Sunday, May 30, 2004


Charles Pierce (regular Altercator and the Best Writer in America) has a profile of John F. Kerry in this month's profile. It's long, and as wonderfull as anything Pierce writes, and worth reading. In fact, I may even buy a copy of the magazine. Here's the article.

I found a section I think is worth excerpting, if only so you can get a sense of Pierce's style of prose (read the whole excerpt, as the last paragraph is best). His style has a warmth, a poetic quality rarely found in any nonfiction, let alone journalism.
He'll turn up with a football out on the tarmac, and the surprise is not that he does so but that he throws a perfect spiral, thumb rotating down counterclockwise the way they showed you in the old Johnny Unitas videos. He'll wander back through the plane and talk about sailing or about the right kind of hiking boots, and these are easy moments when you realize that, for all the wonkish camouflage he can throw up, while there may be a few finer minds than Kerry's in politics, there are none more purely discursive. (After all, how many politicians can boast a campaign biography whose index includes both Elmo Zumwalt and Warren Zevon, or has the Paris Peace Talks listed right after the bass player from Mountain?)

He calls people "man" more often than any politician since Adam Clayton Powell, and a handshake with him can be an adventure not unlike meeting a fellow Mason for the first time. Thumb up or thumb down? Straight-ahead grip or soul shake? The guitar comes with him on the plane, which happens to be one that once transported the Rolling Stones, with floor-to-ceiling mirrors in the bathrooms, a wet bar in the center of the cabin, and residue of God alone knows what on the seats.

Kerry ran in those circles once. Back in 1971, he was photographed with John Lennon, which was cool, and spoke to mass demonstrations on the National Mall, which was also cool, and argued against his own war passionately on television. Kerry's face was young and angular then, while his voice was plummy and wise, and he appeared to be a set of handsome yet mismatched parts. He was in that passionate moment, but he also was looking down the road further than were a lot of people who were sharing the great platform with him.

But he's always on the outside of things. The signature image in Douglas Brinkley's hagiographic account of Kerry's early life and service in Vietnam is that of twelve-year-old John Kerry, son of a career diplomat, riding his bicycle through the bombed-out streets of a ruined Germany. Even in the 1970s, he steered by his own star. He was impatient with the revolution-for-the-hell-of-it crowd and with the wilder elements in his own organization, the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. The triviality of the Abbie Hoffman end of the antiwar movement offended his intellect, and to this day, he bites off his words so sharply when he talks about them that it's plain he still considers them largely a waste of time.

Kerry wanted a career in politics, which was decidedly not cool at the time. In fact, the first people ever to call Kerry a political opportunist were members of the antiwar Left. Meanwhile, as the years went by and the passions faded, politics never seemed totally to want him. Occasionally, he even seemed outside his own biography. He was the war hero who fought for peace, the reform liberal who went off to put the bad guys in jail. He dug into policy, and he so developed that cerebral part of him that distrusts the simple solution and the easy answer that his political career became dissonant with its origins—far removed from that simple knife-edge of a question that cut through the domestic fog of a foreign war.

And that's what was killing him last fall, when passion inflamed the campaign. In a sprawling Democratic field, Kerry began the race as a talking résumé in a year that seemed to demand an Old Testament prophet, touched by the kind of fire in which he'd once walked. It turned around for him, spectacularly, in Iowa. He found his way back into his own life again. He gave himself permission to be cool.

"People are looking for leadership that isn't cynical," he says, the hum at the back of the crowded plane growing louder. "They want to talk about great common interests and the kind of leadership that's willing to reach for it."

All right, so he's not there yet. He's been out trying to recapture the poetry of politics—the way he had it that day in the Senate hearing room and the way it lived in him on the National Mall in Washington. It appears now in startling bursts, with groups of small children and in the ferocious loyalty he summons from disparate people—from smooth government lawyers as easily as from the men with whom he fought the war. He chased it all over Iowa when the poetry seemed to belong to other people until it sat there, amazingly, in his hand.
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