Monday December 24, 2012

With Senator John Kerry’s nomination to become U.S. Secretary of State on Friday, Massachusetts and the United States will lose an effective, progressive senator but gain an able successor to Hillary Clinton, who is stepping aside after her effective tenure at state.

President Obama’s first choice, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, withdrew her name from consideration after a Republican furor over her initial statements related to the Benghazi consulate attack jeopardized her confirmation. Republican senators are likely to be more generous to their colleague, although it will be interesting to see if the "Swift Boaters" who shamefully attacked the decorated Vietnam veteran when he ran for president in 2004 will arise again from the depths.

Senator Kerry has essentially been preparing for this position since he returned from Vietnam a hero and criticized the war effort, helping turn the nation against the wasteful debacle. The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for the past four years, he joined Secretary of State Clinton in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere to represent the United States in addressing hot-button foreign policy issues. A senator since 1984, the Democrat has grown increasingly frustrated with what he has described as "ideological rigidity and stupidity in Washington," and Republican opposition this month to a U.N. treaty benefiting the disabled may have been the last straw.

For many years, Senator Kerry and Senator Edward Kennedy gave Massachusetts two of the most high-profile senators in the nation, leaders on issues ranging from health care, to foreign policy, to the economy to global warming. That continuity ended and influence declined with the death of Senator Kennedy and the special election victory in 2010 of Republican Scott Brown, who lost in November to Democrat Elizabeth Warren.

With Senator Kerry leaving, the state will have yet another special election, with Mr. Brown and former Governor William Weld possible Republican candidates. A number of experienced Democratic officials could run, including state Senator Benjamin Downing of Pittsfield, and there is speculation that Senator Kennedy’s son, Edward Kennedy Jr., a resident of Connecticut, could move here to run. Governor Patrick is expected to appoint an interim replacement, and it should be someone who will not run for the seat, as was the case when Paul Kirk replaced Senator Kennedy before the special election.

If confirmed as expected, Mr. Kerry "is not going to need a lot of on-the-job training," as President Obama said Friday. His loss as a senator will be felt, but he is an ideal choice for U.S. secretary of state.