The Current Crisis

Senator Kerry on Parade

At least he wasn't pelted with eggs and tomatoes.

By 1.2.03

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Since Al Gore announced on 60 Minutes that he would not run for President, the press has trumpeted its latest "front-runner," Senator John (F.) Kerry of Massachusetts.

"Front-Runner Kerry Is Facing Pressure," the New York Post headlined Deborah Orin's column the day after Gore's announcement.

"The man who'll feel the most pressure after Al Gore's exit is…Kerry," Orin wrote. "Over the past month, Kerry has emerged as Gore's chief rival both in the pundit chatter circle and polls, but now suddenly he finds himself as the interim front-runner."

Dick Morris analyzed the first post-Gore Gallup poll, and found Kerry scoring the strongest combination.

"John Kerry shows the greatest strength," Morris opined. "Known by only 45 percent of the voters, he pulls 21 percent (in the Presidential preference poll). (Connecticut Senator) Joe Lieberman, known by 70 percent, gets 25 percent."

A Reuters headline on December 26 declared, "For Hollywood Democrats, It's Cash and Kerry."

"With Al Gore bowing out of the bidding for the Democratic nomination last week," the un-bylined dispatch said, "Hollywood is turning its full attention to 2004 presidential hopefuls John Kerry and John Edwards -- in that order."

Okay, got that picture? Here's another.

It's a bright, beautiful early summer day in Charlestown, Massachusetts, the day of the annual Bunker Hill Day Parade. Charlestown, site of the bloodiest first clash between colonials and redcoats in the Revolutionary War, every year puts on a glorious festival of bagpipes, musketeers, marching bands, roaring fire trucks, flags, patriots -- and politics.

This barely one-square mile triangle of land, an island in colonial days, forms the thumping heart of the most famous Democratic district in American politics. It was John F. Kennedy's district. He launched his first campaign for the House from Dave Powers' apartment just off Bunker Hill Street. It was Tip O'Neill's district. It was Joseph Kennedy III's district. After young Joe retired, Somerville Mayor Michael Capuano won a wide-open Democratic primary that drew every famous out-of-work Democrat in Boston to the race.

Charlestown is legendarily Irish, and the headquarters to one of the largest and most influential Teamsters Union locals in the country. So when the Bunker Hill Day Parade rolls around, you can count on most Boston politicians to show up.

I lived in Charlestown, right on the parade route, for 10 years. The year John Kerry marched in the parade, I left my house to start seeing the sights, and almost immediately ran into a crowd gathered around long-time Boston city councilor Albert (Dapper) O'Neil.

"Dappuh! Dappuh!" the Townies were shouting. "Ovah heah!" Dapper, seated in beaming glory on the rear deck of a red convertible, smiled, waved, reached out to every hand. He hugged Gold Star mothers, he talked to children. He looked so happy you expected him to grab a bagpipe and play a jig.

I tussled through the happy throng and found my usual spot near the corner of Green Street and High Street to watch the parade. Some 20 minutes later, here came a stiff, solitary, skinny gray figure, walking all alone up the middle of the street. It is a shock, let me tell you, to see a U.S. senator walking completely alone in the middle of a city street.

"Who's that?" somebody behind me asked.

"Kerry," someone else answered.

"Oh."

And Kerry stumped on, scarcely looking right or left, lifting his hand in a desultory wave now and then, looking like he'd rather be in some cool cocktail lounge -- anywhere else.

Early anointed front-runner he may be in the press, but I can't get that picture of John Kerry out of my mind. In the middle of Democrat political heaven, on a bright sunny day with the flags flying and the bands playing, he had no idea what to do, and nobody seemed to be glad to see him.

The Democrats have two choices. They can pick someone to do the Dole dive. Or they can do something else. In the "something else," they'd run a candidate who would quite frankly lose, but make points doing it. That candidate would have to be a near-unknown (at this stage), quite young, someone positioned to build himself for future success (think Reagan's run in 1976). Myself, I'd choose Harold Ford, rising African-American representative from Tennessee. But I don't think the party is positioned to do that -- not with Terry McAuliffe, Nancy Pelosi, and the Clintons behind the scenes running the show.

As for Kerry, he has no talent for retail politics. Kerry won't even make it through the early primaries. The man has a personality that can freeze the fringes of hell.

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About the Author

Lawrence Henry writes every week from North Andover, Massachusetts.