The Many Faces of John Kerry

“A man defined by inner conflicts.”

That’s how the Boston Globe described John Kerry in a five-part series in June 2003. “The gung-ho Vietnam hero turned articulate antiwar protester; the shaggy-haired liberal rebel turned feisty prosecutor; a politician whose core beliefs included a skeptical view of government,” wrote the Globe.

Sounds familiar? Someone wrote a book about it in the 1800s–it’s called Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. During his 19 years as a career politician and Washington insider, Kerry has never let a little thing like principle get in his way. He’s made a career out of balancing between the Democratic Party’s conservative and the liberal wings.

That’s why, last week in Greenville, S.C., Kerry declared that he was going to “hold Bush accountable” for the war in Iraq. But just as easily, he could boast to his Republican critics, “I have voted for the largest defense budgets in the history of our country.”

Kerry has taken several liberal positions during his career, only to take them back years later. Since 1984, when he won his first campaign for a U.S. Senate seat from Massachusetts, Kerry backed canceling weapons systems, such as the B-1 bomber, B-2 stealth bomber, the Apache helicopter and the Patriot missile. Kerry now calls those positions “ill-advised, and I think some of them are stupid in the context of the world we find ourselves in right now, and the things that I’ve learned since then.”

In the 1980s, Kerry harshly criticized Ronald Reagan’s order to invade the tiny island nation of Grenada in 1983. Today, he says: “I was dismissive of the majesty of the invasion of Grenada. But I basically was supportive. I never publicly opposed it.”

Kerry voted against the congressional resolution authorizing military force in Iraq in 1990. But after Washington’s quick victory, Kerry did a quick turnaround and became a supporter of the war. Kerry’s own office could hardly keep up with the changes.

At one point, it mailed out letters to constituents that voiced both positions. Likewise, in October 2002, Kerry voted to give congressional authorization for Bush’s invasion of Iraq, only to criticize the war afterward.

To listen to Kerry criticize the civil liberties-shredding USA PATRIOT Act today, you’d never know that he voted for the legislation in 2001. “We are a nation of laws and liberties, not of a knock in the night,” Kerry says today. “So it is time to end the era of John Ashcroft.”

During his 19-year career in the Senate, Kerry has also taken positions that are far from liberal. In 1992, he warned an audience at his alma mater, Yale University, about a “culture of dependency…We must ask whether [social disintegration] is the result of a massive shift in the psychology of our nation that some argue grew out of the excesses of the 1960s, a shift from self-reliance to indulgence and dependence, from caring to self-indulgence, from public accountability to public abdication and chaos.”

“The truth is that affirmative action has kept America thinking in racial terms,” he said. Kerry’s position was in line with the one that Bill Clinton was peddling with his call for “personal responsibility.”

Kerry also supported Clinton’s welfare “reform,” which tossed millions of poor people off the welfare rolls, or forced them into low-wage jobs. And Kerry can also take credit for helping to push through Clinton’s 1994 crime bill, which expanded the federal death penalty and included money to put 100,000 more cops on the street.

In 1994, Kerry took his conservative rhetoric up a notch after the Republican victory in congressional elections–arguing that Democrats were being punished for suggesting too-liberal policies, like universal health care.

Kerry also has a bad habit of bending the truth to play up his liberal credentials. During his 1984 campaign, he proudly described in campaign literature how he “joined the struggle for voting rights in the South,” leaving the impression that he’d actually gone to the South. In reality, however, his work registering Black voters in Mississippi never went beyond the Yale campus.

When he needs to appeal to an antiwar audience, Kerry will pull out his history as a Vietnam War veteran who came home to oppose the war. After serving two tours in Vietnam, Kerry did become a member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). But he was by no means a radical.

Kerry refused to speak at the VVAW’s January 1971 Winter Soldier Investigation, a series of hearings in Detroit in which soldiers spoke out against the atrocities that they witnessed in Vietnam. But he did agree to appear at a well-publicized Senate committee hearing–and put himself at the head of a demonstration organized later that year in Washington, D.C.

During the protest, veterans tossed their medals at the White House. Kerry kept his medals–but tossed his ribbons and medals that other soldiers had given him.

Only a few months after grabbing the spotlight, he left the organization. “I resigned and left [the VVAW] because the agenda of some of the folks within the veterans’ movement ultimately became confused and went way beyond just trying to end the war,” said in an interview with the Boston Phoenix. “There was a lot of rhetoric about every social ill and evil there was.” As his “yes” vote last year on Bush’s Iraq war shows, Kerry has moved “way beyond” any antiwar past that he might have had.

This man is no alternative

“I’VE GOT news for the HMOs and the big drug companies and the big oil companies and influence peddlers,” Kerry declared in a speech last week in St. Louis. “We’re coming and you’re going. And don’t let the door hit you on the way out!” But if anyone knows where the influence is peddled, it’s John Kerry.

While his patrician family’s wealth had largely faded by the time that John was a teenager, they did “scrape up” enough to send the boy to a series of Swiss and New England boarding schools. That was followed by his father’s alma mater, Yale, where he was a member of the same elite Skull and Bones society that George Bush was.

He counted among his close friends Fred Smith, who would later found Federal Express, and Richard Pershing, the grandson of the famous First World War general. He dated Jacqueline Kennedy’s half-sister, Janet Auchincloss, and once hobnobbed with JFK sailing on Narragansett Bay.

Today, Kerry–the richest member of Congress–is worth an estimated $550 million, according to Forbes magazine. This is due in large part to the fortune of his wife, Teresa Heinz, the widow of Republican Sen. and ketchup tycoon John Heinz. So while he’s in Washington, Kerry lives in an elegant Georgetown house and has the option of using a private jet to get away at one of the Heinz vacation homes.

Federal election laws limit how much Kerry can use of his wife’s fortune to finance his own campaign. But she can get around that by buying “issue ads” which don’t mention the candidate.

And Teresa isn’t the only connection that John “I’ll take on special interests” Kerry has made in Washington. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, during this election cycle, Kerry took in $531,251 from the health care industry. This makes him one of the top four recipients of such money, just behind Bush, Howard Dean and Joe Lieberman.

Kerry was among the top 10 recipients of money from the airline and automotive industries, with donations totaling $87,925. By the way, Kerry is a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which influences laws governing these industries.

ELIZABETH SCHULTE writes for the Socialist Worker.

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