John Kerry, A 'Recovering Politician,' Settles Into Diplomatic Role

John Kerry, on his first trip abroad as secretary of state, walks with French President Francois Hollande after their meeting at Elysee Palace in Paris on Feb. 27. Kerry's nine-day trip took him through Europe and the Middle East. i i

John Kerry, on his first trip abroad as secretary of state, walks with French President Francois Hollande after their meeting at Elysee Palace in Paris on Feb. 27. Kerry's nine-day trip took him through Europe and the Middle East. Jacquelyn Martin/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Jacquelyn Martin/AP
John Kerry, on his first trip abroad as secretary of state, walks with French President Francois Hollande after their meeting at Elysee Palace in Paris on Feb. 27. Kerry's nine-day trip took him through Europe and the Middle East.

John Kerry, on his first trip abroad as secretary of state, walks with French President Francois Hollande after their meeting at Elysee Palace in Paris on Feb. 27. Kerry's nine-day trip took him through Europe and the Middle East.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Secretary of State John Kerry describes himself as a recovering politician. He's just getting used to the fact that he can't speak quite as freely as he did when he was a senator.

"Each word means more, each relationship is played differently," he said in an interview with NPR, at the end of a nine-nation swing through Europe and the Middle East. "As a senator, you just don't have those stakes riding in it."

Now, he's part of an administration that, by most accounts, runs its foreign policy out of the White House.

Kerry is sounding like a good soldier.

"I've been part of a team a lot of my life, one way or another, and I understand hierarchy," he says. "I served in the military. I am pleased to be part of President Obama's team particularly."

When Kerry ran for president in 2004, he downplayed his French language abilities. Now he flaunts it and often talks about his international upbringing, which seemed to involve a lot of bike trips.

Growing Up In Germany

Kerry says his mother rode a bicycle to safety when German troops approached Paris during World War II. Then, there was this often repeated tale of a 12-year-old John Kerry living in Germany with his diplomat father, having his own bicycle adventure in Communist East Berlin.

"When I came home, I told my dad and he got upset with me and said, 'You could have been an international incident, I could have lost my job' ... so I got grounded," Kerry said during his stop in Berlin.

In Paris, at the gilded Quai d'Orsay, Kerry thanked his French hosts, in perfect French, for one of those "wonderful French lunches that have been drawing Americans to Paris for centuries."

He then said he would switch back to English, "otherwise I won't be able to go back home."

Kerry rarely ventured out from the official meetings in palaces and foreign ministries on this trip. When he did try his hand at public diplomacy at an Internet cafe in Berlin, he got a bit carried away as he made the case for free speech and tolerance in America.

"Americans have the right to be stupid if you want to be," he proclaimed in what became one of the most quoted phrases of the trip. It even made headlines in Iran.

The former Massachusetts senator also had a penchant for bringing up his home state whenever he could, even when it came to his choice of ties.

When a young German man at the cafe complimented Kerry on his pink tie, Kerry helpfully pointed out, "You can get it on the Internet."

"It's inspired by my state, Massachusetts, but the company is in Connecticut next door to me, and I'll tell everyone it's called vineyardvines.com," Kerry said.

Kerry, one of the wealthiest Cabinet secretaries in the Obama administration, was quick to add that he doesn't own any stock in the company.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.