A truth too bitter for Kerry to tell? | Main | Corn Maze

September 24, 2004

No Way Back

Posted by Phil on September 24, 2004 1:38 PM

Earlier today I posted a link to an article purporting (or purported by others) to declaim that Kerry hasn't flip-flopped on Iraq, then I realized that he's done such a piss-poor job condemning the administration that I don't CARE if he hasn't "technically" flip-flopped. So I deleted it. When you're arguing technicalities in politics, you've already lost the point.

I begin to see the difficulty of Kerry's position. After weeks (months) of dismay that he wasn't going after Bush on Iraq--in fact, he seemed to have thoroughly painted himself into a corner--he finally went on the offensive with an attack from which there can be no backing away: It was wrong to go to war in Iraq.

Next week's polls will reflect whether the bad news on Iraqi ground matters more to people than the pageantry of Allawi's visit to NYC and DC, and whether Kerry's attacks have traction. But accepting that Bush misled us into war and continues to misrepresent the facts of it demands more of people than just recognizing it. They have to accept that they've been swindled. They have to accept a pessimistic, defeatist mind-set. They have to start believing "it can't be done"; that there are things America cannot do; and that sometimes America is wrong.

That last is gigantic; it's the source of the blind hubris and righteous aggrievement that allowed Bush to lead us there in the first place, and the source of the old resentments dredged up when the Vietnam laundry got aired out last month. The Swift Boat Veterans had a hell of a media ride, but when Bush was called back on the carpet for his disreputable National Guard record, Vietnam was suddenly off-limits again. "Who cares what happened 35 years ago?" But it is relevant, actually, because regardless of the dishonesty of what the Swift Boat Veterans SAY, what they FEEL about Vietnam and John Kerry makes sense to a lot of Americans who were either there and felt betrayed or don't remember it but have an inchoate sense that America couldn't really have been wrong.

It would have been interesting to see whether or how America would have dealt with our loss in Vietnam if there had been no Watergate. Johnson quit and died, and Nixon resigned in disgrace for another reason, and no political price was ever consciously imposed by the people on anyone responsible for the war. It just trailed off. Both political parties were responsible, after all, and you could hardly blame Gerald Ford, for chrissakes. We just got out of Saigon and tried to forget the whole thing, without confronting our mistakes, or the essential fact that, even if we'd done everything right by the hawks' lights, we still couldn't have won that war. (If you don't already believe that, there's no use in me trying to convince you here, but it's true, and it wasn't because of hippies or folksingers.)

And now John Kerry comes forward--again!--to tell America we're losing another war we shouldn't have started in the first place. To people who don't understand what the truth was in 1971 and believe even a kernel of the Swift Boat Veterans' lies, Kerry just looks like a limp-wristed career defeatist without any moral steel. He's weak, a pessimist--he doesn't believe in America. Who wants to believe the things he's telling us? That lives have been wasted? We were duped? We can't win? America isn't wrong: John Kerry is wrong!

Even people who didn't oppose the war at first but have developed a nagging feeling that what he says is true are going to have a hard time embracing what he says. It's not a thing to embrace. It's an ugly reality, and one we don't have to confront as long as we can trust or surrender to the rhetoric and resolve of President Bush. If we keep Bush in office, the war is his fault and his problem. If I wasn't convinced that the Bush team could make things even worse, I'd wish a second term upon them. Only fools believe the rosy pictures Bush paints of Iraq and its future. Given the conditions Bush has created, the next four years present more opportunities for disaster than for success. If we elect Kerry, we are taking ownership of the war as Kerry sees it, and that's a very unattractive proposition. "Admit we're screwed: Vote Kerry."

Kerry is doing what has to be done, of course, even if it costs the election. The damage is already done, and even voting for Kerry won't get us out of Iraq. We have to stay and somehow "fix" or at least stabilize it, if possible. But Kerry must argue that we can no longer trust the leadership of this dangerous and misguided president and his administration. He has to deflect spurious attacks and state his position and his plans. He has to surgically separate Bush's war in Iraq from the war on terror, and then explain his plans for both.

I think the wildly divergent polls demonstrate the volatility of the electorate and indicate a restless dissatisfaction with President Bush and the divergence of his statements from reality on all fronts. If Kerry can make his points clearly, without tangents, qualifiers, and semi-colons, the opportunity is there, but it will not be easy. Depending on how you feel about the electorate, it may not even be politically possible. He has to engineer nothing less than a massive paradigm shift in the American mindset, and he has to do it by offering almost nothing but bad news. All he will have is honesty, and the truth is not our friend.

He has five weeks.


Kerry's "Reporting for duty!" = Dukakis taking a tank ride.

he's got a rough road ahead in the next five weeks.

Posted by: thp at September 25, 2004 6:40 PM