Late in 2005, I was invited as a guest to John Kerry’s birthday gala in Boston. At the party, I had the honor of speaking with Kerry himself as well as his lovely and sweet wife. It was a great experience. But, like many such events, it had several hundred people present, and no one person got much “face time.” That was fine. It was no one’s fault, and what’s more, was a good thing that he drew that kind of support.
After the party, I went to the hotel restaurant with several staffers and other supporters. We all sat down and ordered some late-night food and drinks. We chattered, growing increasingly louder, over one topic after another. The war. Hurricane Katrina. The fact that Kerry’s office had sent an aid plane to the Gulf Coast but had not wanted a media spectacle made of it. The party. Local politics. One of the staffers got a call from the Senator on his cell phone and held it out to the rest of the table for us to send a message. We screamed into the phone.
Ten minutes later, the Senator himself walked in the door, dressed in jeans and casual clothes.He sat down and announced that the bill was on him. Then he entered the conversation as though he’d been there all along.
I am a native of the South and lived within a couple of hours’ driving distance of the areas that were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The Gulf Coast is still being neglected, with local businesses and homeowners being disregarded in favor of huge industries. All the missing still have not been located. The issue of disaster relief is dear to my heart, to put it mildly. I mentioned this to the Senator, and thanked him for sending his relief plane.
Well, it turned out that he had sent three. With NO mention in the media. He didn’t want it. It wasn’t supposed to be about making a political statement for him, but about helping those who needed it. This was, of course, an amazing distinction from the sideshow that George W. Bush and assorted Republicans put on to attempt to save face after the storm.
I have to say, I was moved to tears. And I am not the sort of person to cry in public, much less before a famous person. I would have considered it humiliating, but not this time. Kerry portrayed the aura of ease, of sympathy, and of understanding. He wouldn’t think less of me for being emotional about something that was so important to me. How often do you find that, a public official whom you can cry in front of — cry in sadness and gratitude, not excitement — without embarrassment?
For many in that restaurant, this night was the first time they had met the Senator in person. He was perfectly fine with that, perfectly at ease with everyone. He trusted us and was completely genuine, authentic, and honest with us. It was obvious from the way he spoke to us. He spoke like a regular person, not a politician. There was no simpering, sucking up, or pontificating, as jaded people might expect from a meeting with a political figure. It was all real. He talked to us about what we could all do to support Democrats in 2006, and how important it was. He talked about being a fighter and learning from the 2004 campaign.
He talked about his gratitude for our support of him, and how honored he was. This is a pattern I’ve observed from reading about other meetings between him and his supporters. He is always modest and seems surprised and honored that people truly believe in him. How rare is that for an elected official to be honored and modestly surprised that his supporters don’t just support him, but believe in him? I don’t know why he would be surprised; it only makes sense that someone who holds such strong and patriotic beliefs himself would attract supporters with equally strong ideals and equally deep support. However, I recognize that I am far less modest than Kerry, so that is the difference. It wouldn’t naturally occur to him that throngs of people would believe in him, with their minds and hearts. Unlike many political figures, he’s not so full of himself as to assume something like that.
He concluded the evening with bear hugs for everyone. The sort of hug that envelops you, and you just know that if you were to break free of it, the person hugging you would be smiling kindly at you. I know what a “political hug” is. I’ve been the recipient, or victim if you prefer, of one, more than once. This was not a political hug.
I didn’t chat with a politician that night. I made a friend.
The John Kerry I met was, and is, a human being with a heart. He is a public servant in the truest sense of the phrase. In recent days, it’s been said that he’s a “bad politician.” If, by that, people mean that he is bad at dishonesty, fakery, game-playing, and shameless self-promotion, then they’re right. He is a bad “politician.” But you know, we’ve had at least six years of rule by “politicians,” people who do everything with their top priority as their own political fortunes rather than the benefit of the country. America is not better for it.
I don’t know what Kerry’s plans are for the future. No one really and truly knows that except for him, because it will always be his decision. He will not be bullied or pressured into any decision by outside influences, because for him, his career has not been about self-aggrandizement. It has been about serving America. Should he choose to make another run for the highest office in the land, I will be one of the first to get behind him.
Why? Because he is not a “politician.” He’s a regular person. He’s a public servant. He is a patriot.