On Native Ground
JOHN KERRY'S BLUES
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- John Kerry figured he had the Democratic Party's presidential nomination all sewn up.
He had the money. He had the policy experience. He was clearly the strongest candidate for 2004.
But last year, he made the biggest mistake of his political career. He trusted President Bush and his administration's case for invading Iraq.
This makes him either incredibly naive and stupid or a gutless liar of the first order.
I'm figuring he wasn't naive or stupid. He fought in Vietnam and saw the folly of the war up close, enough so that he became a prominent opponent of the war when he got home.
During the 1980s, he was one of the Democrats' toughest critics of President Reagan's proxy wars in Central America and investigated the Iran-Contra scandal.
After nearly two decades in the U.S. Senate, Kerry knew all of the people who became the main shapers of U.S. foreign policy in the Bush administration. He knew their intentions. If he didn't, he was a fool.
So in the fall of 2002, when the Bush administration was trying to fast track an invasion of Iraq, Kerry had to have known the score.
He had to know the intelligence was shoddy and the justification for war was flimsy at best. Most importantly, Kerry had to know that President Bush and his subordinates were lying and that they could not be trusted to be truthful.
It's not like we didn't know all this last year. The information that the Bush administration's case for war was built on lies was there for the whole world to see.
Knowing this, the latter scenario seems more true. He didn't have the guts to take on President Bush at a time when millions were looking for someone, anyone, who would stand up to Bush's lies and stop the rush to war.
Kerry's mistake was not trusting President Bush. His mistake was trusting the conventional wisdom that said that opposing the war was electoral suicide.
John Kerry believed this, as did Richard Gephardt, Joe Lieberman and John Edwards. And now they are standing around scratching their heads and wondering why they are all road kill on the political highway while a guy few had heard of last Fall is now a virtual lock for the nomination.
If Kerry had the courage of his convictions and voted against the war and maintained that opposition in the months afterward, I seriously doubt that Howard Dean would be the frontrunner right now. But Kerry played it safe and got creamed. The same holds true for Edwards, Gephardt and Lieberman. They all voted for war and all are paying the political price for trusting President Bush.
Don't think that the capture of Saddam Hussein has changed the dynamic behind the 2004 election. The reality is that American troops are stuck in Iraq and Afghanistan and will continue be stuck there for the foreseeable future thanks to a foreign policy that insists that the U.S. will go it alone and attack any country at any time for any reason.
And the reason why we are stuck with this foreign policy is because most of the Democrats rolled over and went along with the Bush administration out of fear that they would get destroyed by the right-wing screech monkeys who seem to be in control of America these days.
Those of us who are completely and totally opposed to this nation's invasion of Iraq wanted leadership from the Democrats. We wanted principled opposition. We wanted courage. We saw little of this.
One of the few Democrats in the U.S. Senate who voted against the Iraq invasion was the late Paul Wellstone of Minnesota. In 2002, he was in the toughest Senate race of his career. The Republican Party made it their top priority to defeat him and poured more money and resources into Republican challenger Norm Coleman's campaign than any other race in the country.
Despite all that, Wellstone had taken a slight lead in the polls over Coleman and likely would have beaten him had Wellstone not been killed in a plane crash. His biggest lead in the race came after his vote against the invasion.
In an ABC News interview on the day before his death, Wellstone talked about that vote and how he "agonized" over whether it was the right thing to do.
"I spent a lot of time calling people around the country and listening," he said. "But as far as politically, really to me, I thought, I felt my best judgment, my honest best judgment was not to support this open-ended resolution. ... I don't know if I can ever remember a time in 12 years where people have been so respectful. Even people who haven't agreed. They just come up and they say, 'you know, we have no doubt that you really rendered your best judgment and that's the way you did this... and even if we don't agree, we respect you. That has been the nicest feeling in the world."
In the end, Wellstone said, it was not a vote that was for or against President Bush. It was about something deeper. "Did you make the right judgment, that you thought was best for our families, for our sons and daughters who could be in harm's way, for what might happen in the world? That's what people want to know."
Kerry failed that test, as did Gephardt, Edwards and Lieberman. Every member of Congress who voted for that resolution now resides in that special circle of torment reserved for those who had a chance to stand up for the cause of sanity and peace and chose instead the path of political expediency.
Wayne Morse of Oregon, along with Ernest Gruening of Alaska, were the only two senators who voted against the Gulf of Tonkin resolution in August 1964 that gave President Lyndon Johnson a blank check to expand American involvement in Vietnam. Later, like the Bush administration's argument for going into Iraq, we learned even the President Jounson though the incident that precipitated the Gulf of Tonkin resolution also was fiction.
Morse said in 1964 that "I don't know why we think, just because we're mighty, that we have the right to try and substitute might for right." A few years later, after it became very clear how wrong the decision to escalate the war had turned out, Morse said that "we're going to become guilty, in my judgment, of being the greatest threat to the peace of the world. It's an ugly reality, and we Americans don't like to face up to it."
We haven't heard similar sentiments from the Democrats running for president save for Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who voted against the war. The rest of them, including Howard Dean, are too busy trying to nuance and blur their positions.
But might has been substituted for right, and the Bush administration has become the greatest threat to the peace of the world. And anyone who helped enable President Bush and his administration to carry out this agenda is not going to win the Democratic nomination for president.
Randolph T. Holhut was a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.