Kerry: Bush unfit to serve
John Kerry, reminding people Bush went AWOL
Clearly, Kerry did an excellent job last night, hititng all the key points on the map and making himself more human. Kerry is not what he seems, in many ways. He's the son of a diplomat who grew up away from the US and in bording schools. Despite his last name, he's not Irish, but a combination of Austrian and New England Yankee, a scion of some of the country's oldest families.
Despite one of the most liberal voting records in the Senate's history, he is tough as nails. Other people with his politics would have gone into Legal Aid, but he was a prosecutor. He had no problem throwing people in jail. He has no problem with tough decisions. Instead of going to Harvard or Yale Law, where a bright young man with a million family connections could have gone, he chose Boston College Law School, a place for people who actually want to practice law.
Kerry, in many ways, is the reverse image of Bush. He comes from the same social background, but constantly makes different choices.
I wasn't much of a fan of Kerry in the primaries, but I have always, always respected him. Not just for his service record, but for his 1996 campaign. He was running hard and losing against Bill Weld, the popular former governor of Massachusetts. Weld was extremely well liked, and popular. A Harvard grad, he made his name by challenging Ed Meese in the 1980's. His wife was a Democrat, and if the GOP was a different kind of party, he'd be sitting if not in the White House, somewhere useful.
Kerry was a bit of an enigma. The public didn't know him well, despite his track record of leading investigations and promoting relations with Vietnam. He was always overshadowed by both Kennedy and Bob Kerrey, the former Navy SEAL and Medal of Honor winner. Same name, same service, same general features. Except Kerrey was an extrovert and more talker than thinker. The two were often confused, as they were on the Newshour, when Jim Lehrer said that Kerry had won the MOH, meaning the other Kerrey, who now serves on the 9/11 Commission. John Kerry corrected him and went on with the discussion, which was about Vietnam.
So in 1996, Kerry's back was to the wall. Weld was giving him a real challenge and they had agreed to a series of seven debates on public TV. For some reason, these were broadcast nationwide. Weld was hammering him on the death penalty, which he had opposed. So Kerry turned to Weld, a man he clearly respected, and said "I know what's like to have a man die in your arms". Weld, who is just as bright as Kerry, was stopped cold. He had used Vietnam in a way which was both effective and true. He couldn't have stopped him colder if he had punched him.
Vietnam clearly changed Kerry, and not just in the obvious ways. It made him a compassionate man. He never says it, but his actions after the war indicate this. For the first time, on his Swift Boat, he was with people who weren't prep school or Yale classmates and who trusted him with their lives. He was with average people who never had his opportunities. In many ways, he found out a couple of things about himself, one, he could count on himself in a crisis. He didn't flinch, waver or run. He could stand his ground. Two, he knew what was right and wromg and he would say what it was, regardless of popularity. While prep school may have honed his phyisical toughness, Vietnam showed his emotional stength and character.
And then he led Vietnam Veterans against the war, which was not a way to be popular, if you wanted to go far in politics. Nixon was scared of Kerry, who was everything they didn't want to see in a veteran. He may have been a little scruffy, but he was articulate, passionate and smart. Throughout his career, he has been on many sides of issues, but on Vietnam, he served, then opposed the war.
But whereas Bush construsted a simplistic moral world, Kerry's grew more complex, more nuanced. This is no virtue in American politics.Complexity is ao....French. France, where Kerry spent his childhood summers and where his relatives still live.
It's not that Kerry is aloof or remote, he seems to like people and have deeply loyal friends. It's that he's not outgoing, reserved is a good word. This can seem oftputting to many people. And it hides one of his most telling characteristics, toughness. John Kerry is not only tough, but aggressively so. From Vietnam, where he was so aggressive, he leaped out of his Swift boat and chased down a VC guerrilla with a B-40 rocket launcher and killed him. He chose being a prosecutor. Then, when in the Senate, he used his committees to investigate, first, Central American policy, then BCCI, now Iraq.
To mistake his honest doubts and questioning for weakness would be a mistake. The whole idea of flip-flopping is not about indecisiveness as much as weakness. The Bush campaign wants to depict Kerry, despite all available evidence, as a man unsure of himself, unable to make up his mind, someone too weak to make hard decisions. Coming from the man who read My Pet Goat as 3,000 Americans were being roasted alive by jet fuel, this woulod be funny if it weren't sad.
Americans mistake swagger for toughness. Bush is filled with swagger and false bravado, Kerry with the kind of quiet moral and physical courage good junior officers develop and carry on into later life. And it is important to note that Kerry has moral courage as well.
Yet, there is a contradiction within Kerry which is fascinating. He clearly needs and enjoys public adulation. Part of his motives may be pure, some not, but his motives have been a combination of high moral purpose and self-promotion. It was moral to publicly oppose the Vietnam was, but it also served his aching ambition, one he had since prep school. But what drove that ambition? Partly, the desire for acclaim after a rootless childhood spent in distant places. Partly a genuine desire for public service. He had come from money, and unlike the nakedly commerical Bushes, turned his energies elsewhere.
However, that ambition drove him to take on challenges others avoided. He didn't just join the Navy, he served two tours in Vietnam, one he sought out while the Tet Offensive was raging. With a Yale education and fluent French, he could have sought out an intel billet, or a communications job, like Bob Woodward, also a Naval officer serving in Vietnam. Or he could have avoided military service altogether, like Bill Weld. But he chose combat. Then, he could have quietly gone to Harvard Law and worked in someone's law firm, or followed his father into the Foreign Service. Instead he opposed the war in a public, confrontational way, one which could have closed off any hopes of a political career. No one knew in 1971 if opposing the war was politically wise and given his FBI file, Nixon was seeking to ruin him. The same people still lurk around the fringes and Kerry has shown them down each time.
Then he went to Boston College Law School, and became a prosecutor. Why he didn't go to an Ivy Law School isn't clear, but I think Kerry actually wanted to practice law, which he did.
The latest slander, pushed by the closeted gay Matt Drudge, was that Kerry faked the film of him in combat and wounded himself. Both are ridiculous, since no one volunteers to be wounded. I mean, he was wounded three times in four months. Should he have fought until he was killed?
The thing about Kerry, is despite his background, he has lived beyond the expectations held for people of his sort, while Bush has failed even those.
The speech last night, make no mistake, was an aggressive, even brutal attack on Bush. The first line was the opening shot in a speech where Kerry called Bush a liar and a coward. He never said those words, he couldn't. But the implication was clear and direct. He attacked Bush for failing in Iraq and destroying American crdedibility.
Which was fine. But then he called Bush out, called for an "honest" debate, implying he has to fight dirty to win.
But the whole evening was designed to goad Bush. Bringing out the poised and intelligent Kerry sisters was no accident. While they spoke to their father's warmth and humanity, they also reminded Bush that his daughters are uselsss, drunken party girls. Which is fine at 22, but no asset. But the real comparison is between the Bush girls and Cate Edwards, also 22, but years ahead in maturity and poise.
Then Jim Rassmussen, the SF officer Kerry pulled out of the Mekong, told his story, also reminding people Bush had never lifted his finger to help a soul, much less risked his life to do so, for which Kerry won a Bronze Star. Max Clelland then added on to the scorn for Bush. It was subtle, it was carefully written, and it was well-planned.
Kerry's speech called Bush a liar unworthy to be President, much less send your kids into combat.
KERRY: I know what kids go through when they are carrying...
I know what kids go through when they're carrying an M-16 in a dangerous place, and they can't tell friend from foe. I know what they go through when they're out on patrol at night and they don't know what's coming around the next bend. I know what it's like to write letters home telling your family that everything's all right, when you're not sure that that's true.
As president, I will wage this war with the lessons I learned in war. Before you go to battle, you have to be able to look a parent in the eye and truthfully say, "I tried everything possible to avoid sending your son or daughter into harm's way, but we had no choice...
... we had to protect the American people, fundamental American values against a threat that was real and imminent."
Some men might have brushed that off, but Kerry, who has known Bush since 1964, knows it would get him.
Then he called him fundamentally unamerican for abusing the flag and constitution
KERRY: We are here to affirm that when Americans stand up and speak their minds and say America can do better, that is not a challenge to patriotism; it is the heart and soul of patriotism.
You see that flag up there. We call her Old Glory, the stars and stripes forever. I fought under that flag, as did so many of those people who were here tonight and all across the country. That flag flew from the gun turret right behind my head and it was shot through and through and tattered, but it never ceased to wave in the wind. It draped the caskets of men that I served with and friends I grew up with.
For us, that flag is the most powerful symbol of who we are and what we believe in: our strength, our diversity, our love of country, all that makes America both great and good.
That flag doesn't belong to any president. It doesn't belong to any ideology.
KERRY: It doesn't belong to any party. It belongs to all the American people.
Then he basically called Bush a hypocrite:
You don't value families if you force them to take up a collection to buy body armor for a son or daughter in the service, if you deny veterans health care, or if you tell middle-class families to wait for a tax cut, so that the wealthiest among us can get even more.
After which, he went after Bush's use of wedge issues:
We believe that what matters most is not narrow appeals masquerading as values, but the shared values that show the true face of America; not narrow values that divide us, but the shared values that unite us: family, faith, hard work, opportunity and responsibility for all, so that every child, every adult, every parent, every worker in America has an equal shot at living up to their God-given potential. That is the American dream and the American value.
But then, if as lifted from the pages of the F9/11 script, he tied Bush to the Saudis, but again, not ditrectly:
KERRY: We value an America that controls its own destiny because it's finally and forever independent of Mideast oil. What does it mean for our economy and our national security when we have only 3 percent of the world's oil reserves, yet we rely on foreign countries for 53 percent of what we consume?
I want an America that relies on its ingenuity and innovation, not the Saudi royal family.
Now, if you've seen F 9/11, that statement, and it would have never been there otherwise because the Saudis are "allies" and you don't slam allies, implies Bush is in the pay of the Saudi Royal Family, which his entire family is. He wanted people, especially those who had seen Moore's film, to make that subsconsious link. Brutally effective and well thought out.
Then, of course, he calls Bush out:
KERRY: I want to address these next words directly to President George W. Bush.
In the weeks ahead, let's be optimists, not just opponents. Let's build unity in the American family, not angry division. Let's honor this nation's diversity. Let's respect one another. And let's never misuse for political purposes the most precious document in American history, the Constitution of the United States.
AUDIENCE: Kerry, Kerry, Kerry...
KERRY: My friends, the high road may be harder, but it leads to a better place.
KERRY: And that's why Republicans and Democrats must make this election a contest of big ideas, not small-minded attacks.
This is our time to reject the kind of politics calculated to divide race from race, region from region, group from group
Of course, this isn't serious, because the whole speech was one long attempt to get a rise from Bush. It is rare in American politics to have such a personal and aggressive speech towards an opponent, but Kerry has nothing but contempt for Bush and it dripped from the speech. Because this was not a policy debate, but an attempt to get Bush to react. It was personal. And, it appears, Bush knows it.
Because this morning Bush said "The most important reason to reelect me is to keep Laura Bush as first lady". A none too subtle attack on Teresa Heinz Kerry. Now, most men don't attack other people's wives, but George Bush did. This is the kind of subtle, nasty attack used by alcoholics and dry drunks. Which means Kerry can claim his own mission accomplished.
posted by Steve @ 3:36:00 PM