Teresa Heinz Kerry made it through her unprecedented speech at the Democratic National Convention without losing control of her famous temper, losing her place in the well-rehearsed speech, or otherwise providing dramatic entertainment. But she was just plain weird.
Leave aside the weirdness of having the wife of a candidate give a major speech two days before he accepts the nomination. We’ll return to that subject shortly. She is a strange person, and the mysterious and off-putting nature of her eccentricity was heightened by her performance before the mildly cheering crowd at the Fleet center.
She began by leaning out from behind the backdrop, seeming to peek at the audience as the cameras focused on her entrance. Slightly bent over, she walked out with her hand over her heart, then patting her heart, as if to reassure herself that her big moment was actually happening, and that she would be just fine. Blowing kisses to the applauding audience, she embraced her son Christopher, stepson to the presumptive Presidential nominee, who had declared his love for her in his introduction of her.
She was dressed in a near-ketchup red suit. The crowd waved ketchup red placards with “We love TERESA!” printed in big white letters. What is the message in this choice of colors? That her fortune is based on a tomato-derived sauce? That she is hoping to relate better to red state voters? That she is nostalgic for communism?
Acknowledging the applause, and maybe the signs, her first words were, “Thank-you. Thank-you. I love you, too.” Nothing about how honored she is to be addressing the convention and the nation. Just an acknowledgement of the assumed love for HER. Though the crowd had already stopped cheering and applauding, she gestured with her hands to quiet them, as if her body were programmed in advance to do so. The hands lingered a few moments too long, hanging there in front of her while the audience was silent.
“Thank-you Christopher. Your father would be proud of you and your brothers.”
Now this is getting downright creepy. Long before any mention of her current husband, she invokes the memory of her dead Republican first husband, Senator John Heinz, whose family fortune she now spends on behalf of a Democrat, and in support of extreme left wing causes through the Tides Foundation. Would Senator Heinz be proud that his son spoke before a Democratic convention, solely because his stepfather was the presumptive nominee?
To demonstrate the fact that she really does speak five languages, she hailed Spanish- and Latin-Americans in Spanish, Franco-Americans in French, Italian-Americans in Italian, and Portuguese- and Brazilian-Americans in Portuguese. A few words in each language, specifically using the hyphenated form in mentioning each group in its own native language. Because she was not speaking English, perhaps the hyphen overkill didn’t trouble as many people as it should have. Such linguistic showboating bothers me when people order their meal in French, sometimes to a waiter who doesn't have any idea what they want to eat.
She then returned to her oddly slow, slightly off-rhythm English, adding to the list of groups she was addressing immigrants in general (so Chinese, Vietnamese, and other immigrant speakers of the really hard languages not derived from Latin roots would not be offended, I suppose).
She also specifically addressed a group she called “continental Africans.” A very puzzling term.
Maybe she meant immigrants from Africa? Like herself? She was born on the continent of Africa, after all. Or maybe she meant African-Americans, the black kind. Since she has already claimed, with evident justice, to be “African-American,” I guess she needs to have an elegant way of saying “blacks,” and realizes that the Spanish and Portuguese-derived term “Negroes” just won’t do these days. If this surmise is incorrect, then I am going to have to examine the possibility that some meaningful distinction unknown to me exists between Africans from the continent, and those born on islands like Madagascar.
She finally did thank the crowd, and promised to tell us about her husband, the living one, But then, out of the blue, hands pressed together in front of her, she declared, “This is such a powerful moment for me.”
A slight audible brief buzz rose from the crowd. It was, after all, a stunning statement. Even this friendly crowd seemed shocked at the self-centeredness of the remark. She revealed to the world in that moment that the Presidential campaign, as far as she is concerned, is her toy, a fashion accessory, something for a woman who already has five houses, a Gulfstream V jet, and obsequious servants, business managers, and a Senator-husband dependent on her checkbook for the lifestyle he enjoys so much.
She is clearly a woman who enjoys telling others her opinion. She makes her pronouncements with a slightly grand air, as if giving a gift to lesser mortals. She went on to mainly talk about herself, her father, her marches against apartheid while a student in South Africa, and her right to speak her mind and be “opinionated” (hands making quotation marks in the air). It all seemed rather defensive, as if she needed to prove herself virtuous, and entitled to have a major voice in matters of public concern. Maybe growing up in a racist Portuguese colony as a member of the tiny white colonial elite has left her with a bit of guilt. Incidentally, she only referred to the land of her birth as a “dictatorship,” glossing over her family’s participation in a harsh colonial system oppressing black Africans. Because her father only was able to vote once, at the age of 73, she even posed as a family of victims of "dictatorship."
Eventually she did get around to mentioning that John F. Kerry served in Vietnam. She made the strange claim that he earned his medals “the old fashioned way,” as if Purple Hearts had been handed out for scratches requiring nothing more than a band-aid in the two World Wars. She also veered off into environmentalism, a plea to listen to the “wisdom of women,” and outright mysticism -- “the mystic chords of our national memory.” Lincoln? I guess he had a long face, too.
But it was really all about her. This is clearly a woman who thinks and feels that she is the one paying the bills, so she gets to call the shots. I can imagine that Sen. Kerry has had to put up with a lot of this, but has made his peace with it, considering the financial benefits.
None of the details of her marriage would be of the slightest interest to me or anyone else, if it weren’t for the fact that her husband could well be the next President. A man bought and paid for, with a willful, short-tempered, somewhat angry and defensive, egotistical spouse, one who is used to getting her own way whenever she demands it.
But I, for one -- no matter how tedious and icky it felt listening to her -- am grateful that she has taken her place on the national stage. We deserve to know more about her, considering how important her role is in her husband’s life. She is, in fact, his primary source of his livelihood. Just as we would demand to know about a candidate's job, we deserve to know about Teresa, who pays far more lavishly than any other job Kerry could hold.
Don’t forget that without the loan he took out on the Beacon Hill mansion bought with her money, his Presidential campaign would have collapsed in late 2003. It was that money alone which kept him going, until Howard Dean imploded in the early primaries. It was precisely this ability to keep campaigning when others had to quit over lack of financing which caused the Democrats to finally turn to him as candidate. You can be certain that Teresa never lets her husband forget that.
When John Kerry was between ultra-rich wives, he had a very difficult time supporting his chosen lifestyle on a Senator's income. His friend Susan Estrich put it bluntly, “John Kerry didn’t have a bed to sleep in” during his interim of bachelorhood. In fact, for many months he stayed as a guest in the homes of various friends, the first homeless Senator in history.
The low six figure income earned by a Senator does not cover bespoke shirts and suits, much less private jets, and he knows this all too well. On his own, there was barely enough money for a chick magnet convertible, and no money at all for charitable giving.
Now that Teresa is so public in her “powerful moment,” it is time to release her income tax records. Given the pronouncements she and her husband like to make about raising taxes on “the rich” (in the sense of six figure incomes), we deserve to know how much she and the Senator pay as their “fair share.”
Conventional wisdom holds that nobody votes for a First Lady, that candidates’ wives may be interesting, but are unimportant in voting. I am not so sure this time around. John Kerry’s choices for spouse share one thing in common: vast wealth. That kind of money affects the behavior of those around it, the same way that black holes bend the waves of light and gravity. The candidate himself has been living in this bizarre environment of marriage to great wealth for decades. The strange, somewhat disturbing woman, who bears all the marks of the one in charge, may well be even more influential than Hillary Rodham Clinton, given an opportunity to live in the White House.
Speaking of Hillary, the cameras caught only a couple of glimpses of her in cutaway crowd shots. She did not look pleased. In fact, it looked as though her eyes were shooting death rays at Teresa. She may declare her loyalty to the ticket, but I would wager a substantial sum that behind the scenes, she will do everything she can to defeat the billionairess who could displace her as the most important woman in the Democratic Party. Hillary has always chafed at the humble economic status into which she was born. To have a rival endowed with endless, unearned wealth may be more than she can handle.