John Kerry’s Great Adventure

Freed from any more elections or politics, Kerry’s diving into the State Department like a gleeful kid in a candy shop.

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Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo

New Secretary of State John Kerry is greeted by State Department staff during a ceremony welcoming him as the 68th secretary of state, Monday, Feb. 4, 2013, at the State Department in Washington.

Bounding around with enthusiasm I haven’t seen since the week before he won the Iowa caucuses in 2004, John Kerry arrived at the State Department for his first day of work Monday morning.

As is traditional, Kerry addressed an assembled staff in the lobby of the Harry S. Truman building. He was scheduled to speak at 9am but in typical Kerry fashion, he got there about 20 minutes late. (An improvement over the 45 minutes he ran late throughout his presidential campaign, and over Hillary’s usual tardiness.)

Kerry was full of jokes and witticisms. A sampling from the official transcript:

“Thank God I had a couple of photo IDs so I could get in,” Kerry quipped poking fun at the notoriously strict State Department security (much tougher than the White House, at least for press).

“I have to tell you, I liked my cubicle over there in transition corner.  (Laughter.)  But I cannot tell you how great it feels to sort of be liberated to know that I actually get to explore the whole building now.  (Laughter.)  So I’ve been freed.  I’m the first person you guys freed today.”

“So here’s the big question before the country and the world and the State Department after the last eight years:  Can a man actually run the State Department?”  (Laughter.)

“As the saying goes, I have big heels to fill.”  (Laughter.)

“I’m going to utter five words that certainly no sitting senator, and probably a former senator, have ever uttered, and that is:  These remarks will be brief.  (Laughter.)  And I promise you that, because I don’t know what we’re doing for the productivity of the building right now.  (Laughter.)  If this goes on too long, I may get a phone call from the President on a recall.”  (Laughter.)

Of course, in a senatorial kind of way, Kerry’s “brief” remarks were 1,725 words long. But they were delivered with such happy enthusiasm, they didn’t feel long. Kerry reminisced about his first diplomatic passport, which he received at the age of 11 and produced – green and dog-eared – for the crowd.

“There’s a picture of a little 11-year-old John Kerry and no, you will not get to see it. (Laughter.) And then in the description it says, “Height: 4-foot-3.”  (Laughter.)  “Hair: Brown.”  So as you can see, the only thing that’s changed is the height.”  (Laughter.)

Kerry’s hair has, of course, been silvery white for decades. Kerry then went on to describe biking around Berlin, his father’s foreign service posting at the time, as a 12-year old and using that passport to get into East Berlin.

“If the tabloids today knew I had done that, I can see the headlines that say, “Kerry’s Early Communist Connections,” something like that.  (Laughter.)  That’s the world we live in, folks.

But I would reassure them by saying I really noticed the difference between the east and west.  There were very few people.  They were dressed in dark clothing.  They kind of held their heads down.  I noticed all this.  There was no joy in those streets.  And when I came back, I felt this remarkable sense of relief and a great lesson about the virtue of freedom and the virtue of the principles and ideals that we live by and that drive us. I was enthralled.

Now when my dad learned what I’d done, he was not enthralled.  (Laughter.)  And I got a tongue-lashing, I was told I could’ve been an international incident.  He could’ve lost his job.  And my passport, this very passport, was promptly yanked – (laughter) – and I was summarily grounded.  Anyway, lessons learned.

But that was a great adventure and I will tell you:  57 years later today, this is another great adventure.”

Kerry’s tenure as Secretary of State will likely prove longer, and hopefully more substantial, than an illicit bike trip to East Berlin. But you could tell that he had the same thrill as a 12-year-old might on a big adventure. In the decade that I’ve known him I have not seen him as patently happy since the campaign. Freed from any more elections or politics, Kerry’s diving in like a gleeful kid in a candy shop.

John Kerry

Manuel Balce Ceneta/ AP Photo
31 comments
MoFreedom
MoFreedom

JK has a giant mess to clean up at the State Department.  His up in the air predecessor spent so much time shaping her image for 2016 that she spent little time addressing the day to day details of running the State Department or foreign policy.  As a consequence, the State Department's deteriorated into a inefficient, bumbling, bureaucratic nightmare.  

And JK's never run anything in his life himself.  So, he'll be lucky to find his way to the executive men's room without a GPS device or an administrative assistant to guide him. 

notsacredh
notsacredh

OT, but here's a real buzz kill. A friend of mine inherited a couple of million dollars two years ago. He passed away friday at the age of 60. He lived in a small apartment before he inherited the money. It's the same place he died in.

Curious_Quiche
Curious_Quiche

Questions about hard hitting journalism aside, I think we can all sit back and heave out a few laughs that all that Republican sturm und drang came to nothing, for no reason, and that they are more and more reduced to Stadler and Waldorf status up in the boxes. Are they loud? Yes. Are they irritating? Yes. Do they hit a weak spot? On occasion. Does the show go on? You bet your sweet bippy.

gysgt213
gysgt213

No doze stock is going through the roof world wide.

stuart_zechman
stuart_zechman

Jay Newton-Small:

What a fantastic piece of quality journalism!

The only quibble I might have is with the surprisingly inordinate amount of copy devoted to deep reporting on what Kerry's appointment indicates in terms of post-Wikileaks official secrecy doctrine, capital-oriented policy orthodoxies or the functioning (or lack thereof) of the DoS bureaucracy.  

Also, you've included way too much information about how State is organized, what it purports to do, and the goals and metrics by which ordinary voters might be able to effectively judge the Kerry team's performance, as well as the competence of the current diplomatic corps itself. After all, the purpose of a free press is to keep citizens' minds as uncluttered and focused on the loudly, repetitively stated feelings of high officials as possible!

Maybe your next piece can dwell solely on what the most senior Cabinet member and fourth in presidential line of succession, the individual tasked withe the responsibility of carrying out official (and unofficial) foreign policy of the United States, says at a public media event about how they feel about their new job, perhaps with a self-described anecdote of that person's experience as a 12-year-old thrown in verbatim.

Remember:  we poor, dumb marks --I mean, readers rely on experienced reporters with your level of expertise to accurately inform us of whether our leaders are "as patently happy since the campaign" as John Kerry appears to be at this moment, Jay Newton-Small.

Thanks again for this fantastic work...it says so much about your credibility and value as a professional!


notsacredh
notsacredh

"Kerry was full of jokes and witticisms"

.

JNS, was the title of your article inspired by "Pee Wee's Big Adventure"? It's the first thing I thought of when I saw it.

anilkm
anilkm

Sometimes good men do finish first! Go Kerry!

kbanginmotown
kbanginmotown

@sacredh I'm hoping that he spent his 2-Mil on on travel and food and drinks and didn't worry about buying a nicer place. 

However, 60 is way too young, so I'm guessing his pursuits were a bit less...healthy. Sorry to hear, sacred.

kbanginmotown
kbanginmotown

@Curious_Quiche At least Stadler and Waldorf were good-matured and funny. Our GOP acts more like a couple of unibombers sitting on cases of dynamite...


JNSmall
JNSmall moderator

@stuart_zechman Wow, Stuart. Bitter much? Not every piece has to be hard hitting. I wavered about writing this but given that I have been following Kerry pretty closely for a decade and he has literally been bummed for a better part of that decade, it seemed noteworthy to me that the guy finally had a good day. As sacredh notes, this may be the last good day for a while, but between all the wars, fiscal cliffs, earth quakes and other awfulness, is it a crime to note every now and again when someone is having a good day? I guess, in your book it is. Kill some puppies lately?

JNS

notsacredh
notsacredh

This may be the last light-hearted piece he gets for the next four years.

notsacredh
notsacredh

kbang, he didn't spend the money. He barely touched it. I'd known him for 40 years. He drifted from one meaningless job to the next waiting to inherit. He quit college a MONTH before he was to graduate. He worked in a mill, a slaughterhouse, walked people's dogs...anything he could find. He didn't live moderately, it was austere. Sometimes we wouldn't hear from him for YEARS. He moved all over the country. Everything he owned would fit in his truck. He came from money but his parents wouldn't just give him unlimited cash, in fact, they quit giving him anything. He got a new Jaguar for his 16th birthday. He wrecked it just months after he got it. he started developing health problems about 5 years ago but let his problems go untreated. Then he got the money and nothing changed.

stuart_zechman
stuart_zechman

@JNSmall @stuart_zechman As always, thanks so much for responding to commentary --even the most bitter, good day-hating, puppy-jihadist commentary, Jay Newton-Small.

I guess, when considering all of the folks in America who have "literally been bummed for a better part of that decade," I really hadn't been thoughtful enough to remember the deep, anguished ennui experienced by people like John Kerry. Given all that's happened to Americans over the past decade, from Katrina to Sandy, from the foreclosure crisis to chronic unemployment, it should have immediately occurred to me to empathize with the new Secretary's prior problems. I probably owe the poor guy the same apology I should have offered to Colin Powell for his suffering.

Come to think of it, the former five-term US Senator and presidential nominee really does deserve a story in a major national publication's blog about his positive feelings, now and again. I mean, if John Kerry doesn't qualify for journalists' sympathy, then who does?

Thanks for setting my bitter, cramped view of your professional standards straight, Jay Newton-Small. In fact, I feel so chastened that I think I'll just have to stop for a quick road-side round of puppy-hunting --hopefully I won't shoot my long-time friend in the face!


notsacredh
notsacredh

That's true. When I was in college I wanted to get a job where I could make money easily and then I got a summer job working on a dam as a stay-in-school. I loved it. I like the water and I like being outdoors. At first, I thought I'd work for a few years there while getting my Masters and then move onto easy street. The years kept passing and then I finally decided that I'd rather do something I liked than make more money. I've never regretted it. Money's nice, but being happy is far more important.

MrObvious
MrObvious

@sacredh 

Maybe he was at the point where he didn't feel like doing much about it and looked forward to the end. Money can't cure people from themselves.

MrObvious
MrObvious

@JNSmall @forgottenlord @stuart_zechman 

Thank you for your story. There's plenty of bad news in the world and it's good to hear that Kerry walks into this in the right spirit. 4 years from now might be an entirely different story and it's going to be interesting to read his take away from that. But this is his moment and something I'm sure he have been working hard for in his lifetime. Perfectly appropriate for 'fluff'. I'm sure there will be plenty of time to re-visit the pains that will most likely be lining themselves up as we look into the next couple of years.

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

@Sue_N @JNSmall @forgottenlord @stuart_zechman What you, sacred, and forgottenlord said. I have no objection to this post either. It's ok to highlight Kerry's positive traits. He'll need them. We need to highlight good things to show what works (and in these bad times we NEED to know what works) while also reporting bad things to avoid the next Watergate or Enron ...or Iraqi war.

Sue_N
Sue_N

@JNSmall @forgottenlord @stuart_zechman Jay, allow me to say that I like the article, also (though I tend to like most of your stuff). Kerry is about to walk into a minefield. It's reassuring to know that he actually wants to do it and that State is exactly where he wants to be.

He does have some very big heels to fill (Hillary's; Condi's, not so much). It cannot hurt that he's so looking forward to doing it. And, frankly, it's nice to be reminded now and then that John Kerry actually is human and does have a personality.

notsacredh
notsacredh

Variety is the spice of life. Life is also too short to take seriously all of the time.

JNSmall
JNSmall moderator

@forgottenlord @stuart_zechman Thank you @forgottenlord for actually reading and referencing my body of work rather than looking at this post sui generis. If you went farther back to 2004, you'd see I was quite tough on Kerry's swift boat response, his underwhelming plays for hunter/fishers & moderate evangelicals and his closing arguments in the election. More recently, I've written about his relative lack of oversight on the Obama Administration. 

On the whole, covering foreign policy doesn't afford a lot of positive articles: Syria, Egypt, Iran, Middle East peace, the disintegration of Iraq -- which I'm writing about this week for the magazine -- Haiti, Mali. My year has been full of fairly sobering travels and stories. So, sorry if I take a tiny bit of pleasure in writing about some one -- one person's good day. 

JNS

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

@stuart_zechman

What the heck is your problem?  Ok, so she wrote a fluff piece.  Is this part of a general trend of JNS writing fluff pieces?  Is it required that JNS write about how the world is falling apart every time she gets behind a keyboard?

You mentioned Americans hurting from foreclosures, Katrina and Sandy - as if those were the only things that define the last four years.  Oh, let's all be like SZ and focus on the glass is half empty side. These items are reported on, have been reported on and quite extensively.  Sure, perhaps they haven't addressed every issue you believe in, but there's been plenty of them addressed and it's not reasonable to expect that every outlet is going to catch everything

And if you checked, JNS DID write a more serious story about the issues facing Kerry back on Wednesday.  "Kerry Confirmed as Secretary of State as Global Crises Escalate"

But no, how dare she take a day to write a softball article.