John Kerry: A Navy Dove Runs for Congress
Citizens'Caucus To Meet Saturday
Hundreds of opponents to the Vietnam War will meet this coming Saturday in a Third District Citizens Caucus to choose a Democrat strong enough in the September primary to oust Philip J. Philbin (D-Mass.) from the Congressional seat he has held for 26 years. Philbin, whose District stretches from Fitchburg to Newton, is the second-ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee and many people consider the 71-year-old Congressman a hawk on Vietnam and an all-around conservative. Any resident of the Third District, including college students under 21, will be eligible to vote at the open caucus, which will be held at Concord Carlisle Regional High School.
The caucus will assign electoral votes to each city and town in the Third District, based on the latest population figures. Residents from each locality will meet in Concord and the candidate who gets the majority of each locality's votes will take all the city's or town's electoral votes. For example, I come from Waban, a village of Newton, which happens to be the most populous city in the District. If I'm the only delegate who shows up from Newton, all of Newton's electoral votes will go to the candidate of my choice.
The leading contenders for the caucus's nomination are Father Robert F. Drinan, dean of the Boston College Law School; Harrison Chandler Stevens, who ran as an Independent against Philbin in 1968 and enjoyed the support of many college volunteers; and John F. Kerry, who favors immediate withdrawal, and was the first Vietnam veteran to run for Congress with a dovish platform on the War.
Drinan, for the moment, is considered the favorite. He is well known in academic circles and at the age of 49 has mustered an impressive list of credentials. He is distinguished especially as the first priest to run for Congress since 1822.
Stevens, who would have to change his registration from Independent to Democrat in order to oppose Philbin in the September primary, is shied away from not only because he is not a Democrat, but also because he refused to endorse any Presidential candidate when he ran in 1968. Although Stevens had built up an impressive political machine, he has been assistant to the governor of Puerto Rico for the past year and returned to the District only two weeks ago.
Kerry has the most explicit stand against the Vietnam War and although his youth is a plus, the fact that he is a political unknown does not help him. Now 26, he was honorably discharged from the Navy last month but has been laying the groundwork for the race ever since November. Occasionally, Kerry makes obvious his recent return to civilian life and the Third Congressional District. When he came into the CRIMSON building last Friday, I introduced myself, saying I was from Waban.
"Waban, where's that?" he asked.
"It's in the District."
"W-O-B-O-N? Wobon? That's not in my District," he said.
"There's no such thing as Wobon. You must be thinking of Woburn. Anyway, I'm in Waban, a village of Newton, and certainly you've heard of Newton, haven't you?"
"So Waban's in Newton? Well, you learn something new every day," he said.
At Yale, Kerry was chairman of the Political Union and later, as Commencement speaker, urged the United States to withdraw from Vietnam and to scale down foreign military operations. And this was way back in 1966.
When he approached his draft board for permission to study for a year in Paris, the draft board refused and Kerry decided to enlist in the Navy. The Navy assigned him to the USS Gridley which between December 1966 and July 1968 saw four months of action off the Vietnam coast. In August through November, 1968, Kerry was trained to be the skipper of a patrol boat for Vietnamese rivers. For the next five months, until April of 1969, Kerry was the commanding Lieutenant of a patrol boat in the Mekong Delta. He was wounded slightly on three different occasions and received a Silver Star for bravery. His patrol boat took part in Operation Sealords, mostly scouting out Viet Cong villages and transporting South Vietnamese marines to various destinations up and down narrow rivers covered with heavy foliage on either side. One time Kerry was ordered to destroy a Viet Cong village but disobeyed orders and suggested that the Navy Command simply send in a Psychological Warfare team to be friend the villagers with food, hospital supplies, and better educational facilities.
Immediate withdrawal from Vietnam, Kerry said, would take about seven months due to complex logistics problems. During that interval he would allow only "self-defense return of fire." "Logistic suport is now what Nixon is talking about leaving there and I don't want to see that. I don't think we should leave support troops there and I don't think we should give Vietnam any more than the foreign aid given any other one country." He does not feel there would be a massive slaughter of American, sympathizers once the United States pulled out.
In America, "everybody who's against the war is suddenly considered anti-American," Kerry said. "But I don't think they can turn to me and say I don't know what's going on or I'm a draft dodger." Referring to the House Armed Services Committee, chaired by L. Mendel Rivers (D-S.C.), Kerry said, "I want to go down to Washington and confront Medel Rivers, who never fought in a war.
"I as effectively as anyone else in the country, can address myself to the issue of Vietnam," Kerry said. "I'm very realistic, though. I'm just going to be one man adding to the work of men like Lowenstein."
Kerry is a pilot, and on October 14 and 15 he flew Ted Kennedy's advisor Adam Walinsky by private plane throughout the State of New York so that Walinsky could give speeches against the Vietnam War. But Kerry was smart enough not to put down "Moratorium" on the Navy signout sheet for that Tuesday and Wednesday. The following month, Kerry was sick and did not engage in the November moratorium activities.
He supports a volunteer Army, "if and only if we can create the controls for it. You're going to have to prepare for the possibility of a national emergency, however." Kerry said that the United Nations should have control over most of our foreign military operations. "I'm an internationalist. I'd like to see our troops dispersed through the world only at the directive of the United Nations."
On other issues, Kerry wants "to almost eliminate CIA activity. The CIA is fighting its own war in Laos and nobody seems to care." He also favors a negative income tax and keeping unemployment at a very low level, "even if it means selective economic controls."
"I have a somewhat Establishment background," Kerry admitted modestly. Kerry, whose family comes from Groton, attended Fessenden, a prestigious private school in West Newton, until he was old enough to go to St. Paul's. From there he went on to Yale where he majored in political science.
Kerry's interest in politics began in 1960, when John Kennedy was running for President. Kerry gave his first political speeches for JFK and at St. Paul's founded a political group, the John Winant Society. In the summer of 1962, Kerry worked for Ted Kennedy, who was then making his first Senate bid. "I wanted to see how the political machine works."
At Yale, Kerry was instrumental in organizing the demonstrations for giving tenure to philosophy professor Dick Bernstein, even though Bernstein had not done very much publishing. As President of the Political Union, Kerry met an impressive array of political figures and spent much of his time fighting for a new YPU building, which Yale eventually built.
Kerry's style can turn people off at first because he gives the initial impression of being too good to be true, of being just a little bit insincere. His preppiness might make you think he's a blueblood WASP, but Kerry is really a Roman Catholic. However, an afternoon on the campaign trail with Kerry leaves you with quite a different impression.
Out in Bolton, a town smaller than Waban, he went to a genuine Yankee house, built in 1740, I watched Kerry as he tried to convince four ladies to go to Saturday's caucus in Concord. While the ladies drank tea. Kerry stuck to his guns and told the women that most welfare recipients did deserve to be on the lists. He said Spiro Agnew was one of the poorer vice-presidents, not one of our great statesmen.
Because of Kerry's background, and his style which the ladies adored, he may have succeeded in charming them into driving out to Concord on Saturday. And four Kerry votes from Bolton would probably mean all of Bolton's electoral votes for Kerry.
What if Kerry loses at the caucus? "If it's a representative group," he said, "I'll support the candidate that comes out." He said he might campaign for Stevens, if Stevens wins the caucus's approval. Another idea of his is creating a national citizen's lobby which would be primarily educational and which "would be a new kind of interest group that will demand attention from the men who are legislating."
In the last month, Kerry has driven 4000 miles back and forth across the District. "I should be at law school," he said, "but the problems are too great to sit back and watch them go by."