Kerry. As a result, it left an impression when William Bundy, an assistant secretary of state under Kennedy, came to Yale to defend the Vietnam War, visited his nephew (Kerry's roommate), and implored Kerry and his friends to go to Vietnam as officers. When Kerry's 1966 graduation neared, he decided to enlist in the Navy—realizing he might well be drafted anyway, and aware that military service had helped the career of his idol, President Kennedy. Yet when he was chosen to give the class oration at graduation, he used it to criticize American foreign policy, including the Vietnam War.
For his first six months in the war, starting in December of 1967, Kerry served uneventfully on a guided-missile frigate. Then, after five months in port in California, Kerry spent December of 1968 to April of 1969 captaining a small patrol boat, known as a "swift boat." At first, the swift boats patrolled the Vietnamese coast, but soon after he signed up for the duty, the boats' mission was changed to patrolling the Mekong River Delta and drawing fire from the enemy so that the boats could counterattack. While commanding the boat, Kerry received three Purple Heart medals for combat wounds. He was also awarded a Silver Star, which honors bravery in action, for a fight in which he ordered his boat's pilot to steer into enemy fire and land. Kerry jumped out of the boat and shot and killed a young Viet Cong guerrilla who was carrying a grenade launcher. He also earned a Bronze Star for pulling a member of his crew out of the water after he had fallen off the boat, even though enemy snipers were shooting at the man and Kerry had just been wounded in the arm by shrapnel from a mine. After that incident, since a rule allowed soldiers to return home after three Purple Hearts, Kerry applied successfully for a transfer to New York, where he became an admiral's aide.
Fighting in Vietnam left Kerry feeling certain that the war was wrong. He and several dozen other boat captains had even confronted the American commander of the war in January of 1969, protesting the policy of "free fire zones," which authorized naval forces to shoot anyone violating a curfew, civilians as well as guerrillas. Also, five of Kerry's friends, including a Yale classmate, had died in the war. Kerry received an early discharge in January of 1970 to run for Congress in a district in Massachusetts, but he was not well-known, and he dropped out after he saw another anti-war candidate would win. That year, he married Julia Thorne, his best friend David's sister, who he had met and started dating six years earlier. He soon joined the protest group Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and argued that it should attract attention by staging a rally in Washington. He became the organizer of the rally, and since his educated, clean-cut image helped refute the then-common stereotype that anti-war protestors were hippie radicals, Kerry quickly became a leading spokesman for the group.
In April of 1971, the day before the rally, Kerry testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. According to the Boston Globe's Michael Kranish, Kerry said, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" He also asserted that some American soldiers in Vietnam had committed atrocities during the war, citing soldiers' testimony during a conference his group had held on the subject. The speech immediately made him a celebrity. He spoke the next day at the rally, which drew 250,000 people to the Mall in Washington. Weeks later, Kerry was profiled on the television program 60 Minutes. "Do you want to be president of the United States?" the interviewer asked him, according to Kranish. "No," Kerry said, but he added, "That's such a crazy question when there are so many things to be done and I don't know whether I could do them." He began traveling the country to speak at protests, including an appearance with singer John Lennon in New York City.
However, when Kerry ran for Congress again in Massachusetts in 1972, his success stalled. Before the election, he moved twice in two months, looking for the best congressional district to run in. He won the Democratic primary in the district he settled on, but a conservative newspaper there attacked Kerry's patriotism and questioned his loyalty to the area's voters. Kerry lost to the Republican in the general election.
The year 1973 marked a turning point in Kerry's life. He enrolled in Boston College Law School days after his wife gave birth to their first daughter, Alexandra. After graduating in 1976 (the same year their second daughter, Vanessa, was born), he became a prosecutor in Middlesex County. The district attorney, John Droney, who suffered from Lou Gehrig's disease, quickly made Kerry his first assistant, shocking the veteran lawyers on his staff. Droney let Kerry run, expand, and modernize the office. As a prosecutor, Kerry fought organized crime and created a crisis unit for rape victims. When Droney's health improved in 1979, and he took back some of his old responsibilities, Kerry started a private law practice. But his years as a prosecutor positioned him well politically, and when the office of lieutenant governor of Massachusetts opened up in 1982, Kerry ran for it and won. (He and his wife separated the same year; they finally divorced in 1988.) He spent much of his time in the office fighting acid rain, which again won him national attention.
Issues of war and peace were still Kerry's greatest passion, though. So when U.S. Senator Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts announced in 1984 that he would not run for re-election, Kerry ran to replace him. Kerry made a freeze on building nuclear weapons a major campaign issue, which helped him in liberal, anti-war Massachusetts, and he won. In the Senate, he specialized in foreign policy; he was appointed in 1986 to the Foreign Relations Committee, where he had testified 15 years earlier. He also made his mark as an investigator; he and his staff uncovered some of the early evidence that President Ronald Reagan's administration was illegally sending aid to the Contra rebels in Nicaragua. Later, Kerry chaired a committee that investigated the fates of American soldiers still missing in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. The task was politically dangerous because at the time, because rumors and conspiracy theories were circulating that soldiers who had fought in the Vietnam War were still being held prisoner there. But Kerry's committee refuted the suspicions, which allowed the United States to normalize its relations with Vietnam in 1995.
On the domestic side, Kerry successfully pushed to include funding for 100,000 more police in a 1994 crime bill and helped write several environmental laws. Though his voting record was mostly liberal, he also defied many fellow Democrats by becoming an early supporter of the landmark Gramm-Rudman-Hollings bill that forced spending cuts to control the federal deficit. Kerry found it harder to make a major impact after the Democrats lost control of the Senate in the 1994 elections, but he developed a reputation for working well with Republicans on some issues. Meanwhile, in 1995, Kerry remarried. His second wife was Teresa Heinz, widow of another senator, Pennsylvania's John Heinz, who had left her his fortune of about $500 million. The next year, Massachusetts' governor, William Weld, tried to unseat him and put up a tough fight, but Kerry beat him by seven percentage points.
In late 2002, Kerry declared that he would run for president in the 2004 election. He was expected to be the Democratic front-runner, but throughout 2003, former Vermont governor Howard Dean attracted more attention, passion, and support. Dean was running as a clear opponent of the war President George W. Bush had started with Iraq in March of 2003. Kerry was stuck in the middle on the issue; he had voted to authorize the use of force against Iraq in 2002 but was critical of the president's decision to go to war without more allies. After a disappointing year, Kerry fired his campaign manager in November of 2003 and started giving tougher speeches. In January of 2004, Kerry surprised political observers by beating Dean in the Iowa caucuses. Days later came a win in the key New Hampshire primary. By March, Kerry had clinched the Democratic nomination.
Kerry campaigned on a domestic policy that included cutting the budget deficit, increasing access to health care, and changing the tax code to discourage companies from moving jobs to other countries. He continued to criticize the president for going to war in Iraq without a stronger coalition of other nations involved, but Kerry's attempts to claim a middle ground on the Iraq issue continued to haunt him, especially his 2003 vote against an $87 billion funding package for the occupation of Iraq, which he explained as a protest vote against a failed policy.
At the Democratic convention in July of 2004 Kerry relied heavily on his service in Vietnam to assert that he could defend the country from terrorists, a major concern of Americans since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But afterward, a group of Vietnam veterans attacked his war record and his anti-war protests of the 1970s in television commercials. The press declared that the veterans' ads were misleading, but the Kerry campaign was slow to respond. Speakers at the Republican convention in August and September also attacked Kerry's national security record. Polls, which had shown Kerry and Bush in a close race for most of the year, showed Kerry behind in September.
The campaign tightened again after the presidential debates in September and October. Kerry showed off his debating skills and command of foreign policy in the first debate, and commentators and polls overwhelmingly judged him the winner. Kerry's performances in the next two debates were also strong, though Bush held his own better. Polls began to show the candidates nearly tied again. As Election Day approached, it appeared to be a very close election. But on November 2, 2004, Bush beat Kerry 51 to 48 percent in the popular vote and 286 to 252 in the electoral vote. Kerry won all the states in the Northeast and on the West Coast, plus some of the upper Midwest, but Bush dominated the South and West.
Still a senator, Kerry sent an e-mail to his supporters in late November asking them to rally against parts of Bush's second-term agenda and promising to introduce a bill in January of 2005 to extend health care coverage to all children in the United States. Aides say Kerry is considering running for president again in 2008.
Boston Globe, June 15-16, 18-21, 2003.
Newsweek, November 15, 2004, pp. 42-53.
Washington Post, July 25, 2004, p. A1; July 26, 2004, p. A1; November 20, 2004, p. A2.
"Biography," John Kerry for President, http://www.johnkerry.com/about/john_kerry/bio.html (November 29, 2004).
"Biography," John Kerry's Online Office, http://kerry.senate.gov/bandwidth/about/biography.html (November 29, 2004).
"The Race for President," New York Times,http://www.nytimes.com/ref/elections2004/2004President.html (November 29, 2004).
On November 2, 2004, John Kerry (born 1943) lost a close, hard-fought United States presidential election to incumbent president George W. Bush. Political commentators in the following days offered the usual range of opinions in dissecting his defeat, but one theme emerged frequently—as indeed it had over the course of the campaign: Kerry, unlike successful Democratic candidate Bill Clinton in the 1990s, had a difficult time connecting emotionally with ordinary Americans, in part because of his reserved persona, and in part because his political background was fraught with contrasts and contradictions.
Although he harbored strong political ambitions from a very early age, Kerry possessed the personal reserve characteristic of his upper-crust Boston background, and was also hampered by a dislike of the spotlight. His political career was marked by single-minded, idealistic pursuit of causes that mattered to him, but he inherited from his father a diplomat's mind that often caused him to come down squarely on both sides of an issue. While he was a child of privilege, he volunteered for service in the Vietnam War, a conflict many young people of his generation, including his 2004 opponent, sat out, but spent much of his later political life renouncing that same war. Indeed, his tendency to "flip-flop" on a number of issues provided Bush with significant election-year fodder.
Contrasts and contradictions were part of Kerry's background even before he was born in Denver, Colorado on December 11, 1943. The name Kerry might be thought to signify generations of Irish ancestry, but in fact his paternal grandfather, a Czech Jew named Kohn, picked it out of an atlas. Kerry's father Richard was a lawyer and a U.S. Foreign Service officer with a strong internationalist outlook that shaped his son's thinking. His mother, Rosemary, was a Boston blue-blood, a member of a family that traced its ancestry back to the first governor of Massachusetts, John Winthrop. Kerry himself was raised in and adhered to a faith that matched neither of these aspects of his background: he was a Roman Catholic.
Kerry's upbringing was intellectually rigorous, emotionally distant, highly varied, and somewhat rootless. Owing to his father's profession, the family traveled often. Though a gifted student, he did not form friendships easily, and this problem was made worse by the fact that he attended seven different schools by the time he was thirteen years old. Kerry's knowledge of European languages came from stint in a boarding school in Switzerland while his father was stationed in Berlin beginning in 1954. While he was there, at age 12, he suffered a bout with scarlet fever and was quarantined. Although his father did not come to visit, the two conversed enthusiastically about events of the day, and Richard Kerry inspired in his son a lifelong interest in things political.
Attended Posh Prep School
During his high-school years Kerry attended the elite St. Paul's preparatory school in Concord, New Hampshire. While his experiences there equipped him for future academic challenges, he also developed a permanent inclination toward prep-school styles in clothing. He also reportedly felt ill at ease among the sons of power brokers who were his classmates. "He wanted to be liked," fellow St. Paul student John Rousmaniere told a Newsweek contributor. "But he was too eager to please. John was a little clumsy in the way he approached people, a little too aggressive in trying to make friends. That's why people thought he was calculating."
An early hint of Kerry's ambitions came when he began turning in school papers signed with his initials, J.F.K.; he idolized President John F. Kennedy. In 1962 Kerry enrolled at Yale University. At this ivy league institution he immersed himself in the school's ancient traditions, honing his debating skills as a member of the Yale Political Union and joining Yale's notorious Skull and Bones secret society. (Another member was George W. Bush, who entered Yale two years behind Kerry). Kerry graduated from Yale in 1966 and gave a speech at his commencement in which he attacked U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.
Despite his professed opposition to the war, as well as in the face of his father's opposition, Kerry enlisted in the U.S. Navy after graduation and was sent to Vietnam. His position moderated under enemy fire and Kerry temporarily became a supporter of the war effort. He was appointed captain of a Navy gunboat—a "Swift Boat"—patrolling Vietnam's Mekong Delta, and a daredevil streak that had already shown itself when he was in college served Kerry well in combat. Awarded a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts during his term of service in Vietnam, Kerry also suffered long-term injuries from wounds in an arm and a leg.
Threw Medals on Capitol Steps
The next episode of Kerry's life proved more controversial. After returning to the United States early in 1969, Kerry grew increasingly disturbed by accounts of U.S. atrocities allegedly committed during the war. Some of these, such as the My Lai massacre, were well publicized in media accounts, but Kerry heard more allegations during a 1971 meeting of antiwar Vietnam veterans held in a Detroit motel. His opposition to the war hardened, and he emerged as a leader of the Vietnam Veterans against the War group. During testimony before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee later that year, Kerry asked a rhetorical question that would often be quoted in the years to come: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" He also alleged, as quoted in U.S. News & World Report, that U.S. troops had "cut off limbs . . . [and] razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan," and he threw his war medals on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building.
The publicity that flowed from these appearances propelled Kerry toward an abortive entry into politics. Running in a conservative Boston district, he was defeated in runs for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1970 and 1972. Kerry then dropped out of politics for a time. Instead, he earned a law degree from Boston College in 1976 and then served until 1979 in a position renowned in Northeastern politics as a stepping-stone to elective office: the job of assistant district attorney. Flirting occasionally with races for office, Kerry operated a private law practice from 1979 to 1984.
In 1984, after Democratic Massachusetts Senator Paul Tsongas retired due to ill health, Kerry was elected to the U.S. Senate with 55 percent of the vote. Rather than practicing the pork-barrel politics that most newly elected officeholders cultivate in order to grease their paths to re-election, Kerry plunged into complex foreign-policy issues such as the investigations that erupted in the wake of the Iran-Contra scandal that surfaced during the administration of Republican President Ronald Reagan. In 1991 he revisited his Vietnam experience as chairman of a senate select committee on Prisoner of War (POW) and Missing in Action (MIA) affairs that was assigned to investigate reports that American prisoners of war were still being held in Vietnam. Kerry worked with senators on both sides of the political aisle, including Republican John McCain, to produce the committee's final report, which laid the POW issue mostly to rest and soon paved the way for the normalization of U.S.–Vietnamese relations.
Because few Senate bills bore Kerry's name as sponsor, he was sometimes attacked as out-of-touch with his Massachusetts constituents. Nonetheless, he beat back a strong challenge from Massachusetts governor William Weld in the 1996 election, deflecting Weld's debate attack on Kerry's anti-death penalty stance with the response, as quoted in Time, that "I know something about killing. I don't like killing. That's just a personal belief I have." Although Kerry became involved in several key Congressional environmental initiatives during his third Senate term, including the 2001 Kerry Amendment banning oil and gas drilling on federally protected land, the charge of ineffectiveness continued to bedevil him during the 2004 campaign.
The rigors of political life led to the breakup of Kerry's first marriage, to Julia Thorne, in 1988. His second marriage to Mozambican-born ketchup heiress Teresa Heinz in 1995 produced a blended family that was unusual at the top levels of government. In this case two of Heinz's three children joined Kerry's daughters, Alexandra and Vanessa, on the 2004 campaign trail. "I've heard tales about a presidential campaign driving families apart, but it's brought ours closer together," Alexandra Kerry told People.
Voted to Authorize Iraq War
Kerry faced his toughest decision in the U.S. Senate in the months preceding the country's invasion of Iraq in 2002. In the summer of that year, he voted to authorize President Bush to take military action in Iraq. A year later, while under attack from antiwar Democratic candidate Howard Dean, he voted against an $87 billion supplemental war appropriation, the lack of which would have handicapped U.S. troops overseas. He then attempted to explain his shifting stance by pointing to a vote on an amendment and claiming that he had "actually did vote for the $87 million before I voted against it." That statement became a stock element of Republican advertising in 2004.
Prevailing over the pugnacious Dean and a field of other candidates that included black activist Al Sharpton and telegenic North Carolina senator John Edwards in the 2004 Democratic primaries, Kerry won the nomination to oppose President Bush in the November election. Eventually selecting Edwards as his running mate, Kerry was bedeviled by attack advertisements mounted by the Swift Boat Veterans group, especially one that focused in his 1971 antiwar testimony. Kerry rarely answered those ads directly, relying on campaign staffers' advice that voters would reject the attacks. Instead he hammered President Bush on his conduct of the war in Iraq and on what he viewed as the anemic performance of the U.S. economy.
The lead changed hands several times in the closely fought race, with Kerry's forsenic skills erasing a Bush edge at one point after the first debate between the two candidates. A sharply divided country finally elected President Bush to a second term on November 2 by a three percent margin in the popular vote and a slim 286-251 electoral-vote edge. The race came down to a margin of just over 100,000 votes in Ohio, where the outcome was not clear until the morning of November 3. Kerry's concession speech quickly followed when he became convinced that pending Ohio vote challenges could not erase that margin.
While Kerry remained in the front ranks of outspoken Democrats in the aftermath of the election, following the successful Iraqi elections, Bush's aggressive stance in support of world peace, and the election of former rival Howard Dean to the position as head of the Democratic National Committee made the likelihood of a Kerry comeback less talked about. While rumors still surfaced that he was considering a second run in 2008, one Kerry adviser commented to a Newsweek contributor: "if he wants to come back, he'll have to come back as a different candidate, not the stiff who plays it safe and takes four sides of every issue." Still, in the chimerical world of politics, the uniquely American odyssey of John Kerry has not yet reached its end.
New Republic, March 8, 2004.
Newsweek, August 2, 2004; January 10, 2005.
People, August 9, 2004.
Time, February 9, 2004; August 2, 2004.
U.S. News & World Report, September 6, 2004.