Kerry should focus on getting reelected and forget his presidential ambitions
By STEPHEN C. BARTENSTEIN,
Poor John Kerry. In 2004, thousands flocked to his public appearances, elated to see the Democratic nominee for President in person. These days, the junior Senator from Massachusetts is lucky to draw audiences a fraction of that size. Monsieur Botox is universally viewed as a has-been, more washed up than Dave Coulier of Full House fame (remember Uncle Joey?). I feel for the guy; I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets invited to audition for VH1’s The Surreal Life.
Recently, Kerry has decided to recharge his dwindling star power by riding the coattails of a failed Presidential candidate before him—Al Gore ’69. Cognizant of Gore’s surge in popularity following the release of his global warming documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” Kerry and wife Teresa Heinz have penned their own environmentalist opus titled “This Moment on Earth.”
Why the sudden pursuit of hipness among the nation’s tree-hugging, granola crunchers?
Kerry let it slip in Denver a few days ago that he still harbors presidential pipe dreams, and he appears convinced that a pro-environment agenda is his ticket back into the limelight. But this is wishful thinking. It is also a reckless strategy to pursue if he wishes to remain in public office considering his unpopularity in the Bay State.
On Saturday, John and Teresa graced the People’s Republic with their presence. They touted “This Moment on Earth” at a discussion and book signing sponsored by the Harvard Book Store. When I arrived at the event held in Harvard Square’s First Parish Church, I was startled to find that scores of seats were empty. Even in the most liberal state in the Union’s most liberal city, John Kerry was unable to draw anywhere near a sell-out crowd.
Kerry appeared fairly polished during his opening remarks, even garnering a few obligatory chuckles from the crowd when he sardonically wisecracked that there is “a flat-earth caucus in Congress.” Yet while those in attendance were respectful, it was obvious from the tepid applause that the Kerrys garnered for even red meat rhetoric that the audience wasn’t particularly enthused by the issues addressed.
The first question John Kerry was asked was whether he would mind delineating his stance on the proposed Cape Cod wind farm (slated to be constructed in Nantucket Sound). This audience member clearly wanted to hear about environmental issues as they pertained to Massachusetts. Kerry equivocated in his response, providing a long-winded explanation in line with his notorious “I actually voted for the war before I voted against it” spiel. It seems that Kerry has not decided whether he is for the wind farm or against it, although he believes that wind energy is not necessarily the best form of alternative energy around. Huh?
What Kerry didn’t seem to realize is that the Cape wind farm was the most important topic he would discuss at the event. Massachusetts’ residents are growing tired of primetime, camera-crazed Kerry, to the extent that if he wishes to remain in elected office, he had better start striving earnestly to appeal to his constituents. They don’t want to hear about his quixotic quest to transform America into an ecological wonderland, and they could care less if he reaps positive national media coverage as a result. They want to hear him talk clearly about issues that directly affect them.
In a 7 News/Suffolk University poll of Massachusetts voters released last week, only 37 percent of respondents indicated that Kerry should seek reelection for another Senate term. To have any chance at retaining his Senate seat in 2008, it is high time for him to scrap his national ambitions and strive to regain relevance at home.
I say all this not because I despise Kerry, but because as a former intern of his I believe in him and want to see him get reelected. Kerry has affected a great deal of positive change in the United States Senate over 21 years, but he will only be able to continue doing so if he remains on Capital Hill.
Just how should Kerry go about getting reelected?
Ted Kennedy ’54-’56 is likely in his final term in office, and Kerry would be shrewd to fashion himself as an experienced hand that will overtake the role of Massachusetts’ elder political statesmen in Kennedy’s wake. To do so, Kennedy should cede some control of the numerous constituent services he provides Massachusetts’ citizens to Kerry’s office. Kennedy should also help Kerry take the lead in crafting legislation that will funnel federal money back into the State. In the past, pork barrel politics have largely fallen within Kennedy’s purview.
Most importantly, Kerry must start campaigning heavily for Senate immediately, and as has been previously stated, address local issues clearly without equivocation. He must articulate his opinions on local issues as forthrightly as he did with his irascible opinion on mobile phones at the book signing. In his words, “I’m fanatical now—I’m just not putting them up to my head. They fry it with radiation.”
At least he’s not flip-flopping about something.
Stephen C. Bartenstein, Harvard ’08, is a government concentrator in Lowell House. His column appears on alternate Mondays in The Crimson.