We're not at the point of nominating a Democratic candidate yet. Until that time, we do no one, least of all ourselves, any favors by refusing to say what we feel. If that's "pragmatism," I want none of it. It's what we've received from nearly every member of Congress and nearly all of the media for the past three years. It's part of what got us into this mess.
So I'll say that John Kerry is supported by those who want someone "electable" because of what he didn't do, not because of what he did. He didn't say any unpopular things. The people have decided that form of cowardice is more likely to defeat evil than courage. That's pragmatic, all right.
But it won't be enough after the primaries. And it won't fix what Bush has destroyed. Reversing what Bush has done is going to take much more than just not doing what Bush is doing. Thanks to the Bushites' propaganda, America is becoming something repugnant, a nation of flag-wavers too smug to even mention that our bombs caused the deaths and maimings of thousands of Iraqi civilians. The way Kerry is wrapping himself in past war heroics isn't doing anything to help change that. Or has he even noticed, from the depths of his bipartisanship?
We need to hear a lot of unpopular words in the next four years to begin to reverse what Bush has done. Howard Dean started a wave of powerful reactions by saying a few bold, true and unpopular things. Sorry to mix metaphors, but can that tree continue to grow if it's chopped off at the roots?
The American people are ready now to oust Bush. They got to that point because of three things: the relentless truth-telling of internet writers, the willingness of Howard Dean to speak out when no one else would, and hundreds of thousands of passionate progressives who brought Dean's candidacy to the limelight. We could continue to use the same techniques to go for more than ousting Bush, to go for the deep change we desperately need.
But at this moment in time, the electorate at large has just had time to catch up with the possibility Dean created--the possibility that we can indeed kick Bush out; and they think pragmatic John Kerry is the answer. The truth-telling on the internet isn't going to stop, not unless Ashcroft silences it. But Kerry isn't going to start saying unpopular things. So if he's nominated, we have to pray that he can get the third element, the power of the progressive movement Dean started.
I have a few suggestions for Sen. Kerry. For starters:
1. Renounce your membership in Skull and Bones. No one running a democracy should be a member of a secret society dedicated to the empowerment of its own members, especially when many of those members are already in positions of great power in politics, media and law. We should never have to wonder whether a president's choices are being made because of commitments to Society members or fear of repercussions from them. Besides, if a Skull and Bones member runs against another for president, it's an issue that's not going to stay under cover in the election (nor should it).
2. Apologize publicly to Howard Dean for saying that "Those who doubted whether Iraq or the world would be better off without Saddam Hussein and who believe today that we are not safer with his capture don't have the judgment to be president or the credibility to be elected." That was contemptible, cowardly pandering to those who buy Bush's lies and supported Bush's excuse that just capturing Hussein was justification enough for war. (Why didn't you just ask, "What's the difference?")
3. Never forget that your campaign was going nowhere until the establishment media decided to eradicate Dean's campaign and anoint yours. We'll never know exactly how much of that was due to your ties to the establishment and their expectation of payback. It was, after all, Dean and not you who promised to break up the media conglomerates that have denied the people the power of truth the last three years. You don't have a mandate on a silver platter. You got very lucky.
4. Quit hiding behind your war buddies. The most principled stand you ever took was against the Vietnam war. Wrapping yourself in the symbols of war now is hypocritical and using war as a photo op is an abomination, whether you do it or Bush does it. Anyway, all it speaks to is who you were 30 years ago. Who are you now? If you still had those principles, you would have shown them by standing with your loyal buddy Ted Kennedy when he was saying unpopular things on the Senate floor. Get in touch with those old convictions now, or there's no chance you'll survive what the Bush gang is cooking up.
I don't have much hope that Kerry will set aside smooth speeches for soul-searching, any more than he's likely to suck out the Botox and put the lines back in. But I'm not going to "watch what I say" in the name of pragmatism. Not yet.
Linda O'Brien lives in Takoma Park, Maryland and is still overly idealistic, increasingly grouchy, and welcomes comments (and undoubtedly, insults) at email@example.com