"In defense of Kerry, aides distributed a copy of the candidate's comments
on NBC's Meet the Press earlier this year, when he conceded the language was
-- Washington Post, 8/21/04
The day after their candidate roared "Bring it on!" to George Bush to invite
debate of their respective service records, John Kerry's crack advisors and
Democratic Leadership Council consultants snapped into action and...
apologized. Sorry about that whole anti-Vietnam War thing and what I told
the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971. That excessive language,
that impolitic mention of routine atrocities, routinely ordered and carried
out by corn-fed farm boys dropped into the most immoral conflict imaginable.
Poor form on my part to have brought it up. The rashness of youth, and all
that. Now please hand Mr. Rove this large paddle and ask him to wait a
moment while I bend over.
Someone thought this was a good idea. Here's the calculus, as transparent as
glass: The left has nowhere else to go. The swing voters must be assiduously
courted. The nation's presumptive pro-military mood must be appeased. So:
Vietnam is retracted. Then the retraction is underscored, as a "defense"
against Republican attack ads consisting of clips from Kerry's principled
testimony against the war.
Democrats: Gotta love 'em. Cinematic antecedents swim to mind: Peter Sellers
as Vice President Mirkin Muffley in "Dr. Strangelove" ("Dmitri, please don't
shout at me...") and the vague, bow-tie wearing senator portrayed by Gore
Vidal, doomed to defeat at the hands of a boyish, folksy fascist in Tim
Robbins' "Bob Roberts."
And, of course, Al Gore in Election 2000. The campaign of maximum caution,
vetted by the controlling legal authority. Too late, Gore ditched the focus
groups and fuzzy sweaters and decided to speak from the heart. Too late,
Hubert Humphrey finally broke with his old boss and denounced the Vietnam
War. Too predictably, the writers of official history blamed Eugene McCarthy
and Ralph Nader for Nixon and Bush II, not the fatal blunders of Democratic
candidates who brought chess boards onto the field of scrimmage.
The original JFK once observed that it was a shame that the only people who
run for president are the people who are way too intent on getting the job,
and those people are invariably politicians. The current JFK's only hope --
and ours -- as he trudges down the rut worn by Gore four years ago, is to
start running for president as though he doesn't especially want the job. As
though he were 27 years old and testifying before the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee; not seeking to deflect and dance away, but drilling
straight through, as though he were finally willing to say -- again -- yes,
America, Vietnam was horrible. Do you want to know how horrible? I will
remind you. Whose fault was it? The people who put us there. Who put us
there? People just like the people who put us in Iraq.
His only hope is to run as though he is simply interested in looking people
in the eye and telling the truth as he sees it.
He will not be allowed to do so, because, as a species, political advisors
are incapable of believing that the American people place ultimate value on
someone who seems to stand for something and expresses genuine belief, and
they will vote for that person even if they don't necessarily agree with
much of the expressed belief in question. If we sense the presence of a
moral core, whether it is carefully faked (Bill Clinton, George W. Bush),
wholly genuine (Robert Kennedy, Paul Wellstone), or completely divorced from
reality (Ronald Reagan), many of us will often as not subordinate our own
opinions on the issues of the day and vote for that person, just because.
The question is will Kerry allow himself to be that person, and, if so, will
he do so in time.
Andrew Christie (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an environmental activist in San
Luis Obispo, CA