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John Mark Reynolds- Contributor

John Mark Reynolds is the founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute, and Associate Professor of Philosophy, at Biola University.

The One Great Deed that Undid John F. Kerry
The forever hero...
[John Mark Reynolds] 2/12/04

What is one to make of John Kerry? He was a singularly brave man when barely out of boyhood. Called upon to serve, he did so with distinction. He did a certifiably good thing at an age when most of us are accomplishing nothing. Those of us born too late to witness the events of Kerry’s war can only look with admiration on a man with such a record. One aspect of his life, before he even really began to live, is immune from criticism for all time.

The justified, but heady, approval of one’s conscience at such an early age can be destructive to development. Kerry came from the sort of rich, blue blood family where feelings of being “special” are instilled at an early age. Then, he became a hero. A real hero.

Knowing he had done the right thing in war seems to have justified in his mind every other decision he has taken. Just as a dieter who has been “good,” feels he can splurge, Kerry seems to feel that his one great deed allows him to live for himself and his own advancement for the rest of his life.

Kerry has an eye, a truly remarkable talent, for what a business friend of mine calls “personal branding.” Kerry is now remarkable at little else, but this. He is good at being for himself. Having tasted public approval once, John Kerry becomes what he needs to become to go on receiving the approval of whatever piece of the nation he faces. He is Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day. He is Jewish as the New York primary approaches. He is Boston elite when there is money to be raised, but an angry populist when the money is being spent. He has married well, very well, twice. His wives have been able to support him in the manner to which his bluest of blue blood streams was accustomed. Even his name seems like a careful contrived bit of stagecraft as a confused and aging Edward Kennedy is trundled out to shout and meander in favor of "another" JFK.

That is not to say that Mr. Kerry is really a liberal. Howard Dean is right. Mr. Kerry’s great conviction is in the future of Mr. Kerry, not in any ideology. This has made him quite cautious about actually doing much of anything in public life. Since the public Mr. Kerry needs to remain viable in the shifting winds of public favor to serve the private Mr. Kerry, he has, by divine providence, served the public good. His greatest accomplishment in the Senate has been to do almost nothing.

His most memorable headlines deal with his hair, his name, and his personal experiences. Though his fellow Senators can think of almost no legislation he has helped pass, this very inactivity is a blessing. Mr. Edward Kennedy has been active in public service and the harm done has been incalculable. The Republic should be grateful for the studied efforts of Mr. Kerry to avoid the hard labor of legislation. Though he has been a reliable vote for the worst causes, he has managed never to have an original bad idea. Given the track record of the voters of Massachusetts of late, he has been the least harmful person the rest of us could have hoped would represent that commonwealth. This is the great argument in his favor.

On one thing only has he been consistent and proactive. Mr. Kerry has appeased the worst governments in the history of man, at least those governments still in existence to appease during his long time in government. Soviet tyranny horrified him far less than the misstatements of those that opposed it in America. If he could have forced Reagan to lose the Cold War, he would have. The brutal communist North Vietnamese government worried him much less than imagined bad actions of those that tried to stop it. Mr. Kerry would have allowed Sadaam Hussein all the oil in Kuwait. And his venom in his speeches is reserved for Mr. Bush, who stands in his way, and not for Usama Bin Laden who does not. One is hard pressed to find a weapons system Mr. Kerry did not find wasteful and useless.

Yet one should not find even in this strange consistency any great public policy position. Mr. Kerry is from Massachusetts, he faces their voters, so his record is predictably and safely liberal. Kerry is for Kerry. Every decision, action, word is calculated to advance John F. Kerry to the levers of power. What he does he want with them? Kerry rarely says. The White House is simply the last step in his personal career path, not the end of a crusade of ideas. Quick. Other than wanting Mr. Bush out, and Mr. Kerry in, why exactly is Mr. Kerry running for President?

And this is the key to why the Kerry that is brave in his person has been one of the great cowards in his public life in all the long history of cowardice in the United States Senate. Mr. Kerry cannot see beyond his own personal experience of war, for Mr. Kerry knows nothing beyond Mr. Kerry. And Mr. Kerry has only done one interesting and disinterested thing in his whole dreadfully predictable life.

As a result, this one pure moment of service has swollen to consume every part of his thinking. Kerry is complete in his own experience and his greatest experience, his only great experience, was Vietnam. And his limited view of Vietnam has proven wholly inadequate for the great public decisions of our time. From his experience of Vietnam, he became passionately anti-anti-communist. In his public speeches, he invokes his experiences at every turn as the measure for the wisdom of every issue of public defense. In Kerry the private is public.

We have all known high school football heroes who endlessly repeat their one great moment. They sit in the stands and call their own big play in every game and in every situation. If they got the big pass from the quarterback to win the homecoming game of 1969, they urge the professional coach of 2004 to make the same call. If challenged by a more knowledgeable fan, they can scoff that they know it works. After all, they played the game. It does not matter that times have changed. The public Mr. Kerry feels equipped to pontificate on every war using the signals he learned so well in a small theater of another conflict in another time.

Now the nation must serve as the next career move in the Kerry enterprise. He will be remarkably good at running for President. Kerry will jettison any public statement, position, vote, or even friend to help the private, successful Kerry merge with the public failed one. He will endlessly fight Vietnam for he has never grown past it. However, the public cannot afford a second Democrat in ten years to use the presidency as personal therapy.

Mr. Kerry is very good at managing Mr. Kerry’s private life. He should be commended for it. Mr. Kerry has been a public disaster, except where his inaction has saved us all from more aggressive forms of Ivy League liberalism. Sadly for Mr. Kerry, the nation is now at war and cannot afford inactivity. I would suggest that for their safety, and for Mr. Kerry’s great good, the American people retire Mr. Kerry to the private life in which he is such a notable success. There we can continue to honor John F. Kerry for his one great act in service to his nation.

copyright 2004 John Mark Reynolds



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