Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Don't Look Forward in Anger

Speaker after speaker at the Democratic convention used the same rhetorical parry to obliquely cleave at W’s decision to invade Iraq: “We need a president who only takes America to war when he has to, not because he wants to.” I might have heard this preached ten different times from the podium before Kerry used the line himself on Thursday night. And yet the Democrats throughout their convention refused to extrapolate this point. If Bush took the country to war because he wanted to and not because he had to – the war was therefore a mistake and was wrong. The line should have been a launching point for criticizing the president on the war, but (for everyone outside the non-prime time speakers Dean, Kucinich and Sharpton) the Democrats dared tread no further. They scolded the president for going to war but refused to say it was wrong. Is that not a disconnect? Whether it has something to do with Kerry’s minimal post-convention bounce I can’t say. But it makes me wonder.

Delegates who brought anti-war signs into the convention had them confiscated in the hall. They were given two main talking points in their briefing on how to discuss the war with reporters: 1. We “need to look forward” in lieu of harping on that nettlesome decision to go to war and kill thousands. 2. John Kerry didn’t have “the information” he needed to vote with precision on granting the president the authority for the invasion.

When Kerry cast his vote on Iraq, he had already experienced two years of Bush’s reckless, unilateral stewardship – and yet when he talks about the decision to go to war, he says he somehow expected this president to be cautious and prudent with that authority. He says he didn’t know the president would use Congress’s vote as a blank check to leapfrog into Baghdad. I wonder who is he trying to kid.

In taping our video, Todd and I asked scores of convention delegates whether it was difficult to come to terms with Kerry’s vote for the war. Was he brave in Vietnam only to be meek in his most compelling vote? An overwhelming majority of the delegates were fervently anti-war but still defended Kerry to us with the talking point palaver. However we did find some who expressed their searing frustration at Kerry for his vote; at the convention organizers for failing to represent their anti-war views on and in the platform; but also at their fellow delegates, who in their eagerness to see the party prevail, censored themselves. The folks at home should know unity won out but dissent was there.

This is not meant as an indictment of John Kerry or an expression of a lack of confidence in his leadership as our next president. For all my criticisms of Kerry, he will be an infinitely better president than the current one. Simply by not being George W. Bush, he is half way there.

Edwards and Kerry laid out a broad, heavily metaphoric, vision of sending out hope and extending a helping hand to the less fortunate in this country and building a sense of community. But are their policies of tax credits, middle-class tax cuts and measured corporate reform really a heavy enough prescription to realize this lofty vision? And where was any JFK-style mention of re-energizing public service or its values?

John Kerry says that healthcare is a right, not a privilege. Yet his plan would not, in fact, insure all Americans. But then, at the end of the day, his plan would insure millions upon millions more than George W. Bush’s. If, in Boston, I learned we’re fighting a more imperfect fight than I had hoped, we’re still fighting one that is more than good -- it’s critical.

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