Juicy Bits

The Condensed John Kerry, Cont’d.

The best parts of the Boston Globe’s new biography.

Book cover

In the preface to John F. Kerry: The Complete Biography by the Boston Globe Reporters Who Know Him Best, Globe editor Martin Baron cites a June 2003 e-mail from Jim Jordan, Kerry’s then-campaign manager. Jordan complains that the Globe’s forthcoming take on Kerry “doesn’t look to be a fair, contextual look at a long, good life but, instead, a collection of gaffes, controversies, disputations.” Baron insists that Jordan has it wrong and that the Globe’s book is “complete, balanced, and authoritative.” But who wants to read that? Here’s an incomplete, unbalanced selection of some of the “gaffes, controversies, disputations” that Jordan was moaning about, as well as an assortment of other interesting—and occasionally positive!—tidbits from the soon-to-be-released book:

Page 7: Kerry’s great-great-great-great-grandfather, the Rev. John Forbes, wasn’t French, but he was a Tory. In 1763, the British made Forbes, a Scot, “minister of St. Augustine, an important post in the British control of East Florida. … When the American Revolution unfolded, Forbes remained loyal to the British Crown.”

Page 27: At St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H., Kerry won a prize for a speech titled, “Resolved: that the growth of spectator sports in the western world in the last half century is an indication of the decline of western civilization.”

Page 39-40: Though Kerry and Bush both say they don’t recall meeting at Yale, David Thorne, a close friend of Kerry’s and the brother of his first wife, says he was on hand the day the two men met. They discussed the use of busing to integrate the school system, Thorne says. Kerry was in favor of it, and Bush was opposed.

Page 50: Why did Kerry, a Vietnam War opponent, decide to enlist? In addition to feeling obliged to serve his country (and wanting to go on the same adventure that his Yale friends were going on), Kerry says that part of the reason he enlisted in Vietnam was fear of the draft: “I called [the draft board] because I was thinking one of the options was, maybe I’ll go study abroad, which was a euphemism for screwing around a bit, but it was clear to me that I was going to be at risk. My draft board … said, ‘Look, the likelihood is you are probably going to be drafted.’ I said, ‘If I’m going to be drafted, I’d like to have responsibility and be an officer.’ “

Page 70, 77: When Kerry asked to be a Swift boat captain, he wasn’t asking for combat duty. At the time, the boats were not yet being used for the daring river raids that would make Kerry a war hero. In a 1986 book, Kerry wrote that the Swift boats “were engaged in coastal patrolling and that’s what I thought I was going to be doing. Although I wanted to see for myself what was going on, I didn’t really want to get involved in the war.”

Page 52: The “secret code number” of Skull and Bones is 322.

Page 73-76: After getting hit in the arm by a piece of shrapnel during a firefight, Kerry asks Lt. Cmdr. Grant Hibbard to put him in for a Purple Heart. Hibbard objected before relenting, and now says, “I’ve had thorns from a rose that were worse.” The book does note, “Purple Hearts were widely given for many types of injuries, including minor ones.”

Page 95: Kerry’s second Purple Heart. “Kerry was also hit by shrapnel in his left thigh, an injury that would merit a second Purple Heart. He was treated on an offshore ship and returned to duty hours later.”

Page 107: Kerry’s third Purple Heart. The injury “left him off-duty for a couple days. (He had immediately returned to duty after the earlier two wounds.)”

Page 108: Kerry asks to be transferred out of Vietnam on the three-Purple-Hearts-and-you’re-out policy. His commander, Roy Hoffman, “remains upset that Kerry left more than six months ahead of schedule. ‘That just turned me off then and there, and as far as I was concerned, he bugged out,’ ” Hoffman says.

Page 88-89: An interview with Steven Gardner, the one crewmate who doesn’t speak highly of Kerry’s behavior in Vietnam (and the one crewmate who wasn’t interviewed for Douglas Brinkley’s Tour of Duty). “Gardner argued that Kerry retreated from firefights too quickly—a view at odds with descriptions by others of Kerry’s aggression in later months.”

Page 90: Gardner says Kerry threatened him with a court martial for shooting a boy who was about 12 years old. Kerry disputes this, saying that “it was a terrible thing, but I’ve never thought we were somehow at fault or guilty.”

Page 105: Some Hogan’s Heroes-style antics: Kerry and Jim Rassman decide to toss grenades into “a huge rice cache that had been captured from the Vietcong and was thus slated for destruction. … Rassman escaped the ensuing explosion of rice, but Kerry was not as lucky—thousands of grains stuck to him.”

Page 99-101: Kerry comes up with the tactic that won him the Silver Star. “Kerry was frustrated that the swift boats were supposed to just race along the river, draw enemy fire, and speed away with guns blazing. Who knew if they shot the enemy? They usually couldn’t even see the guerrillas. Kerry insisted it would make more sense to beach the boat and chase down the enemy. … Rather than ordering his crew to hit the enemy and run, which was standard navy operating procedure, Kerry decided to chase down the Vietcong who were firing at his crew.”

Page 103: “When Kerry returned to his base, his commander, George Elliott, raised a familiar issue with Kerry: the fine line between whether the action merited a medal or a court-martial.”

Page 147-148: Kerry’s brother, Cam, and his campaign field director, Thomas J. Vallely, were arrested in 1972 during Kerry’s first run for Congress. They were trying to break into “a multifloor office building housing the headquarters of Kerry and another Democratic contender.” Kerry says his brother was set up by an anonymous caller who threatened to cut the campaign’s phone lines. Cam Kerry “declines to elaborate”: “It was an impulsive, rash thing that we did and that John Kerry ended up having to deal with,” he says. “That’s all we’re going to say on that one.”

Page 174: Kerry’s habit of embellishing his prosecutorial achievements: “For example, Kerry has, over the years, increasingly inflated his efforts in reducing the backlog of cases. Early in his campaign for the White House, Kerry often said he wiped out an inventory of 12,000 criminal cases. But a 1978 [District Attorney John J.] Droney election ad that Kerry helped write put the number at closer to 3,800 cases, and in a 1979 interview with the Lowell Sun he took credit for eliminating 2,772. But by 1982, a campaign biography had raised that number to 10,772. In fact, state records show that the entire superior court caseload, including backlog, never exceeded 7,625 during Kerry’s tenure.”

Page 175: Kerry’s claim about putting away “the number two organized crime boss in New England” is also contested. The book cites a 1982 Boston Globe report that calls Howie Winter, the mobster in question, “not even ‘Number Two’ in Greater Boston, much less in New England.”

Page 199: As lieutenant governor, Kerry drove cars provided by a local car dealer without paying for them until a Boston Herald reporter asked about it.

Page 200: In 1983, in an attempt to escape the 50 percent marginal tax rate on $225,105 in income from his former law practice, Kerry invested in an offshore tax shelter, until his accountant “questioned its legitimacy.”

Page 238-239: As a U.S. senator, Kerry would sometimes stay in homes owned by Boston supporters, and he paid rent “on a per diem basis only for the nights he was in Boston.” After his divorce, Kerry did not have a permanent Boston address of his own.

Page 293: Did you know that Teresa Heinz in a 1993 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette interview described herself as “not 100-percent pro-choice”? (The source notes say “not pro-choice 100 percent.”)

Page 260-261: In 1991, to those who said voting for war with Iraq would “give the administration leverage to force Hussein out of Kuwait,” Kerry responded, “That thinking is dangerous … and flawed. … This is not a vote about sending a message. It is a vote about war.”

Page 351-352: A fuller take on the same 1991 quote: “For us in Congress now, this is not a vote about a message. It is a vote about war because whether or not the president exercises his power, we will have no further say after this vote.”

Page 263: On CBS’s This Morning before the first Gulf War, Kerry said, “I’m convinced we’re doing this the wrong way.”

Page 266-267: When the first Gulf War ended, Kerry praised its execution. But he also criticized the Bush I administration for not shooting down the helicopters Saddam Hussein sent to attack the Kurdish and Shiite rebels who rose up at President George H.W. Bush’s encouragement. He “attacked Bush for leaving Hussein in power,” saying, “This administration, having likened Saddam Hussein to Hitler, having committed troops in the war against him, actually sided with Hussein in the aftermath of the war. That is a disgraceful chapter.”

Page 346-347: On the floor of the Senate in 2002, Kerry says, “The vote that I will give to the president is for one reason and one reason only, to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction if we cannot accomplish that objective through new, tough weapons inspections in joint conference with our allies.” Of President Bush, Kerry says, “I expect him to fulfill the commitments he has made to the American people in recent days—to work with the United Nations Security Council … and to ‘act with our allies at our side’ if we have to disarm Saddam Hussein by force.’ ” Four days later, Kerry justified his vote by saying he gave the president leverage to come up with a multilateral solution. “What’s happened is every single member of the United States Senate moved to take it to the U.N. with a willingness to enforce through the United Nations if that is the will of the international community. … There is no justification whatsoever for sending Americans for the first time in American history as the belligerent, as the initiator of it, as a matter of first instance, without a showing of an imminent threat to our country.”