A Time to Vote
2000 Cometh Again: Will Kerry Gore Himself?
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 sometimes excessive.
– Washington Post, 8/21/2004
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.
Will Kerry trudge
the same Gore rut?
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
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