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