In the US Democratic Party’s wildest dreams, a Swift boat in the Mekong Delta loaded with a “band of brothers” has what it takes to torpedo aircraft carrier George W. Bush all the way back to Crawford, Texas. And the Swift’s commander-in-charge is none other than JFK. The “other” JFK: John Forbes Kerry, the dream anti-Bush.
Diplomats tell Asia Times Online that the internationalist, Vietnam War hero JFK is already the European Union’s favorite presidential candidate – and other parts of the world are not far behind.
Even the shifting sands in Mesopotamia know that the Bushite smear machine will depict the new JFK as a “wealthy Massachusetts liberal” with no charisma, and a UFO in the American South to boot. Someone – maybe even Bush himself – will utter the inevitable “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” But whatever the odds next November, the new JFK phenomenon has already qualified as pure American dream material.
John Kerry’s idol is – who else – JFK. In his youth, he fell in love with Janet Auchincloss, none other than Jackie Kennedy’s half sister. He went sailing off Rhode Island with JFK, the genuine article, in command: that was the apprenticeship for the now-famous Swift boat in the Mekong – which is similar to the PT 109 patrol boat manned by JFK himself in the Pacific during World War II.
The new JFK’s grandfather was an Austro-Czech Jew named Fritz Kohn, reborn Frederick Kerry after converting to Catholicism and arriving in the United States. The new JFK is a true internationalist: he reads poetry, quotes Andre Gide in French, plays “Yesterday” on his guitar and defends the Kyoto Protocol.
And then there’s Teresa – the new Jackie. Teresa Heinz Kerry, born Maria Teresa Thierstein Simoes-Ferreira in Mozambique in 1938: the ketchup queen, the widow of Republican senator John Heinz, “the man of her life” who died in a plane crash in 1991. Only in 2003 did Teresa quit the Republican fold to support her Democrat husband – just as”Gubernator” Arnold Schwarzenegger’s wife, Maria Shriver, snubbed the Kennedy clan to support her Republican husband. And only in 2003 did Teresa add a “Kerry” to her “Heinz.”
Middle America is already in love with Teresa. She’s no dour Laura Bush. She reminds people of Jackie Kennedy, with her elegant shawls and dark glasses pushed up over her hair. She uses Botox – why not? – looks much younger than her 64, and definitely would be smashing on the cover of French, Italian or English Vogue. It was John Heinz himself who first introduced Teresa to Kerry in Washington, in 1990. They met again at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 and married in 1994. The owner of a formidable intellect, according to Portuguese-speaking insiders, she may be as fabulously wealthy as relentlessly outspoken. A self-confessed ultra-high-maintenance wife, Teresa’s private jet is already a key prop in the Kerry campaign.
Heinz-Kerry is in itself a dream ticket. Without Teresa it would be impossible for Kerry to mortgage their mansion in Boston’s Beacon Hill to help fund his campaign. Bushites better not mess with Teresa. She is already on record as being ready to reach for her coffers to counterattack any character-assassination, Karl Rove-inspired TV campaign.
Bushites will certainly pounce on the fact that Kerry has a French cousin: Brice Lalonde, former minister for the environment in a Francois Mitterrand government (1988-92). Their mothers were sisters. Kerry and Lalonde are almost the same age. They used to spend summer holidays in a family house in Brittany. They talk to each other in English and French and they share the same passionate interest for the environment: according to Lalonde, Kerry is extremely involved in sustainable development and the protection of oceans.
To Bushites who accused Senator Kerry of “looking French”, Teresa retorted: Bushites “don’t even speak French.” And of course there is Teresa’s ultimate asset. She professes undying love for America. And she is not even American: she is a European born in Africa.
On the warpath
On the Kerry campaign trail, the talk is not about Iraq, it’s about Vietnam. Kerry is using his Vietnam hero status to prove that he knows what war is really all about; at the same time he is selling himself as an experienced politician – with almost two decades in the Senate – who is ready for some tough decisions. He uses his experience to deflect criticism of being a Washington insider. And he does not try to repudiate his golden-boy aura – a diplomat’s son blossoming between Swiss boarding houses and the finest colleges – he uses it to establish even one more parallel between himself and JFK.
But Kerry has an enormous problem: this is a new JFK still in search of an issue.
In his almost two decades in the Senate, the new JFK sponsored only nine successful laws – and six of them were negligible. He does not have a sterling record. He voted in favor of the USA Patriot (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) Act and the war on Iraq. But he supports gun control and gay rights, and opposes the death penalty. Kerry is pro-free trade and pro-North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Senator John Edwards, a Southerner, from a state that is in fact a victim of globalization, is anti-NAFTA. This could lead to the possibility of a serious debate between two Democratic contenders, but Democratic Party bosses will never allow it.
Amid all the hype, it’s easy to lose sight of some abysmal distortions in US-style democracy. The whole process of Democratic primaries has been conditioned by the surprise Kerry victory in the first caucus in Iowa – a caucus subject to extremely complicated and totally undemocratic rules. Only 20 percent of registered Democrats voted in Iowa, a state with a negligible population and one of the whitest in the country, along with New Hampshire. The combined total of people who voted in Iowa and New Hampshire is less than 0.2 percent of the US voting-age population. Because of these results, Kerry virtually got a lock on the nomination – his campaign fueled by the massive US media hype about his “electability.” Kerry was winning because of his electability, the mainstream media unanimously proclaimed, so voters started voting for Kerry in subsequent states because of this elusive “electability.” It’s hard to talk about a really democratic choice long before the majority of Democrats had a chance to vote.
Republican Machiavelli-in-charge Karl Rove himself said that Bush will run his campaign – fueled by a staggering war chest of almost US$200 million – on foreign policy: Iraq and the “war on terror.” The new JFK has qualified Bush’s foreign policy as “inept, dangerous and arrogant.” Adjectives may not be enough. The Bushites have tremendous advantages: campaign money; broadcast money; the hordes – millions and millions – of Christian fundamentalists of the extreme right; and an economy kept afloat by a weak dollar and very low interest rates.
Iraq may not even be the defining theme of the campaign, as US voters are more worried about jobs, the economy and health care. Democrats anyway know that three big vectors separate them from recapturing the White House: the South, the media and terrorism. None of these “threats” is insurmountable.
In 1971, in a speech at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the new JFK, drawing from his own experience, explained how he and his fellow American soldiers were not fighting for their country, but for an immoral, imperialistic foreign policy. The new JFK could easily repolish this speech to preempt any Bushite defense of the war on Iraq, especially now that accumulated evidence shows the Bushites relied on public ignorance, gullibility and indiscriminate apathy to sell an illegal war. What happened was not an “intelligence failure,” but a failure of intelligence of a whole nation – Democrats included. Democrats have everything to gain by fighting a neo-conservative war based on lies: this is exactly what vilified chief United Nations weapons inspector Hans Blix was saying one year ago – and today he has been fully vindicated.
And can the new JFK penetrate the South? This is a non-issue. The campaign itself is merging two mega-classic profiles: Kerry – the wise, experienced politician – has the perfect running mate in the smiling, optimistic fresh face, Senator John Edwards. This is a North-South, across-the-divide dream ticket. And with the new Jackie Kennedy in the wings. Who said the American Dream was over?