John Kerry's Presidential Ambition Can Be Traced to His Encounters with JFK as a Youth

Roundup: Media's Take

Stephen Braun, in the LAT (July 25, 2004):

From his boarding school days to the grind of the campaign trail, John F. Kerry has worn his ambition like a badge — almost always on display, yet rarely acknowledged. Over the course of a carefully crafted public life brimming with accomplishment and wrenched by war and loss, he has discreetly kept his distant prize, the presidency, in clear sight.

Great expectations have hovered at almost every step.

As a Yale University senior, Kerry posed for his 1966 yearbook with his eyes cast in a far-off gaze, the studious figure of a serious young man on the rise. Political science major, winner of oratory prizes, debating champ, student government leader — the impressive resume beneath his graduation portrait forecast a promising future.

He won election as president of the Yale Political Union by lobbying and cutting deals, working his dorm room phone like a seasoned Boston pol. Classmates serenaded him with kazoo renditions of"Hail to the Chief" and teased him as"Mr. President." Fun-loving enough to laugh at himself, the young John Forbes Kerry chimed in by mocking the initials he conspicuously shared with his role model, President John F. Kennedy.

Kerry's intimates have long recognized his propulsive drive toward political success. Over the years, he has sometimes let his guard slip, blurting admissions of presidential yearning. But more often, Kerry shied from the topic, limiting his confidences to trusted friends and aides, referring dutifully to public service, as Kennedy had.

"The idea of being president is just not something he talked about easily or directly," said Dan Barbiero, a St. Paul's School and Yale roommate who has remained close to Kerry."When we teased him about it, there was always a point where he'd sort of chafe at it. He'd say, 'Aw, c'mon.' That was the signal to lay off."

A worldly, energetic and at times lonely teenager who stood out from languid prep school mates in New Hampshire, Kerry received an early political education. Influenced by his parents' liberal Democratic leanings, he gravitated toward a public life after several storied chance encounters with JFK, whose soaring rhetoric and easy grace he tried to emulate.

Kerry's youthful immersion into politics and his fast footwork when opportunities arose would leave him vulnerable to critics' charges that he was relentlessly on the make, a camera-seeking striver mocked years later by rivals as"Live Shot."

"The guy's about as shameless a self-promoter as you'll find anywhere in politics," said Peter Blute, a Boston radio host and former congressman who worked against Kerry as a Republican campaign aide in the 1984 Massachusetts Senate race.

But Kerry's consuming drive has been tempered and detoured by personal and political loss — the Kennedy assassination, Vietnam's steep toll on cherished pals, his first election comeuppance, the disintegration of his first marriage....

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