Just as Wesley Clark is spooked by the ghosts of Bill and Hillary Clinton, John Kerry has Ted Kennedy hanging over his shoulder. He obviously is not Kennedy’s boy, but most people won’t see it that way and think of the junior senator from Massachusetts as Teddy’s last hurrah, the last link in the Kennedy legacy.
And the contest would pit the two distinctly New England families—Kennedy and Bush—against each another, in a battle between Kennedy’s tired liberalism versus Bush’s mix of Keynesian defense economics embedded in the moral crusades of the Christian right.
For many, the best evidence of the Kennedy-Kerry ties was Ted’s words of support in Iowa. But the Kennedys have helped Kerry in various ways. The senior senator has attended fundraisers in D.C., made telephone calls on Kerry’s behalf, journeyed to Iowa and New Hampshire, and stumped for Kerry in Michigan and Arizona and New Mexico. His son Patrick, a congressman from Rhode Island, shifted his backing to Kerry when Gephardt quit the race. On a nuts-and-bolts level, when Kerry fired Jim Jordan, his campaign manager, Kennedy loaned the junior senator Mary Beth Cahill, his chief of staff. She in turn hired Stephanie Cutter, Kennedy’s press secretary, who had been working at the Democratic National Committee. Kennedy told The Boston Globe he had nothing to do with hiring Cahill; that idea came from ex-New Hampshire governor Jeanne Shaheen.
That doesn’t mean Kennedy and Kerry necessarily agree on issues—Kerry backed welfare “reform,” which Kennedy sharply opposed. The fact is that Kerry just hasn’t done much since he got to the Senate 19 years ago. He backs environmental legislation but isn’t thought of as a leader on such matters. He got a lot of press a while back from investigating the BCCI international banking scandal, a subject that sends most people into a sound snooze. Little came of that, anyway. Kerry’s kooky on some things, like when he fought and fought to get rid of a mohair subsidy. His efforts succeeded. Yet when the subsidy program was reintroduced, he did nothing to stop it. Currently he is up in arms against the Bush tax cuts, but, as the National Journal notes, he ducked out of a 2001 vote on those reductions to make a commencement address.
Time portrays Kerry and Kennedy as disliking one another—Kennedy down-to-earth and Kerry something of a snoot. But in his Globe interview Kennedy went out of his way to explain Kerry. “There’s a shyness about Senator Kerry that sometimes comes through as sort of standoffish,” Kennedy said. “But in the course of the campaign, as people have come to understand the strength of his character and his heroism, they moved in favor of him.” And Kerry is his own man, according to Kennedy, who said, “I watched as John really listened to people and heard from families about their concerns and hopes and dreams. It moved him deeply, and I could hear later in the campaign when he spoke about how he would deal with these problems, there was a different resonance to his words and speech. There was a connection, and people understood it.” Kennedy told the Globe that “the closest relationship” has been between their wives, Victoria Kennedy and Teresa Heinz Kerry. “And John and I have become a good deal closer,” he said. “We’re good social friends as well as political allies.” Victoria Kennedy is active in gun control as the president and co-founder of Common Sense About Kids and Guns. And Teresa Heinz Kerry is well-known in the philanthropic community.
Additional reporting: Alicia Ng and Ashley Glacel
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 27, 2004