At his Senate confirmation hearing Thursday, John Kerry had available to him three chairs, any of which he could sit in. These chairs have been used for decades by various people testifying before the Senate, over a wide variety of issues. Walking up to take his seat, Kerry picked not the one closest to those who would ask him questions, nor the one closest to the press. He picked the one he had sat in before, the first one he ever sat in for that chamber.
Let us go back, to April 22, 1971. Kerry, then a Vietnam veteran and anti-war advocate, spoke before the Senate of his experience in the terrible war which chewed up soldiers’ lives. See video:
He came not as someone seeking higher office, but as a simple soldier, wearing none of his decorations, not even having trimmed his hair. When he spoke, he carried the weight of thousands of his fellow soldiers, both alive and dead, on his shoulders. Some have criticized his testimony, but he spoke the truth, as ugly as it was. Those who would criticize the words he said do so out of shame.
When he spoke on Thursday, after decades of service, as one might expect, he spoke to his peers. No longer a simple soldier, but still with the humility one can witness from 1971. See video:
The most notable event during the hearing, however, was not the words uttered by Senator Kerry, nor any other senator in the chamber, but by a single protester, at 47:30 in the video above. While the other senators began to chuckle in a dismissive way, Kerry did something different, something to shame them. Instead of dismissing the protester, he brought her message forward, reminding the committee that her voice was important, that it deserved to be heard. He then took her message and directed it at the members of the committee before him, individually, picking them off, reminding them that they served the people. The snide remarks meant to mock the protester were wiped clean, erased under the stern gaze of the man who sat before them.
John Kerry has been in Washington for many years now. It would be expected that he would become a political insider, caring about nothing but his next election. To witness him not only acknowledge a protester, but pick up the very cause she voiced and use it so skillfully, reminds us why he was the Democratic nominee for president in 2004. But it also reminds us of the simple soldier who spoke before the same committee, in the same chair, 41 years ago; it reminds us that he is still there, perhaps with more maturity and wisdom, but still there, sitting before the new occupants of the committee. And now, as the new Secretary of State, the simple soldier will continue to do his duty, for his country.
John Kerry, we salute you.
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