Wednesday, November 25, 2009

After humbling spiral, Kerry back to Form

John Kerry lost his race for president, became a campaign pariah and was passed over for secretary of state. But if he was ever adrift, he seems well anchored now.

at 65, after a humbling spiral — from almost-president to Democratic scapegoat to campaign pariah (2006) to wannabe secretary of state (passed over for Hillary Rodham Clinton) — Massachusetts’ new senior senator has settled into an influential role as legislative bridge builder, international troubleshooter and party elder statesman.

What if? What if he had won in 2004? Well, one thing: John Edwards, he of the out-of-wedlock child, would be Vice President. Oy vay.

Through experience and adversity, friends say, Mr. Kerry became a more fully grounded occupant of the Senate. “John always liked the high wire, aiming for the sky and all the action that came with it,” said Tom Vallely, the director of the Vietnam Program at Harvard University. “But when you’re 65 and you’ve been through some things, the high wire gets a little lower.”

Lawmakers say Mr. Kerry now lingers in hallways more often than before, cracking jokes and finding common cause with colleagues he previously had little to do with. He has bonded with Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, over their shared love of the Pink Panther movies (“We even have a little dog called Clouseau,” Mr. Kerry said of his black schnauzer, named for the films’ detective.) This Pink Panther alliance recently grew into a partnership on energy and climate change that many see as the best chance of any bipartisan success in passing an energy bill.

“If we save the planet, it will be because of Inspector Clouseau,” Mr. Graham said.

From such alliances are political compromises made; at times, the liberal talking heads on cable fail to focus on such simple, yet crucial, matters.

Mr. Kerry is especially proud of his association with Mr. Obama, whom he selected to give the keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, essentially catapulting Mr. Obama’s national career. Next to Mr. Kerry’s office fireplace hangs a framed invitation to the 2009 presidential inauguration. “I’m here because of you” is how the president signed it.

After Mr. Obama was elected, Mr. Kerry lobbied hard to become his secretary of state — too hard, some administration officials say.

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