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Sen. Kerry: Engage! Tour Iraq by Humvee, Drive Down to Najaf

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  • Sen. Kerry: Engage! Tour Iraq by Humvee, Drive Down to Najaf

    Sen. Kerry: Engage! Tour Iraq by Humvee, Drive Down to Najaf
    by Robert Sam Anson

    New York Observer
    May 24, 2004

    There is a way out of this fix: Mr. Kerry could go to Iraq.

    John Kerry got in touch the other day.

    It's always nice to hear from a chum of 30 years ago, and considering
    how busy he's been with the campaign, taking time out to write seemed
    awfully thoughtful. Especially with what's been appearing in this

    Bubbling with anticipation, I ripped open the envelope.

    If you checked "Democrat" last time you registered, you know what
    dropped out. Because you got the same letter requesting "a most
    generous contribution" to the Democratic National Committee. John
    wrote (excuse me, Senator Kerry wrote): "Our tomorrow depends on it."

    A P.S. asking after the kids would have helped the medicine go down,
    but even in his allons mes amis! to the barricades days, John won no
    stars for being cozy.

    As fund-raising goes, though, the two-page missive wasn't bad. Mr.
    Kerry's signature appeared handwritten (testament to how clever
    computers are getting), and between the "Dear" and the "Sincerely,"
    he listed five good reasons to pull out the checkbook: Everyone would
    have a job. You wouldn't have to worry about breaking your neck or
    quitting smoking, as you'd have affordable health insurance. Land,
    sea and air would be pristine. Every school would be just like St.
    Paul's. There wouldn't be any racial, gender or sexual discrimination
    -- and you could join a union, or have an abortion. In fact, you
    could even stick up a bank, if you wanted, confident that when the
    cops caught you they'd at least read your Miranda rights. Mr. Kerry
    was emphatic about that. "When I am President," he promised, "we will
    end the assault on our civil liberties and civil rights by appointing
    an attorney general whose name is not John Ashcroft."

    Readers with elephant memories will recall that in his convention
    acceptance speech in 1968, Richard Nixon made exactly the same
    promise. And sure enough, soon as Tricky took the oath, Ramsey Clark
    had to pack. So, General Ashcroft, be warned: Unless Mr. Kerry
    changes his mind between now and Inauguration Day (this could
    happen), those secret plans you've been making to stay on in the new
    administration will be inconvenienced.

    And what did Mr. Kerry say about Iraq?

    Not one word.

    Well, maybe he forgot; it's been a hectic week.

    First, he had to stay on message -- health care premiums! -- when
    everyone else on the planet was talking about Abu Ghraib.

    Then he had to explain why, if he cared so much about the unemployed,
    he was off campaigning instead of staying in Washington and casting
    the one vote needed for the Senate to extend for 13 weeks benefits
    for the Americans who've flat run out of luck finding a job.

    Then he had to pretend he had a snowball's chance of carrying
    Arkansas by traipsing down to Little Rock, where he accomplished his
    actual mission -- paying obeisance to the fund-raiser-in-chief -- by
    lauding Bill Clinton for so many virtues (including turning him into
    a Razorback football fan) that the L.A. Times reporter lost track
    after a dozen. But Teresa no doubt filed away one suggestive line:
    "Whatever President Clinton did," her husband said, "it worked for

    Throughout, Mr. Kerry strove mightily to avoid saying boo about Iraq.
    "We're all interested in what's happening," he told a reporter,
    assuring he was bearing up under all the pestering about the war.
    "But life goes on and we've got to make America strong here at home."
    The Tar Baby finally stuck to him, when he was forced to view the
    unexpurgated Abu Ghraib slide show the military brass was putting on
    for Congress. Emerging from the snoop-safe Capitol Bijou, Mr. Kerry
    pronounced the images of torture and humiliation "sickening" and
    "appalling" -- subsequently amplified by "depraved and sad."

    His review was several shades paler than the seemingly genuine horror
    George Bush has been expressing -- but sufficient for political
    purposes. Unfortunately, though, Mr. Kerry rambled on, wrecking what
    had promised to be his first flip-flop-free week in many moons by
    assigning blame to "a group of people run amok, under what
    circumstances we have yet to determine." Quick as you can say "Tom
    DeLay" (who spent his week calling Democrats traitors), the Bush
    campaign pointed out that only days earlier, Mr. Kerry was pinning
    the Abu Ghraib rap on the entire chain of command, up to and
    including the Commander-in-Chief. The G.O.P. press release seemed to
    stir the normally stoic candidate, who shortly thereafter doubled
    back to his first version.

    Midst these events, Mr. Kerry issued what the Associated Press
    described as "his fullest criticism yet" of Mr. Bush's handling of
    the war: "I mean, this is not a success," he said. "I think that it's
    been one miscalculation after another, frankly."

    Weigh that for outraged megatonnage.

    The young John Kerry had no trouble calling Vietnam "immoral."
    Indeed, the eloquence with which he rubbed the country's nose in the
    soul-staining consequences of that war was what brought him to
    prominence. But in all the months he's been running for President,
    Mr. Kerry has yet to be quoted applying anything remotely close to
    the "I"-word to Iraq, which is Vietnam's equal in everything but body
    count. Instead, he promises, "I won't cut and run" -- which is word
    for word what Lyndon Johnson said about the place where Lt. Kerry won
    his medals.

    On the chance that a media conspiracy has been suppressing nobler
    utterances, I typed i-m-m-o-r-a-l into the search box at up came one mention, a speech on March 22
    criticizing the "immoral" institutional bias of Medicaid.

    "Conscience" was tried next. Six hits: a speech commending black
    mayors for being on the "frontline of America's conscience" (Marion
    Barry presumably excepted); an address to the A.F.L.-C.I.O. in which
    Mr. Kerry reported that his own had been pricked meeting workers on
    "the short end of the stick"; an affirmation of belief, in his
    announcement of candidacy, that the "conscience of Americans" would
    preserve liberty forevermore; repeated injunctions that any woman
    who'd consulted hers should be guaranteed the right to terminate a
    pregnancy; condemnation of the Environmental Protection Agency for
    lacking one; and a pledge to repair that deficiency once President.

    The odds of finding "atrocity" seemed slim, given all the flak Mr.
    Kerry's been taking for having cited bona fide instances of it during
    Senate testimony 33 years ago. Turns out, though, Mr. Kerry's used
    the term twice: once, to characterize the terrorist beheading of
    Nicholas Berg (whose father was infinitely gutsier identifying the
    ultimate culprits); the other, in a statement marking the 1915-1923
    genocide of Armenians. (So as not to offend the sensibilities of
    Turkish-American voters, the butchery was laid at the feet of the
    "old Ottoman empire.")

    When Mr. Kerry, the self-proclaimed "entrepreneurial Democrat," talks
    about the dollars-and-cents aspects of the war, it's a different
    story. He suddenly becomes a veritable Billy Sunday of moral
    indignation, branding as "disgraceful" the $ 200 billion and change
    invested in the enterprise thus far.

    With George Bush ringing up a lowest-ever approval rating of 42
    percent, Mr. Kerry sees no need to recalibrate his ethical compass.
    He's content to proclaim his "sense of moral justice" only when it's
    not quite a matter of life and death; he did it last week, touring
    Arkansas, flanked by those ubiquitous props, the buddies from 'Nam:
    The topic was V.A. benefits.

    The strategy, as Newsweek's Howard Fineman sums it up, "is pretty
    straightforward: to be the guy people have no choice but to vote for
    on Nov. 2. Not because he has such a stirring new vision (he
    doesn't); not because he's such a darned likeable guy (he isn't); but
    because circumstances are such that fair-minded 'swing' voters have
    no choice but to pick him." The cynicism of this calculation is
    positively Clintonian, and were Mr. Kerry a Republican, it might

    Alas, Mr. Kerry's stuck being a Democrat, an eccentric breed that
    actually believes -- Bill's experience notwithstanding -- there are
    things larger than winning, especially when a war's on. Nowhere is
    this fantasy more deeply inculcated than among tender-age party
    members, whose inexhaustible doorbell-ringing, stamp-licking and
    envelope-stuffing can be -- remember "Clean for Gene"? -- the
    difference between victory and defeat.

    For a taste of the youngsters' mood, consider this open letter from
    Megan Tady -- a budding freelance writer in western Massachusetts --
    posted on the Common Dreams Web site:

    "Dear Mr. Kerry," she wrote. "You don't represent me. Who am I? I am
    a young voter, like the millions of young voters across the country
    who have been revved up by someone other than you. We have been
    aching for a candidate we can really get behind. We found it in
    Kucinich. We found it in Dean. We found it in Sharpton. We haven't
    found it in you.

    "You may think this doesn't matter. After all, we've vowed to vote
    for 'Anyone but Bush,' making your job rather easy. You can throw a
    few things our way -- an MTV interview and a youth link on your Web
    site -- and then stretch out your arms and vacation in Idaho. The
    consensus is we'd vote for Mickey Mouse if he was running against
    Bush (and some of us will, writing him onto the ballot just to say we

    "But there's a danger in the fact that we're still having Meetups
    about defeating Bush in 2004, not electing you. And while young
    people are mobilizing to vote ... there's a catch to our enthusiasm:
    we're flippant, unpredictable. We lose interest easily. We don't vote
    for just anybody. If you don't start picking up where Dean and
    Kucinich and Sharpton left off, we either won't vote, or we won't
    vote for you. We still have Nader/LaDuke bumper stickers on our
    Hondas, if only because we couldn't get them off. Still, it's a
    reminder of all the things we want in a candidate, but don't have.

    "Mr. Kerry, you are at great risk of losing thousands of voters to
    disillusionment and disappointment. This is not meant as a threat,
    but as a reality ... We need you to start being our candidate, too.
    And that means more than telling us to 'Choose or Lose.'"

    It's not just the Megan Tadys who are fed up. Plenty of old foggy
    Democrats are panicked, bewildered, frustrated or plain furious at
    being stuck with such a conviction-free dud -- when Mr. Bush is all
    but presenting the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on a platter.

    Polls aren't required to understand the dismay, though a growing
    bunch attest to it. John Kerry captured hearts by being a Silver Star
    -- winning, three-times-wounded hero. Since clinching the nomination,
    though, he's acted like a member of the Texas Air National Guard
    downing brewskies in the PX. It's bait-and-switch, like being
    admitted to Harvard and finding yourself enrolled at Northeastern.

    Various explanations are offered for Mr. Kerry's transformation.
    There's the pure-cravenness theory; the brainwashed-by-Bill
    hypothesis (visiting Arkansas, Mr. Kerry even mimicked his drawl);
    the this-is-what-happens-to-liberals-when-they-hear-"Hail to the
    Chief"-playing-in-their-head construct; and the latest -- offered by
    The Times this weekend in a report on Mr. Kerry's social discomfiture
    while attending boarding school -- the
    making-up-for-not-being-liked-as-an-adolescent syndrome.

    Onto the mounting pile, let's toss another: Call it "the combat

    When 7.62-millimeter metal starts flying around, you see, either you
    got it, or you don't. The choice is instant. Only it's not really a
    choice. It's a reflex, born of who you inexplicably are or
    inexplicably ain't. The red badge of courage is pinned on by such
    caprice. It's only when the shooting stops and you have time to think
    of the deadliness of what you just did, that the fear sinks in and
    you want to throw up.

    Face a crisis as a politician, and the equation's stood on its head.
    You have all the time in the world to debate consequences, commission
    focus groups, listen to advisers, get petrified of making the wrong
    move. That's why there are only eight characters in Profiles in
    Courage: After examining every political figure since the first
    George W. was President, Jack Kennedy -- a man with experience on
    both sides of the hero divide -- couldn't come up with No. 9.

    There is a way for Mr. Kerry out of this fix: He could go to Iraq.
    Last week Donald Rumsfeld demonstrated the usefulness of the trip if
    you're trying to keep a job, and since Mr. Kerry's already imitated
    Republicans so often on Iraq, he might as well do it again in order
    to get one. Stylistically, his hegira would have to be different,
    however. Instead of barreling through, like Rummy, in an armor-plated
    bus, as gunships circle overhead, Mr. Kerry ought to get behind the
    wheel of one of those 14 year-old, cheesecloth-skinned Humvees the
    Pentagon thinks perfectly adequate for grunt use. Then, without the
    shadow of bodyguards (we don't have enough to go around, anyway), he
    should tool down to Najaf or Karbala for a front-lines look-see, just
    like our guys are doing every day.

    Yes, a lot of really bad dudes will try to kill him. But that's the
    whole point: He's at his best when he's being shot at.

    Who knows? If the crack of a near-miss AK round jogs old memories,
    John Kerry might return to being our hope.

    From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress