John Kerry: Hunter, Dreamer, Realist
Kerry's advisers have urged him not to ramble, to speak less about issues and more about his life. At a recent gathering of Democrats in Duncan, S.C., Kerry promised he'd make America safer. Then he touched on his usual themes of health care, energy independence, progressive internationalism, creating jobs while protecting the environment.
He finished with a smile that held until a man raised his hand to speak.
"I'm sorry to say -- that won't be able to beat Bush," said Elvis Muhaabwa, 52. "Bush is a one-topic man. He's going to hammer it in our ears. Even if it's not true, we will believe it."
"I understand you have to boil it down," Kerry said, his voice ratcheting up. "But I'm here, talking to smart Democrats."
Afterward, Muhaabwa said, "After he leaves, he'll be thinking about what I said."
That's where Muhaabwa was wrong. Because when Kerry left, he drove to the airport and climbed into the pilot's seat of a twin-engine Cessna. The cautious politician gave way to the other Kerry. This was Primal John, the pilot who flies barrel rolls, who relaxes by windsurfing in a squall, who ran with the bulls at Pamplona and, when trampled, got up, chased the bull, and grabbed for its horns.
Now Kerry revved the plane's engines, clamped on his headset, cracked a joke about the Red Sox and rumbled down the strip.
"This is Five Papa Juliet at 120 degrees, climbing to 7,500 feet," he told the control tower as the ground dropped away.
As the tiny plane bumped and shook, he looked more and more relaxed. Flying to his next campaign stop, he chatted about maneuvers to avoid flak in combat.
The political flak he'd just taken was far from his mind. Throttle, propeller, speed, fuel: Kerry was happily in the moment. He turned the plane to dodge a threatening cloud. There were no ambiguities. It was simple.
"I Want to Win!'
Jacket off, shades on, Kerry stretched out on a park bench in Charleston, S.C., his head and feet sticking off the bench at both ends. "We need your help, man. Rally the troops," he said into his cell phone. "I want to win!"
Kerry was on a fundraising jag, dialing supporters between campaign stops. He has excelled at raising money, at creating a national campaign network, and at hiring top consultants. First to announce his candidacy, he's been unambiguous about his ambition.
To get from that Charleston bench to the roots of Kerry's ambition, roll back 50 years to postwar Europe, to a boy riding alone on a train. Kerry, the son of a Berlin-based American diplomat, was sent to a Swiss boarding school at age 11. If he wanted to go home, he had to take a train to Zurich, switch trains to Frankfurt, then switch to a military train that passed through communist Berlin.
"Your blinds had to be down as you traveled through the forbidden east sector," Kerry said in an interview. "I'd peek, pick up the blinds. Soldiers would rap with their gun barrel -- you have to pull down the shades."
© 2003 The Washington Post Company