An editor at the Christian Science Monitor moderates the breakfast-table discussion and attempts to make the sisters feel at ease. Neither girl eats much of her breakfast (they ate earlier), and Vanessa does most of the talking. "To be totally candid, I am scared [of media attention]. . . . This is a big adventure, this is a very new process for us, but the . . . reason, I think, we are both here in front of all of you is the idea of service." Indeed, stumping for dad is not an easy service to render when the media watch your every move.
Later in the hour, Vanessa's voice begins to shake when she is asked to comment about how the media have covered her step-mom's behavior in recent days. Teresa Heinz Kerry spoke Sunday night before the delegation from her home state of Pennsylvania and criticized uncivil "and sometimes un-American traits" that she said were creeping into American politics. After the speech, the editorial page editor of a conservative Pittsburgh newspaper asked her about her word-choice. A disagreement ensued over what Heinz Kerry really said, and she told the reporter to "shove it."
"I am sitting here bristling," says Vanessa, who thinks the media paid too much attention to the incident. "There is an attempt to make a controversy out of something to distract from what we really should be talking about."
Vanessa, despite her admitted apprehension of the media, doesn't look scared to me. I sit directly across the table from her and can tell she is sensitive, yet confident--even while the tape recorders surrounding her breakfast plate roll and the reporters study her every word. She does, however, look a bit tired. A third-year medical student at Harvard, she's just completed three months of full-time hospital clinic work and is gearing up for more.
Alex, a 30-year-old aspiring filmmaker who recently received a Master's in Fine Arts in film directing, is a bit more "Hollywood" than Vanessa (remember that black dress she wore to the Cannes Film Festival?), but is just as wary of the media. She tastefully dodges questions about her reaction to Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11:
". . . the audience can take from it what they will." But that's not to say the girls are tight-lipped when it comes to telling the media what they're passionate about. For Vanessa, who sees a lot of sick people without health insurance, it's health care. For both sisters, it's the environment.
The girls are proud of their father's politics and say the campaign has only strengthened their relationship with him. "The campaign has really reinforced what I already know about my dad," says Vanessa, who doesn't say what those things are. "There's a real sense that this isn't about the Kerry-Edwards campaign. This really is about instituting change," she continues. The girls don't agree with dad on everything though. "I personally believe in gay marriage," Vanessa states.
Both girls will deliver speeches at the convention this Thursday. As of now, Alexandra is slated to speak before her dad and Vanessa after. They are busily polishing their speeches in the remaining days leading up to the big night, but would not divulge any details on what they would be saying.
Vanessa and Alex welcome advice on how to deal with the stresses that come with being in the public eye. They haven't met Jenna and Barbara Bush, but Vanessa has shared emails with Chelsea Clinton. And both Kerry girls have talked to the Gore children about the topic. And just yesterday, Ron Reagan Jr. turned to Alex and asked her, "Do you know how much this process is going to change you?" Alex's response: "To worry about all the things that could be, would be, might be . . . distracts from the fact that there is so much work that has to be done before you can even get there to worry about it." In the meantime, the media will be watching.
Erin Montgomery is an editorial assistant at The Weekly Standard.