The initials JFK are shorthand for tailors and typesetters alike. The letters adorn barrel cuffs and shirt pockets, where the stitching is surgical in its precision and subtle in its placement: a hand-sewn monogram, in indigo or ivory, that matches the darkest color of a particular fabric. The letters have regional and national significance. They have international importance, too, whenever they appear in print by way of Simon & Schuster or the Boston Globe.
But this JFK is not that JFK. John Forbes Kerry is not John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Try as he might, and he tries mightily, John Kerry is more pompous than populist, more presumptuous than prudent, more partisan than patrician. That so many know so little about Kerry is a credit to his skill at deflection.
And yet, one man saw the truth.
That this man is a rogue in his own right, that he is more of a natural politician than “The Natural” himself, Bill Clinton, is a testament not to his sins but to his shrewdness; because John Edwards was sensible enough to see—and smart enough to know—that John Kerry was unimpressive.
He was also wise enough not to criticize Kerry in public, which is not to say he never criticized him, because he did. But Edwards’s comment, as told by Andrew Young in The Politician, was a form of summary judgment: the dismissal of the case for Kerry without a full trial, without the need to review the merits of the man, without the desire to find the person beneath the politician.
Kerry seemed well-informed, according to Edwards, like someone “who had read The New York Times every day for twenty years,” but he was not a creative person or even a good problem solver. Nor was he particularly intelligent, despite all myths to the contrary.
The myth is now available in hardback, titled Every Day Is Extra, which reads as though Kerry tried to time his sentences with the tides; his words cresting with the waves—gathering strength with the rhythms of the ocean—whose currents carried his ancestors aboard the Mayflower, whose currents carried him from mansions in the New World to an ancestral estate in the Old, whose currents are visible from his maternal grandparents’ compound in France; where the waves crash against the cliffs in Brittany, where the rich laugh and live above, where Americans lost their lives climbing the cliffs to save the life of Europe.
Edwards was right: Kerry may be a Democrat, but he is no democrat.
The better book is The Politician.
It is a tale about talent, about its ability to elevate the son of a millworker to the echelons of the United States Senate, where John Edwards stood alongside John Kerry. It is a tale about the dangers of talent, about its ability to exhaust the workers who believed in the promise of a man of singular talent. It is, in the end, a tale about the temptations of talent, about the moral rot and marital decay between a husband and wife.
It is a tale about the personal price of political success.
It is a tale worth heeding.
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