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.

You May Like

Video Egyptian Journalists Call for Freedom of Press

Despite release of al-Jazeera journalists and others, Egyptian Journalist Syndicate says some remain imprisoned More

Turkey Survey Indicates Traditional Distrusts, Shift to the West

Comprehensive public opinion survey also found a large majority of those interviewed distrust all countries other than country’s neighbor, Azerbaijan More

Pakistan Court Upholds Death Sentence in Blasphemy Killing

Highest court upholds sentence of Mumtaz Qadri convicted of 2011 killing a provincial governor for criticizing country’s controversial blasphemy law More

This forum has been closed.
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.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making a Minti
October 07, 2015 4:17 AM
While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video Self-Driving Cars Getting Closer

We are at the dawn of the robotic car age and should start getting used to seeing self-driving cars, at least on highways. Car and truck manufacturers are now running a tight race to see who will be the first to hit the street, while some taxicab companies are already planning to upgrade their fleets. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Clinton Seeks to Boost Image Before Upcoming Debate

The five announced Democratic party presidential contenders meet in their first debate next Tuesday in Las Vegas, Nevada. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton continues to lead the Democratic field, but she is getting a stronger-than-expected challenge from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

Video Music Brings Generations Together

When musicians over the age of 50 headline a rock concert, you expect to see baby boomer fans in the audience. Boomer rock stars have boomer fans. Millennial rock stars have millennial fans. But this isn’t always the case. Take the Lockn’ Music festival which took place in mid-September in rural Arrington, Virginia. Here, Jacquelyn de Phillips discovered two generations of people who are considered quite different in the outside world, spending 4 days together in music-loving harmony.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video South Carolina Reels Under Worst-ever Flooding

South Carolina is reeling from the worst flooding in recorded history that forced residents from their homes and left thousands without drinking water and electricity. Parts of the state, including the capital, Columbia, received about 60 centimeters of rain in just a couple of days. Authorities warn that the end of rain does not mean the end of danger, as it will take days for the water to recede. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs