EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appears in the September 13, 2004, issue of National Review (the Kerry issue!).
I never knew John Kennedy, and John Kennedy was not (sigh) a friend of mine, but among the legions of those who are no John Kennedy, John Forbes Kerry probably heads up the list. Their names are similar: their given name John; their mothers’ maiden names beginning with “F”; their vaguely Irish-sounding surnames beginning and ending with the same letters. They came from Massachusetts; commanded small boats in wartime in Pacific and/or Asian waters; and had access to vast sums of money they did nothing whatever to earn. Past these, however, points of resemblance are thin on the ground. John Kennedy was one of four charismatic American presidents of the 20th century, with a capacity to charm, disarm, and inspire people, one by one, and in a mass audience–a communicator on a par with Ronald Reagan and both Roosevelts. Kerry, on the other hand, rambles, meanders, and puts people to sleep. In the words of Democratic policy guru Ben Affleck, he tends to “enervate” those who listen. Kennedy imparted energy; Kerry drains people of it. Women do not jump or scream in John Kerry’s presence. In fact, they seem hard-pressed not to yawn.
All his life, John Kennedy had the ability to seduce and enlist in his interest people of all social classes, from the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire to the East Boston townies whom he met in 1946 when campaigning for Congress and who stayed in his orbit till death. Kerry has problems making connections with anyone; at least anyone not on the payroll. Kennedy’s great charm was, according to most people who knew him, a quality of being more intense than most people, of wringing the most out of every experience. People in his company tended to feel more alive and exuberant. People near Kerry, on the other hand, tend to feel dead, or at least in a coma. This may be restful, but it fails to inspire. People nod off when he talks. Kennedy was adored by his Secret Service detail, perhaps even too much so. Kerry’s detail has a different reaction. As the Washington Prowler reported on The American Spectator’s website, at least one agent asked to be reassigned after Kerry took him on a shopping trip involving the purchase of intimate items. On vacation in Idaho, Kerry threw a fit when knocked down by an agent trying to avoid other skiers. “I don’t fall down. That son of a bitch ran into me,” Kerry snapped at observers, who happened to notice his tumble. The real JFK did not swear at agents, or take them along to buy jockstraps. It’s just “that special gracelessness,” as Ben Bradlee might say.
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