Jewish World Review March 9, 2004 / 16 Adar, 5764
Black Like Kerry
I asked Kerry if sewing up the nomination has any special meaning for him as a Catholic, and he said, "Historically yes, substantively no. I subscribe completely to the speech Kennedy made in Houston in 1960 and believe completely in the separation of church and state."
Kennedy's speech made to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on September 12, 1960 is eloquent, powerful, emotional and stirring. (And comparing it to the typical political speech today is profoundly depressing.) The most famous line is: "I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party's candidate for President who happens also to be a Catholic."
Kerry said of the Catholic issue today, "I really think Americans have ceased to think about these kinds of things. I don't think people care. I think people are in a different place."
If Kerry wins, he would become not just the second Catholic president in history, but the first with Jewish grandparents. And for decades, voters in Massachusetts assumed Kerry was Irish, as did members of his own staff and newspapers often described him that way.
Oddly Kerry never wrote a letter to the editor complaining and pointing out that he was Austrian on his father's side and British on his mother's side. This may have been because Massachusetts has more Irish-Americans than any other state.
But Kerry says he never lied about it. In any case, aside from not being Irish, Kerry is not a Boston Brahmin, either, though he is often described that way.
The phrase was coined by Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. to designate the elite WASP ruling class of Boston. Since you have to be a Protestant to be a WASP (that's what the P is all about), Kerry isn't one. All this is rendered moot, however, because Kerry really wants to be black.
Last week, Kerry gave a little-noticed interview to American Urban Radio in which he said, "President Clinton was often known as the first black president. I wouldn't be upset if I could earn the right to be the second."
When Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison wrote that about Clinton at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal in October, 1998, however, Morrison was not talking about Clinton's empathy with black people, she was talking about his being a victim.
"Years ago, in the middle of the Whitewater investigation, one heard the first murmurs: white skin notwithstanding, this is our first black President," Morrison wrote in the New Yorker. "Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children's lifetime."
What Clinton's "blackness" earned him, however, according to Morrison, was to be persecuted and possibly "fired from your job, sent away in disgrace, and who knows? maybe sentenced and jailed to boot."
Donna Brazile, Al Gore's campaign manager in 2000, a superdelegate to the Democratic National Convention this year and an African-American, was somewhat taken aback when I read Kerry's statement to her, but she quickly recovered.
"That's a very steep hill to climb," she said. "Clinton bonded with African-Americans and they never, ever left him. I saw some internal polls recently. Clinton's favorable rating with black people was at 91 percent in 2000, 92 percent in 2002 and 94 percent this year. It will take years for John Kerry to build that kind of credibility with black voters. Clinton started in high school. He knew the verses at Baptist services. He knew the songs. He knew how to do the Electric Slide! Now, Kerry looks presidential and acts presidential, and African-Americans will be open to that. And if he can learn to dance and sway like Clinton, Kerry can get there."
I have never envisioned Kerry dancing and swaying (the mind boggles) but he told me that there is a "new" Kerry, that the primary campaign has had a "profound impact" on him, that his speeches are "shorter and tighter" and this his demeanor is "softer and easier."
And, Kerry said: "I am having fun and letting it all hang out."
Enough of the presidency, however. Who will be the vice presidential nominee? No, not the Democratic vice presidential nominee, anyone can speculate on that. ("The Hotline," National Journal's daily briefing on politics, has a list of 53 people whose names have already been mentioned.) Who will be the Republican vice presidential nominee?
True, President Bush has said he wants to keep Dick Cheney on the ticket, and loyalty to vice presidents runs strong in the Bush family. (His father kept Dan Quayle on the ticket.) And Cheney certainly wants to keep the job. But what if Cheney becomes a drag on the ticket? What if, as some fear, the Plame Affair gets uglier?
Valerie Plame is the CIA operative whose cover may have been blown by a leak to columnist Robert Novak and other journalists. A grand jury is now investigating, and there has been at least one published report quoting an unnamed source saying some of the targets of the probe work or worked for Cheney.
That is a long way from toppling a vice president, but those close to the White House say there is some nervousness there. So what if Cheney needed to be replaced for this or health or other reasons? Who would replace him? Certain names leap into play: Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and here's the longshot National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.
The odds on Rice could get shorter if the Democrats go for their longshot choice for vice president, Hillary Clinton. Keep in mind that the head of Kerry's vice presidential search team, Jim Johnson, filled the same role for Walter Mondale in 1984 and came up with Geraldine Ferraro, the only woman ever nominated by a major party for vice president.
If you like longshots, here is an even longer one: the All-Navy Vietnam Veterans ticket of John Kerry and John McCain. Though defeated in his presidential bid in 2000, the Arizona senator remains very popular.
Like Kerry, he served in the Navy in Vietnam (McCain in the air and Kerry on the water) and is considered at least by reporters to be much funnier and more personable than Kerry (but, then again, who isn't?).
The two are good friends and worked together to restore U.S. relations with Vietnam. In fact, in 2000, McCain pushed Kerry for the vice presidency under Al Gore.
"I think it would be very helpful to Vice President Gore. I think that Sen. Kerry has proved his service to our nation and his ability as an accomplished debater and a person who knows the issues," McCain said at the time.
Kerry didn't get selected, but isn't it time for him to return the favor to McCain? Well, one problem: McCain is in the wrong party. He is a Republican.
"Do you think the Democrats would want a pro-life, free-trading, fiscal conservative?" McCain told a reporter recently. "They'd be smoking something pretty strong, stronger than they usually do. I will not leave the Republican Party."
I asked Kerry about this and his answer was typical Kerry.
"Maybe I should support McCain to replace Cheney on the Republican ticket," he said. "That was a joke."
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