His mother, Rosemary Forbes, born in Paris, was daughter of the Forbes millionaire and is a descendent of John Winthrop, one of the founders of Boston in 1630. On his father’s side, his grandfather, Frederick Kerry, was a Czech Jew, born Fritz Kohn, who emigrated to the United States in 1902 and who killed himself in 1921 in Boston following financial ruin. His father, Richard Kerry, a graduate from Yale and Harvard, was a career diplomat and met Rosemary in Saint Brieuc at the Forbes family home. JFK (mark 2) is thus a cousin of Brice Lalonde, former French Minister for the Environment; their mothers were sisters. John Forbes Kerry, born in 1943 in Denver, spent a large part of his childhood in Europe, in Germany with his parents and at boarding school in Switzerland. He has kept the perfect French he learned during that period. A Bush advisor is even supposed to have said ‘he looks French’ which is not exactly a compliment from a Republican.
In 1965, a student at Yale, he enrolled in the navy and was quickly thrown into the Vietnam quagmire, patrolling the waters of Mekong. He would come back bitter and would lead opposition to the Vietnam War. Then, as time passed, the troubled waters of Mekong were transformed into a long tranquil river. Kerry followed his destiny: lawyer, public prosecutor, Assistant Governor of Massachusetts, and then finally in 1984 Senator of the same state. With his heart firmly on the left, Kerry advocated the right to abortion, gun control and protection of the environment. He was also the only one out of the main candidates to make his opposition to the death penalty loud and clear.
A family affair
Kerry and his wife, Theresa Heinz, met in 1990 at the Earth Summit in Rio. Born in Mozambique, with a Portuguese father, she is the star in Kerry’s presidential campaign. The widow of the ketchup millionaire, she is also known for her frank speaking. And, as often in the United States, politics is a family affair shared between clans: his daughter and confidant, Alexandra, committed herself to her father’s side through a short film that she presented last month at the Cannes film festival. The Last Full Measure describes, with force, the ravages of war in an American family during the Vietnam War. In the context of the Iraq war, this short film did not go unnoticed in Republican clans.
Bush the Texan
George W Bush decided not to involve himself in the perils of the Vietnam War. Contrary to Kerry, he has always lived in the United States and does not come across as a very experienced politician. He grew up in the bosom of the petrol industry before throwing himself into politics, pushed on by his father. When he was elected Governor of Texas in 1994, he relied substantially on the popularity he had achieved as Director of the Texas Rangers baseball team.
The candidate from the Republican clan doesn’t know much about the European continent or maybe he just isn’t interested which raises quite a few hackles. As the German magazine Stern observed recently, ‘Bush quotes the Bible, Kerry Pablo Neruda; Bush likes American novels, Kerry William Shakespeare; Bush never reads the newspapers and is proud of the fact, Kerry reads Le Monde. As for his opinion of the European Union, Bush recently said to the Turkish Foreign Minister ‘Is there still one European Union? I’ve broken it into three pieces!’
John Kerry in the White House: what’s the difference for Europeans?
Many hope that if John Kerry is elected president he will lead a very different foreign policy to that of his opponent. Denouncing the ‘erratic unilateralism' of the Bush administration, he stated in an interview recorded in French for the AFP ‘that he strongly believes in multilateralism, especially with Europe’. Thus, according to Allan Lichtmann, an American political pundit, John Kerry will endeavour to rebuild bridges with Germany, France and the other allies, and to work more closely with the UN.
But if Kerry certainly has a lot of attributes with which to seduce Europeans, he must first seduce the American electorate. The tensions between the European Union and the United States will continue despite everything, whether on solutions to the Middle East crisis or in terms of trade. The United States will continue its war on terror, will always support the Israelis, and will be ready to resort again unilaterally to the use of force. Nevertheless, one thing is certain: John Kerry, with his New England manners, will do it with a lot more tact. And maybe even in French.