The Magazine

John Kerry Is Different from You and Me

From the August 2, 2004 issue: Yes, he has more money. Lots more.

Aug 2, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 44 • By NOEMIE EMERY
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Granted staggering wealth on the basis of marriage, Kerry seems to believe he deserves it, and perhaps always has. Such, at least, is the popular perception among the voters who know him best. "One of the surest ways to get the phones ringing on any Massachusetts talk-radio show is to ask people to call in and tell their John Kerry stories," says Howie Carr, the Boston Herald columnist and radio host. "The phone lines are soon filled, and most of the stories have a common theme: The junior senator pulling rank on one of his constituents, breaking in line, demanding to pay less (or nothing), or ducking out before the bill arrives. The tales often have one other common thread. Most end with Sen. Kerry inquiring of the lesser mortal: 'Do you know who I am?'" Just For Kerry is a common Bostonian take on what his initials stand for; and a possible insight into his priorities could be inferred from his tax records for the year 1993 (when he was between wives), in which he earned $130,345 and gave exactly $175 to charity, while indulging in an $8,600 Italian-made mountain bike for himself.

Throughout his career as an officeholder, John Kennedy gave his salary away to various charities, and lived on his trust fund. In this respect as in so many others, John Forbes Kerry is no JFK. "Kerry tosses around quarters like they were manhole covers," Carr jokes, while maintaining a fondness for luxuries. According to the Boston Globe, between 1990 and 1995 (when he married John Heinz's widow), Kerry earned a total of $724,042 and gave $4,869 to charity, or a grand total of 0.7 percent. (In the same years, William Weld, Kerry's blue-blood opponent in the Senate race of 1996, earned $1,082,875 and gave away $164,928, or 15.2 percent.) In this six-year span between his two marriages, the most Kerry ever gave to charity was $2,039 in 1994. Two years, he gave nothing at all. In the years between his two marriages, Kerry leaned heavily on friends and constituents to cushion the stresses of living on a salary, receiving generous favors of condos and cars. In his new status of billionaire's consort, he hasn't stopped asking for favors. A fire hydrant that prevented him and his wife from parking their SUV in front of their Beacon Hill town house was removed by the city of Boston. The lawn at the imported ski chalet in Idaho is kept fresh and green by a water pipe laid down and maintained by the state.

ECONOMIC CONSERVATIVES--and most voters--have traditionally been happy to let the rich rake it in, as long as the other classes also keep rising, on the grounds that a system that allows a few to be obscenely rich also creates a better life for most people, or at least a more prosperous life than they would lead under a sluggish economy that tried much harder to spread much less money around. But liberals cling to the cause of proportion, the sense that it is indecent for any one class, one person, or even one country to claim too many of the goods of the earth. How dreadful, they tell us, that Americans, who make up 3 percent of the world's population, consume 30 percent of its product, and how dreadful that 3 percent of the population in this country controls 20 percent of its wealth. So is it also dreadful that John Kerry's wife controls more than the gross national product of many Third World countries; that he has five mansions while most struggle to keep up the payments on one modest house, and many own no home at all?

Not fair at all, one can hear Kerry saying, as he jets between Georgetown and Boston on the Flying Squirrel (his wife's private jet, equivalent models of which would cost $5,000 an hour to charter). How much does it take to keep John Kerry going? Let's see. Add up his wife's holdings, and divide them by two (they have no dependent children still living with them) and you come up with some interesting things. Their five very large houses are worth more than $30 million (the property taxes alone cost more than most people's houses), so it takes $20 million simply to house him. Add in the plane and the boat, and the cost of transporting and entertaining John Kerry comes to almost $16 million. Add in incidentals--the bike, the tending by Christophe, etc.--and you come out with one historically high-maintenance candidate.

Most rich people in politics have had one or two major houses, and made constant use of them. The Franklin Roosevelts spent their time at Hyde Park; the Theodore Roosevelts at Sagamore Hill. And the Kennedys were either in Palm Beach or Cape Cod, usually with a large horde of children. The Heinz Kerrys, by contrast, stay in some of their multimillion-dollar dwellings only a few weeks in the year. Most of the American political rich seem like American types, only richer, as they play in their none-too-elaborate family compounds, tossing a football, or whacking at brush. Kerry is a departure from this pattern, in the scale of his wealth, and his attitude to it. This is a republic, not the Austro-Hungarian Empire, nor even a plot from a Henry James novel. Are we really ready for a consort who seems to believe he's a prince?

Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.