News / USA

John Kerry: First White, Male Secretary of State in 16 Years

If confirmed as expected, John Kerry will be the first white male U.S. Secretary of State in about 16 years.  So what, if anything, does that mean? 

For the first time in almost a decade, members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee were using the term, "mister," to address a prospective Secretary of State.  

And at least online, it's been causing buzz. - a website aimed at women - recently posted a piece asking satirically, “Is America Ready for a White, Male Secretary of State?”  

After all, the last time a white male had the job was 1997. The Secretary of State was Warren Christopher.  

The jokes mean something, says Professor Robert Thompson speaking via Skype. "These types of jokes, these kinds of questions, are an indication of a lot of little things but one of them is where we would like to be compared to where we are now," he stated.

John Kerry
  • Born December 11, 1943, in Colorado
  • Earned bachelor's degree at Yale, law degree at Boston College
  • Massachusetts lieutenant governor from 1983-1985
  • Has been a U.S. senator since 1985
  • Democratic candidate for president in 2004
  • Married to Teresa Heinz

Years of diplomatic leadership from Madeleine Albright ... Colin Powell ... Condoleezza Rice ... and Hillary Clinton have left a mark.

Daniel Serwer, with the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, says the impact is subtle, but real nonetheless. "Frankly, it encourages more staff who are black, who are women and that certainly has been a dramatic impact in the 16 years in the State Department," Serwer said.

None of that seemed to be on the minds of senators at Thursday's confirmation hearing -- like long-time Kerry friend John McCain, who praised Kerry's "personal qualities."

So, does it matter what the top U.S. diplomat looks like?  Whether it's a man or a woman?  Whether he wears pants or she wears a skirt?  Maybe not.

In the end, it comes down to being tough, says George Mason University Professor Toni-Michelle Travis via Skype. "I think Kerry brings that a certain experience," she said. "A a certain aggressiveness that says we're not weak in any way."

Something that -- in U.S. diplomatic circles -- no longer appears to be relegated to white males.

  • Senator John Kerry emerges after a unanimous vote by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approving him to become America's next top diplomat, January 29, 2013.
  • Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry arrives on Capitol Hill for the start of his confirmation hearing to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, January 24, 2013.
  • John Kerry sits before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he has served on for 28 years and led for the past four as he seeks confirmation as U.S. secretary of state, January 24, 2013.
  • John Kerry waves as he walks to the podium to address the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, September 6, 2012.
  • Barack Obama works the crowd during his first presidential campaign with John Kerry, during a rally at the College of Charleston campus in South Carolina, where Kerry endorsed Mr. Obama, January 10, 2008.
  • Then-Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry points toward the audience beside his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry after the presidential debate in Tempe, Arizona, October 13, 2004.
  • Then President George W. Bush and John Kerry greet each other at the end of their first presidential debate at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida, September 30, 2004.
  • John Kerry windsurfs off the coast of Nantucket, Massachusetts when he was the Democratic presidential candidate, August 30, 2004.
  • Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry along with his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry greet supporters during a fundraiser when he was the Democratic presidential candidate in Boston, Massachusetts, 2003.
  • Senator John Kerry is swarmed by supporters as he arrives for a re-election victory rally in Boston, Massachusetts, November 5, 1996.
  • John Kerry raises his arms in victory in this November 6, 1984 photo in a Boston hotel where he celebrated his defeat over Ray Shamie, in the Senate race.

Jeff Seldin

Jeff works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters and is national security correspondent. You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @jseldin or on Google Plus.

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Comment Sorting
by: ducky657 from: Westerville, OH
January 29, 2013 7:13 AM
Last time I checked Colin Powell was Sec of State from 2001 to 2005. Before you make a statement like a man had not been in that office for sixteen years it might be good to verify it is true!

by: Al Hackle from: Georgia, USA
January 25, 2013 1:37 PM
It's refreshing to see VOA take a tongue-in-cheek approach to a news item. This reminds me of the old Cold War, shortwave days when certain Radio Moscow commentators would try to exhibit a Western-style sense of humor. Their jokes could be amusing, but perhaps not in the way they intended. Their delivery was so deadpan that it seemed a self-parody.

by: Frixxxx from: Viriginia
January 25, 2013 9:12 AM
Why do we care about sex/race of candidate anymore? Can't we just look at the resume and move on?
In Response

by: FireBert from: USA - Moronville
January 25, 2013 1:48 PM
Before long, it may be required to add those features to a resume.

This society, which laments so much about how things are not fair, don't seem to mind that giving special treatment to some groups that are not "equally" represented only reinforces these negative concepts and breeds class, sex, and race warfare.

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