The Herald of Everett, Washington
Customer service  |  Subscribe   |   Log in or sign up   |   Advertising information   |   Contact us
HeraldNet on Facebook HeraldNet on Twitter HeraldNet RSS feeds HeraldNet Pinterest HeraldNet Google Plus HeraldNet Youtube
HeraldNet Newsletters  Newsletters: Sign up  Green editions icon Green editions

Kerry exactly where he belongs

SHARE: facebook Twitter icon Linkedin icon Google+ icon Email icon |  PRINTER-FRIENDLY  |  COMMENTS
By Dana Milbank
Published:
WASHINGTON -- For a change, people were laughing with John Kerry, not at him.
Through much of his political career, the Democratic senator from Massachusetts, his party's 2004 presidential nominee, was easily lampooned for his awkward self-importance. But when he showed up in Foggy Bottom Monday for his first day as secretary of state, Kerry delivered punch lines without strain or struggle.
"So here's the big question that's before the country and the world and the State Department after the last eight years," he told hundreds of diplomats who packed the State Department lobby to greet him. "Can a man actually run the State Department?"
As the laughter and applause died, he added, "As the saying goes, I have big heels to fill."
He went on to describe riding his bicycle into East Berlin as a 12-year-old when his father was serving as a diplomat. "If the tabloids today knew I had done that, I can see the headlines that say, 'Kerry's early communist connections,'" he quipped.
He continued, easily and smoothly, for just 14 minutes (in the Senate, it took Kerry that long just to clear his throat), without notes and with obvious joy at beginning what he called the "great adventure" of being the nation's top diplomat.
Mentioning the cubicle he occupied during the transition between Hillary Clinton's tenure and his, Kerry told his new colleagues, "I cannot tell you how great it feels to, sort of, be liberated ... I've been freed."
This was true on multiple levels. Kerry, after much striving, was finally where he belonged. At 69, he was in the job he had trained for his whole life -- as a diplomat's son, as a soldier, as a young politician in a hurry, as a failed presidential candidate and as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Often rumored to be in line for the post in the past, Kerry was palpably joyful to have the prized assignment.
"This -- this is beyond a pleasure," he told the diplomats.
Not since John Quincy Adams, perhaps, has a man been bred to be Secretary of State as John Kerry has. A son of the world and a scion of privilege, he struggled to demonstrate the common touch, mocked in 2004 for his wind-surfing and his French. But for this job he's well-suited, literally: He wore a lustrous blue suit and a salmon-pink tie for his first day; as he was being introduced, he fished in his jacket sleeve for his shirt cuff, making it peek out that perfect half inch.
The crowd, though not quite as large as the one for Clinton's departure on Friday, was as adoring as any Kerry has seen since '04. One man carried a hand-lettered sign saying "WELCOME JFK"; some women shouted from the balcony in unison: "Mr. Secretary!" Kerry, preceded by a security squadron, waved, shook hands, and chatted up his audience -- even the reporters. "We'll catch up!" he called out to Time magazine's Jay Newton-Small.
"What's your first priority?" Newton-Small asked.
"Find my office!" he returned. (This may not be as easy as it sounds; it took this reporter 30 minutes, and multiple redirections, to gain admission to the State Department lobby.)
"If I'm wandering around the building later," Kerry cautioned his new colleagues, "and I, sort of, wind up in your office, it's not because I'm there for a meeting. It's because I'm lost and I need directions."
He began with the requisite praise for his predecessor, then invoked the memory of the Americans killed in the assault on the diplomatic outpost in Benghazi last year. "I guarantee you that beginning this morning when I report for duty upstairs, everything I do will be focused on the security and safety of our people," he said.
Later, he held up the green diplomatic passport he had as a 4-foot-3, brown-haired child ("There's a picture of a little 11-year-old John Kerry -- and, no, you will not get to see it"). He described his passage to Europe ("the United States government sent us over, the entire family, first class -- don't get any ideas"). And he recalled his unauthorized visit to East Berlin ("When my dad learned what I had done, he was not enthralled ... My passport, this very passport, was promptly yanked, and I was summarily grounded").
"But that was a great adventure," Kerry said. "And I will tell you, 57 years later, today, this is another great adventure."
In the applause that followed his remarks, Kerry pressed his palms together for the crowd, as if in a prayer of thanks.

Dana Milbank is a Washington Post columnist. His email address is danamilbank@washpost.com.









More Opinion Columnists Headlines

NEWSLETTER

HeraldNet Headlines

Top stories and breaking news updates

Calendar

Share your comments: Log in using your HeraldNet account or your Facebook, Twitter or Disqus profile. Comments that violate the rules are subject to removal. Please see our terms of use. Please note that you must verify your email address for your comments to appear.

You are logged in using your HeraldNet ID. Click here to update your profile. | Log out.

Our new comment system is not supported in IE 7. Please upgrade your browser here.

comments powered by Disqus