Kerry, Speaking Softly About the Big Stick
The Big Question
The next day, Kerry walked into a small auditorium at the University of South Florida in Tampa, to hold a "conversation with first responders and public health officials" about bioterrorism.
The next hour and a half featured a panel of experts in a dire discussion of the unthinkable, a fact that Kerry acknowledged. "This is a daunting topic, I know," he said. "And some people will just turn off." Or just leave, which several people do at various points during the program.
As with his proposal for a White House czar of loose nukes, Kerry said he will appoint someone to oversee all bio-terrorism related activity in his administration. He will convene a meeting of academics, health workers, scientists and first responders within his first 100 days in office.
While the experts spoke, Kerry sipped bottled water and swished it around in his mouth. He leaned his chin on his folded fists and occasionally ran his left index finger up and down his temple. He nodded gravely while one expert -- Thomas Paine, of USF's Center for Disease Management and Humanitarian Assistance -- spoke of vectors, epidemiology, catastrophic events and post-traumatic stress. Kerry looked almost pained at times. But also purposeful and at home in the backwater of another news cycle, happy to leave the big headaches and headlines to the current White House.
Kerry invited questions from what was left of the audience. And naturally, after 90 minutes of discussion about the surreal, devastating and calamitous -- after it's clear that we're all going to die -- the first question involved a matter of even greater concern.
Senator, would you consider picking John McCain as your running mate?
The audience broke into laughter and applause, and Kerry smiled for the first time that afternoon. "As if I don't already have 5,000 people in the media breaking down my door about that," he said. He said what he always says: He is committed to a "private, personal" process in picking his running mate.
"I hope you will take that in the spirit that it's meant," Kerry told the man. It's not clear what that spirit is other than evasion. "Thank you, though," Kerry added. "I appreciate the question. Good try."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company