Shifting Within Party To Gain His Footing
With the Reagan administration seeking increased military aid to Marcos, Kerry won lopsided bipartisan support -- 89 to 8 -- for a resolution warning that future aid would be conditioned on democratic reforms. The Democratic House and some in the Reagan administration already were pressing Marcos to reform, and later that year, Congress dramatically cut his aid. Marcos responded by calling a snap election.
Contrary to other accounts, Kerry in his own retelling forced the election single-handedly: "I came back and implemented a policy through the Foreign Relations Committee that would hold him accountable . . . which prompted him to retaliate by saying, 'Well I'll show this young whippersnapper who runs the Philippines -- I'll call an election,' believing he could put it all to bed."
Kerry traveled with Foreign Relations Chairman Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) in a U.S. delegation to monitor the fairness of the election, and a Republican leadership aide recalled that Lugar assigned a senior committee staffer to effectively "baby-sit" Kerry for fear he would "shoot off his mouth," in light of the Ortega episode. But the aide said Kerry was scrupulously diplomatic, deferring to Lugar, who praised Kerry's work in a 1988 book.
The group's documentation of fraud led the Reagan administration to cut off aid to Marcos, hastening the inauguration of Corazon Aquino, widow of the murdered opposition leader, as president. A turning point came when 30 government computer programmers took refuge in a cathedral and revealed that voting data had been tampered with.
"All of the lights kind of illuminated them in front of the altar," Kerry recalled. "It was just an incredible, sort of surreal scene of disclosure of the truth. . . . And that was the end of Marcos."
Building Party Credentials
Regarded as something of a loner in his caucus, Kerry was hardly an obvious choice to head the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee in 1988. "A searing, intense, focused person," was the way one senator remembered viewing him then. "He's never been a people person," said another.
But even as he embraced his outsider reputation, Kerry was working to build credentials as a valued Democratic soldier among fellow senators and major party donors. Although he had loudly spurned political action committee money in his own campaign -- using the pledge to define himself as a reformer -- he vowed to raise it aggressively for his fellow senators. And to showcase his money-raising prowess, he hosted a splashy DSCC fundraiser on Cape Cod, complete with a tour of the Kennedy compound.
Under Kerry, the DSCC broke previous fundraising records and Democrats added a seat to their majority. "He won the undying gratitude of his colleagues, a lot of IOUs," recalled former senator David Pryor (D-Ark.).
Meanwhile, Kerry's seriousness won appreciation in some important quarters. Former majority leader George J. Mitchell (D-Maine) remembered Kerry working behind the scenes with him for two months to break a deadlock with the administration of then-President George H.W. Bush over major amendments to the Clean Air Act to control acid rain, an issue Kerry had mastered as lieutenant governor of Massachusetts.
Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) said he felt indebted to Kerry for becoming an early co-sponsor of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings bill -- forcing budget cuts on Congress to contain a ballooning federal debt -- despite a furious backlash from liberal Democrats in Massachusetts. "He risked his life for his country in Vietnam, and he risked his political life when he signed on to Gramm-Rudman-Hollings," Hollings said.
The independent-minded South Carolinian became a mentor to the much younger New Englander on the Commerce Committee, rewarding his hard work with increasing visibility. "If Hollings needed somebody on short notice to speak up for an amendment in markup, he'd turn to Kerry and know he'd master the subject, no matter how complicated, in a few hours," a longtime committee aide said. The two shared a passion for the oceans -- Kerry since early childhood, spending long stretches at the Forbes family's Naushon Island on the Cape -- and they collaborated extensively on coastal and ocean protection measures. "My right arm," Hollings called him.
If Kerry seemed removed and formal to many colleagues, Hollings saw him moving with ease as a politician, excelling even at insider games such as trading favors. Once, when a drought threatened cattle with starvation, Hollings was furious that the government would not provide military planes to fly surplus hay to South Carolina.
" 'You need planes? How many?' " Hollings recalled Kerry asking.
Hollings said he needed two. Kerry ducked into a phone booth in the Senate cloakroom and called his old Yale classmate and fellow Skull and Bones Society member, Fred Smith, who created Federal Express. He emerged minutes later. "You've got two planes," he said.
Risking Families' Anger
The transforming experience of Kerry's Senate career came when he accepted an assignment from the Democratic leadership that on its face promised no political gain. His staff and advisers recall urging him, to a person, not to chair the Select Committee on POW-MIA Affairs, charged with determining whether American prisoners of war remained alive in Vietnam.
Five administrations had tried and failed to find definitive answers, and Kerry was risking the wrath of anguished families who clung to hopes that loved ones were alive. Moreover, it would take months away from Kerry's ongoing work.
"He made everyone vote, and we all voted no," recalled then-press secretary Larry Carpman. "And he said, 'I really appreciate the discussion, and I hear you. I just feel I have to do this.' " Later Kerry explained, "I thought as a Vietnam veteran that I had an obligation to my fellow Vietnam veterans and to all veterans to get the answers."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company