wanker moment 4: hero John Kerry, come on down!

The Dems had a problem in 2004. Was the problem that they had shown zero integrity in opposing Bush tax cuts, the rich vein of corruption that clogged the arteries of the administration like the cholesterol that clogged the portals of Dick Cheney’s heart, indefensible fecklessness pre-9/11, indefensible fecklessness post 9/11 in Afghanistan, the pill company bill, the vicious and unacceptable invasion and occupation of Iraq, the torture, the massive civil rights violations, the orgy of debt resulting from the deregulation of the mortgage market? Of course not. Basically, these were things they were for before they were against, and were things they might be for again.
No. Their problem was they needed someone as heroic as George Bush.

John Kerry as a young man did not become famous because, on a swift boat speeding through the jungles of Vietnam, he was the model for all Rambos and Hulk Hogans to come. John Kerry as a young man became famous because he courageously came back from the war and organized the Vietnam Veterans against the War to, among other things, shut the war down and make it known through the length and breadth of America that the American military had committed massive atrocities in the course of its actions in Vietnam. To that end, he organized investigations – it was called the Winter Soldier project – to expose what was happening on the ground: the torturings, the burning of villages, the arbitrary shootings of civilians, and all the rest of it. 

This is what Kerry said in 1973, testifying to the U.S. Senate:

I would like to talk on behalf of all those veterans and say that severalmonths ago in Detroit we had an investigation at which over 150 honorably discharged, and many very highly decorated, veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia. These were not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command. It is impossible to describe to you exactly what did happen in Detroit - the emotions in the room and the feelings of the men who were reliving their experiences in Vietnam. They relived the absolute horror of what this country, in a sense, made them do.

They told stories that at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Ghengis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.”

With strong words like these, Kerry should have gone down with those unpleasant truthtellers in the American tradition, such as William Lloyd Garrison, who opposed with all their might the most powerful social evil of their time.

But William Lloyd Garrison did not have a magic formula to get him out of his former positions. John Kerry, of course, did. For looking in the face of the invasion of a country that had nothing to do with 9/11, Kerry uttered his immortal credo: “I was for the war before I was against it.”

Actually, that is unfair. Kerry never said the remark attributed to him by legend. Instead of using the plain speech of the young John Kerry, unafraid to call rape rape and torture, torture, Kerry’s comments and votes on the Iraq war went something like this:

"In October 2002, he supported the current war in Iraq, despite the fact that Iraq took no aggressive action against its neighbors.

In announcing his candidacy for president, in September 2003, he said his October 2002 vote was simply "to threaten" the use of force, apparently backtracking from his belief in 1991 that such a vote would grant the president an open-ended ticket to wage war."We should not have gone to war knowing the information that we know today," Kerry said Wednesday on ABC's "Good Morning America." "Knowing there was no imminent threat to America, knowing there were no weapons of mass destruction, knowing there was no connection of Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda, I would not have gone to war. That's plain and simple."

But on Aug. 9, 2004, when asked if he would still have gone to war knowing Saddam Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction, Kerry said: "Yes, I would have voted for the authority. I believe it was the right authority for a president to have." Speaking to reporters at the edge of the Grand Canyon, he added: "[Although] I would have done this very differently from the way President Bush has."

The Kerry campaign says voting to authorize the war in Iraq is different from deciding diplomacy has failed and waging war.”

The nuances, the nuances! The Democratic party fell into a vat of nuances somewhere around 1982, and has never climbed out of it since. What could be better, for such a party, then a hero?

And so the sausage was made. Kerry’s tour of duty in Vietnam was given the JFK PT-1 treatment by Douglas Brinkley in 2004. I don’t recall JFK leading the WWII Veterans Against the War – but don’t worry, John Kerry was hoping that nobody would remember his own anti-war activity, and decided, by hocus pocus, to nuance himself back the medals he had once thrown away in perhaps real disgust in a demonstration against the war.

And thus Kerry went onward Christian soldiering through the primaries and to the convention. The Democratic Convention of 2004 was a spectacle to make the angels pull out their H.L. Mencken books and crack wise. The magic moment of the coronation was preceded by a bit of hokum that I remember to this day – for, not having a tv set, I had to wait patiently while my dialup internet connection downloaded the clip, and thus I got to see it slowly. And I got to hear this. And hear it again. Because I couldn’t believe it the first time:

“''To every little girl her father is a hero -- it's taken some getting used to, that my father actually is one,'' Alexandra Kerry said.”  

Cutting the wankery cake, here, I would need a samourai’s sword. As I remember it – and my memory flees in horror before the impression – this remark was made after the campaign film nicely basted our Kerry in the stews of a Vietnam that had been filtered through the yearnings of John Milius in Red Dawn.  Somehow, this grown up little girl forgot to mention that he father was a hero in a war in which, as he said, American forces “cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Ghengis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam.” I guess that is way too x-rated for little girls!

The con game of American politics is light on nuance. Nuance scares the mark. Nuance creates a moment of, well, distance,  instead of little girl stickiness to big Daddy.

At the time, I did not foresee the comeuppance that would result from that hero act. But come it did. And this is what I wrote back in those dear, damned days:

August 29, 2004

A friend of mine who is pretty far to the right sent me an email about Swift Boat Veterans about a month ago. I thought, at the time: you gotta be kidding me. Bush, with an incredibly bad military record, can’t afford to open this little can of worms up.

I was wrong. The Bush campaign correctly gauged Kerry’s weakness – a massive, senatorial vanity that makes Oedipus’ hubris look like the shrinking modesty of a closet virgin. Kerry’s response has been, throughout, a comic exercise in hauteur. It is as if Kerry feels that we will all feel his pain that he, John Kerry, a senator, a presidential candidate, is being unfairly attacked in a tv ad. Wow – a presidential candidate attacked in a slimy way! That he has made this into an issue of Bush condemning or not the ads shows …. well, a pretty bad instinct in Kerry. Hardball does not consist of insisting that your opponent dominate the game. Surely even in the incubator of egocentricity and bad but expensive hair that is D.C., surely someone around Kerry could have gently said: get over it. But no: this utterly boring and irrelevant issue is bearing beautiful fruit for the Bush campaign. Kerry’s partisans are all in a lather – all of them amplifying the vanity response, all of them insisting on the utterly godlike heroism of the young Kerry, deigning to become a grunt from his position of privilege in the Ivies – we all should be so honored! I'm weeping in my whiskey! All of them determined to stick with the story of Kerry the hero unworthily blemished to the very end.

If, instead, Kerry had accepted being attacked, and attacked back – if he hadn’t sanctimoniously “condemned” moveon’s quite mild ads on Bush – he’d be in much better shape. Liberals have a tendency to confuse their arrogance with decency – they love that word decency – when, in reality, their niceness is all context dependent. I say: bring on the dirty campaigning. If I had inherited a million bucks, I could afford to be decent too. Or indecent. The truth is, most of us don’t have any choice about it – that’s what a restricted income does for ya. So we plug up the interstices with a few moral acts, gorge on superstitions in response to our dim awareness that we are vulnerable to everything in this universe and are going to die without having eaten enough, fucked enough, thought enough, or enjoyed any one moment enough, and plug along from one besotted moment to another thinking about sex, if we are lucky and our libido hasn’t been broken by our exhaustion. I really believe that the Dem establishment doesn’t have a clue. Hence, a small town Babbitt like Rove can look like a genius just for acting like a redneck drunk, since this provokes the most maddening, and unintentionally hilarious, responses from Dems. Their noses immediately go in the air. They act sullied. They begin talking about honor, by which they mean – I, me, my ego, my preciousness, was actually INSULTED by that lout. Can you imagine? This righteous indignation plays out as a particularly nauseating blend of petulance. The mask comes down. The hoi polloi insult and are insulted all of the time. It is our art form. And if you can’t deal with that, how are you going to deal with things like, uh, war?

It has still not resonated with the Dems that they are no longer the default party. Incredible as that seems, they still respond to these things as though they were still number one. This happens. Many American manufacturers, faced with competition from the Japanese in the seventies, folded not because the Japanese could make stuff cheaper, but because the Americans were arthritic about service, produced crap, had an executive structure that was stuck in cement, crushed innovation, and had so constituted themselves around a Pavlovian routine – put out crap, get back money – that they were unable to understand the changed circumstances.

This would be extremely funny if we had some other opposition party we could go to. Alas, the Dems are it, and their screw ups are threatening to land Bush, once again, in an office he so richly does not deserve.  


Ed said…
Excellent work. I wonder what was in it for John Kerry? If the anti-war stuff was sincere, why the presidential race in 2004 (and as the establishment candidate in those primaries) when it was obvious the system was so sclerotic that any genuine reformer would do best keeping well away until it eventually collapsed on its own. And if the anti-war stuff was an act, why bother? As GW Bush calculated, the wealth and family connections on their own should have been enough.