John Kerry: 45 Years of Gaffes and Counting

US Secretary of State John Kerry talks to the media after a meeting with French President Francois Hollande at the Elysee Presidential Palace on November 17, 2015 in Paris, France. John Kerry arrives in Paris to pay tribute to victims of last week's terrorist attacks. (Photo by
Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images

BOSTON – Secretary of State John Forbes Kerry is a dunce, and has a record of making preposterously stupid and offensive statements dating back to 1971.

In fact, if you go onto Google and type in “John Kerry gaffe,” you will get 350,000 hits.

At the U.S. embassy in Paris Tuesday, he did it again, with perhaps his most obnoxious, tone-deaf public pronouncement yet. Speaking to State Department staffers, he compared the two Muslim terrorist massacres in France this year – shooting up the magazine offices of Charlie Hebdo and then last Friday’s celebration of diversity, which left 129 dead.

“There’s something different about what happened (Friday) from Hedbo,” the 71-year-old Yale graduate said, “and I think everybody would feel that. There was a sort of particularized focus and perhaps even a legitimacy in terms of – not legitimacy – but a rationale that you could attach yourself to somehow and okay they’re really angry because of this or that.”

Yes, he backed off, immediately and then again yesterday. But however you parse it, he rationalized slaughtering people for exercising free speech. This is the guy the Democrats promoted for president in 2004 as being “smarter” than his fellow Yale grad, George W. Bush, despite the fact that Kerry’s GPA was slightly lower.

Over the years, Kerry has proven he can’t even deliver the punchline to his own jokes. Remember in 2006, when he went on a radio show and tried to rip Bush’s intelligence, saying, “If you study hard… and you make an effort, uh, you, you can do well. If you don’t you get stuck in Iraq.”

In the resulting furor, his aides played Alibi Ike, explaining that he fumbled the punchline as written, which was supposed to be, the punchline was to be, “you get us stuck in Iraq.”

In other words, George W. Bush is stupid, and John Kerry is smart. But he couldn’t even deliver a joke — that had been printed out for him to read.

“It was a botched joke!” Kerry shouted at reporters.

He broke onto the national scene testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee shortly after his return from four months in Vietnam. His chin was much more prominent than it is today, and he affected a somewhat Kennedyesque twang, as opposed to his current North Shore patrician accent, which is actually his native patois.

He spoke of his fellow soldiers:

They had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam.

In 2004, delivering his nomination acceptance speech at the Democratic national convention in Boston, he began by saluting the crowd and saying, “This is Lt. John Kerry, reporting for duty!”

As a member of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, he went to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and, as network TV cameras rolled, he threw medals and ribbons over the fence – his own, it was naturally assumed.

Years later, a reporter in his Capitol Hill office noticed that he had framed his decorations, prominently mounting them on the wall. Asked about the famous moment at the White House, Kerry explained that he had thrown some other guy’s medals over the fence.

In 1991, as the US prepared to go to war against Saddam Hussein for the first time, Kerry couldn’t decide whether to support the war or not. In January of that year, a constituent of his from Newton Centre wrote him a letter expressing his doubts about the war.

On January 22, Kerry sent his constituent a letter agreeing with his reservations about the war.

On January 31, Kerry wrote his constituent a second letter, this one announcing his support of Bush 41’s war.

At that year’s St. Patrick’s Day breakfast in South Boston, then-Mass. state Senate president William M. Bulger said, “It was touch and go there for awhile. Sen. Kerry couldn’t decide which side he was on.”

It was an early forerunner of his famous equivocation in the 2004 campaign, “Actually, I voted for the $87 billion before I voted against the $87 billion.”

Bulger, the younger brother of Boston crime boss Whitey Bulger, always had Kerry’s number. Kerry worshipped John F. Kennedy. A photo exists of him on Kennedy’s boat, staring at his hero. It’s odd, that worshipful look, considering that that Kerry on his mother’s side was a Forbes, one of the oldest, most blue-blooded Brahmin families in New England, and Kennedy was the offspring of a second-generation immigrant arriviste with ties to organized crime.

But Kerry even modeled his signature after Jack Kennedy’s. After all, they shared the same initials.

“JFK – Just for Kerry,” Bulger would say, as the crowd whooped it up. “He’s only Irish every sixth year.” In other words, when he was running for reelection.

Bulger wasn’t kidding. Despite his Hibernian-sounding surname, his father was Jewish. He was, however, raised Catholic, not a disadvantage in one of the most heavily Catholic states in the Union.

“I was an altar boy,” he used to say. But then, he’ll say almost anything.

“I’m fascinated by rap,” he said on another occasion a few years back.

Yet he had no problems insulting one of the Commonwealth’s largest voting blocs, Italian-Americans.

“The Iraqi army is in such bad shape,” he said on a radio show, “the Italian army could kick their butts.”

Another botched joke, no doubt.

He attended the ribbon cutting of the Big Dig, the disastrous public-works project in Boston that has run billions of dollars over budget, and still to this day leaks like a sieve:

“This tunnel will be a bargain!”

Kerry has always had problems relating to anyone from a lower social class, and that includes fellow Democrat elected officials from Massachusetts. During one of his rare forays to the State House in Boston, around the corner from the mansion bought by his second wife’s first husband’s trust fund, he attempted to mix it up.

One of the state reps was Bill Reinstein, who had been tried for extortion (and acquitted) three times as mayor of Revere, a one-time Mafia stronghold just north of Boston. Reinstein was tall, with blond hair and blue eyes. He had just defeated the incumbent, Butchie Cataldo, a short, rotund, dark Italian from an old-time LCN family. Reinstein, standing with some fellow reps, suddenly decided to approach the diffident Kerry. He told his friends to watch him.

Reinstein strode up to Kerry and stuck out his hand.

“Senator,” he said. “Butchie Cataldo. Good to see ya!”

“Butchie!” Kerry said, wrapping his arm around Reinstein’s shoulder. “So good to see you again, Butchie! How’s the family, Butchie!”

During the 2004 campaign, Kerry used to try to sell himself to the rubes as a regular Joe – “Can I get me a hunting license here?” he asked in rural Ohio. On the campaign trail that summer, he’d read the baseball scores like they were a tennis match, and then pretend to be excited – “Detroit 2, Red Sox 5.”

Sports have always been a major source of gaffes for the secretary of state, especially during his campaign for president. At one point, he bragged of once running the Boston Marathon. Asked what year, he drew a complete blank, despite the fact that most marathoners always remember what year in which they ran a famous course, especially if they only did it once.

To a sportsmen’s magazine, he claimed that while hunting on Cape Cod, he once had a “24-point buck” in his sights, but pulled his gun away at the last moment. Vietnam flashbacks, don’t you know. Of course no 24-point bucks have roamed Cape Cod since, well, probably forever, but certainly not since the Massasoits ruled the roost before King Philip’s War.

His nickname among Boston reporters has always been “Liveshot,” for his penchant for doing live interviews during the evening newscasts. Running for the Senate in 1984, he would often appear wearing makeup, not just in the studios, but out on the campaign trail.

“I’m a little peaked, I have a cold,” he once explained to me when I asked him about the thick layer of pancake makeup he was wearing at a Back Bay hotel.

When Republicans made sport of his patrician habit of windsurfing off Nantucket, Liveshot claimed he had a crew of fellow windsurfers, including carpenters. None ever stepped forward, however.

After losing the election to Bush, his wife bought him a new $7.5 million yacht, an expensive bauble to assuage his stinging rebuke by the bitter clingers and assorted parvenus who couldn’t distinguish a Chablis from a Chardonnay.

But then it turned out that he had registered the boat in Rhode Island rather than Massachusetts, to avoid his home state’s then 5 percent sales tax, not to mention the Town of Nantucket’s $70,000 annual boat excise tax.

Confronted by reporters as he got into his car, he again began shouting.

“Can I get out of here?” he yelled.

Last year Kerry was accused of saying that Israel was in danger of becoming an apartheid state. He sort of denied it, but he did concede that “if I could rewind the tape…” blah-blah-blah.

Then there was the time he blamed terrorism on the lack of fine dining options in the Maghreb – “the contrast between one family’s empty dinner plate and fancy restaurant’s lavish menu.”

Kerry has been poor; he comes from the poor side of the Forbes family. Both of his wives have been Pennsylvania heiresses with net worths in the nine-figure range. When Julia Thorne Kerry finally threw him out of the house, he often slept on the living-room couch of his ex brother-in-law. There were even unconfirmed reports that some nights he actually slept in the backseat of his Chrysler LeBaron convertible, a accoutrement de rigeur among fashionable Democrat senators in the 1980s.

Yet Kerry never turned to terrorism. Instead, he sought new prey, as any good gigolo would. Soon he was married to the widow of the late Sen. John Heinz of Pennsylvania. He was living in five different mansions. He had access to a private jet, the Flying Squirrel. During the 2004 campaign, it was noted that despite his thundering denunciations of American carbon emissions, he owned SUV’s at all five of his mansions.

“They’re not my SUV’s,” he sniffed. “They’re my family’s SUV’s.”

Lately, like ISIS, Liveshot has grown exasperated with anyone who has the audacity to call him out… on anything. The Charlie Hebdo faux pas (to use his favorite language) wasn’t the first time he’s come down on the wrong side of the First Amendment.

This is Liveshot recently on global warming: “When science tells us that our climate is changing and human being are largely causing that change, by what right do people stand up and just say well I dispute that or I deny that elementary truth.”

By what right? How about the Bill of Rights? How about the fact that you don’t have a clue what you’re talking about?

Recently one of Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s new appointees was criticized for saying that Kerry has the “mental age” of a 12-year-old. Which didn’t seem quite fair to 12-year-olds.

Throughout his political career, back home in Massachusetts, Kerry has been compared to an empty suit. Which, again, seems terribly unfair. What did empty suits ever do to deserve being compared to Secretary of State John Forbes Kerry?

Howie Carr is a Boston-based radio talk show host and the author of the new novel, Killers. You can hear his show online at


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