It's only a matter of time before we witness another Howard Dean Moment in the Democratic presidential race -- but not, I predict, from any of the Democratic presidential candidates. Skulking in the campaign background is a ticking time bombette with a volatile temper and acid tongue who makes Dean look like Mr. Rogers on Prozac.
She's the wife of front-runner Sen. John Kerry, Teresa Heinz. Formerly known as Maria Teresa Thierstein Simoes-Ferreira, the hot-headed widow of the late Pennsylvania GOP Sen. John Heinz is self-aggrandizingly known among her wealthy liberal friends and fellow environmental radicals as "Saint Teresa" (and that's pronounced Teh-RAY-zah, you ninny!).
Though she has been married to Sen. Kerry since 1995 -- "I would have bashed him over the head" if he hadn't proposed, she, uh, joked -- she only recently and reluctantly allowed herself to be known as "Teresa Heinz Kerry" in hubby's political brochures and during campaign events and press interviews. "They'll call me Mrs. Kerry, because that's what's natural to them," she complained to Elle magazine last summer. "I don't tell them to shut up. . . . I don't give a s--t, you know."
Okay then. We'll just call her Howard Dean in haute couture.
Boston Magazine reports that she once snapped on Halloween, yelling at three children who had rung her doorbell on Beacon Hill: "I had a big barrel of candy, and it's all gone!" she ranted, shutting the door on the bewildered youngsters. Yeeearghh! She has reportedly chewed out members of her late husband's campaign staff, her current husband's campaign staff, her children, her stepchildren, waiters and sales clerks.
Sympathetic media profilers attribute this anger to the tragic losses she has suffered in her life; several family members died of disease or accidents. A more honest explanation for why she acts up and lashes out at the little people as often as she does is that she has felt entitled to do so all her life. The daughter of a prosperous Portuguese doctor based in Mozambique, she married into the Heinz ketchup fortune and has lived in a privileged, fawning echo chamber ever since.
Heinz/Heinz Kerry/Her Highness/The Big She first burst publicly onto the political scene during the 1994 Senate race in Pennsylvania to fill her husband's seat after he died in a tragic plane crash. The "moderate" Republican Heinz objected to GOP candidate Rick Santorum's social and fiscal conservatism, branding him a "Forrest Gump with attitude" who offers us "leadership by aphorism." Fumed Teh-RAY-zah: "We all know these types -- critical of everything, impossible to please. . . . They occasionally may mean well, but the effect of even their good intentions is to destroy."
Who knew she'd end up marrying exactly one of those types? Sen. John Kerry fits Heinz's description to a T. Only he's Forrest Gump without the charm. Watch him on the campaign trail as he stares into a TV camera, blandly reciting his sappy aphorisms: "We need to offer answers, not just anger. We need to offer solutions, not just slogans." Right. Not just slogans.
No wonder the missus is so frosted. Her comfy life has been disrupted by the electoral ambitions of an insufficiently attentive spouse who is not only dull, but also annoyingly duplicitous. He supported the war. He doesn't. He supports the death penalty. He doesn't, sort of. He wants to end the double taxation of dividends. It's an evil tax break for the rich. He loves teachers' unions. He loves them not. Unable to bear his lies, Heinz/Heinz Kerry had a famous fit during a Washington Post interview in 2002 when Kerry denied having Vietnam War flashbacks. Mimicking her husband screaming in panic, she told reporter Mark Leibovich: "I haven't gotten slapped yet," she says. "But there were times when I thought I might get throttled."
With the help of media-savvy "handlers," Heinz/Heinz Kerry has toned down the rage -- at least temporarily. She doesn't sulk so much at campaign events and hasn't mocked her husband openly in a while. But it's clear she finds her husband's campaign an exasperating drain on her energies. Which, of course, begs the question: If his own uninspired wife can barely muster up a public showing of respect for candidate Kerry, why should voters?