'Big heels to fill': What John Kerry signaled to State Dept. on his first day (+video)
On his first day at State Department, John Kerry introduced himself with humor, passion, a nod to the women who preceded him, and a pledge to focus on the 'security and safety of our people.'
Secretary of State John Kerry says he has â€śbig heels to fillâ€ť in his new role as Americaâ€™s chief diplomat, acknowledging that for the past eight years women held the post he publicly assumed Monday morning.
Speaking to employees in the State Departmentâ€™s lobby as he arrived for his first full day of work, Secretary Kerry also told a heartfelt â€śthis-is-why-we-do-thisâ€ť story of himself as a 12-year-old boy in a divided Berlin â€“ where his father was a USÂ foreign service officer â€“ deciding one day to use his passport to ride his bicycle over to the eastern, Communist side of the city.Â
â€śI really noticed the difference between the East and the West,â€ť Kerry said. People in East Berlin â€śkind of held their heads down.â€¦ There was no joy in those streets."
"When I came back [to West Berlin],â€ť he added, â€śI felt this remarkable sense of relief and a great lesson about the virtue of freedom and the virtue of the principles and ideals that we live by and that drive us.â€ťÂ
Whether it was designed that way or not, Kerryâ€™s story â€“ and a few jokes about getting lost in the big building heâ€™ll run â€“ served as an antidote to speculation that an aloof and humorless old-style diplomat would replace the warm, passionate, and much-loved Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Kerryâ€™s allusion to filling the â€śbig heelsâ€ť of Ms. Clinton â€“ and before her,Â Condoleezza Rice â€“ also touched, intentionally or not, on pre-confirmation speculation that the secretary of State job has in some eyes come to be considered as one best filled by a woman.Â
As Kerry himself quipped in his comments, â€śThe big question before the country and the worldâ€ť is now: â€śCan a man actually run the State Department?â€ťÂ
Gender typecasting of the secretary of State job was helped along by postelection rumors that the US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, was President Obamaâ€™s first choice for replacing Clinton. Another factor was a line of thinking that holds that the rise of â€śsoft powerâ€ť issues in diplomacy, like development and democratization, mean that women may be best-suited to directing Americaâ€™s 21st-century diplomacy.
As he assumed his new position, Kerry seemed intent on scuttling the typecasting â€“ of himself, but also of the role he is embarking on, both on the world stage and within the presidentâ€™s national security cabinet.
Before heading to his new offices, Kerry also alluded to last Septemberâ€™s terrorist attack on the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya â€“ a tragedy that killed four Americans including the US ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and shook the morale of State Department employees.
â€śI guarantee you that, beginning this morning when I report for duty upstairs, everything I do will be focused on the security and safety of our people,â€ť Kerry said.
Noting that the dangers US diplomats face â€ścould not be more clear,â€ť Kerry cited the names of the four fallen Americans â€“ Ambassador Stevens, information officer Glen Dougherty, and security officers Tyrone Woods and Sean Smith â€“ and pledged to â€śnot let their patriotism and their bravery be obscured by politics.â€ť To applause, he said he would â€śdo everything I can to live up to the high standards that Secretary Clinton and her team put in place.â€ťÂ