11 August 2004

Reporting and duty

Robert Jensen at Counterpunch takes Kerry to task for pandering to American illusions about the Vietnam war.
The standard story in the United States is that in our quest to guarantee peace and freedom for Vietnam, we misunderstood its history, politics and culture, leading to mistakes that doomed our effort. Some argue we should have gotten out sooner than we did; others suggest we should have fought harder. But the common ground in mainstream opinion is that our motives were noble.

The truth, unfortunately, is less pleasant. After World War II, the United States supported and financed France's attempt to retake its former colony. After the Vietnamese defeated the French in 1954, the Geneva Conference called for free elections in 1956, which the United States and its South Vietnamese client regime blocked. In his memoirs, President Eisenhower explained why: In free elections, the communists would have won by an overwhelming margin, which was unacceptable to the United States.

U.S. policy in Vietnam had nothing to do with freedom for the Vietnamese people or defending the United States. The central goal was to make sure that an independent socialist course of development did not succeed.

Okay, I agree with all of that. But did Kerry wimp out, as Jensen suggests? I have mixed feelings and a plan ...
When Kerry began his acceptance speech with a crisp salute, he was "reporting for duty," of a certain kind. Instead of the honorable duty of leaders --- to tell the truth, no matter how painful, and help people come to terms with the consequences of that truth --- he has chosen the more common approach of those who lie, distort and obfuscate to gain power.

In 1971, Kerry said he hoped that in 30 years Americans would look back and appreciate the courage of vets who opposed the war as a moment when "America finally turned" away from the lies and toward justice.

More than 30 years later, candidate Kerry has chosen the hypocrisy he once condemned over the courage he once called for.

And okay, I agree in principle, but this is exactly the kind of lefty infighting and movement away from the rhetorical center that has enabled the Republican party to chew us up and spit us out. The convention speech was just not the time to try again to fight this cultural battle which, sadly, the left has lost. I think Bérubé gets it right:
Can we try to remind all these Democrats that Kerry's outspoken opposition to the war was every bit as heroic as his pulling Jim Rassman out of the water?

The Kerry campaign itself can't do this, for obvious reasons. And last night, I remembered there's a lot more they can't do. They can't exactly level with us about how desperate our economic situation is: Mondale tried that tack in 1984, and Reagan blew him off as this weary, depressing old scold who was harshing everybody's Morning-in-America buzz. So there will be no dire warnings about what these deficits mean, or how drastically Bush has shifted the country's tax code so as to reward inheritance and penalize wages --- that's not optimistic! And there will be no mention of Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo --- that's not upbeat! It's really, really not! Especially when you look at the pictures!
"Elect Kerry to Stop the Bleeding, Then Work To Rebuild the Progressive Base for the Next Twenty Years" actually sucks as a bumper sticker. "A Stronger America" will have to do for now.

Yeah. Time to close ranks, lefties. That's how the right has done it, and look at the trouble it's enabled them to get us into. We need to use the same power for good.

1 comment:

Mike Sugarbaker said...

Yes, yes, and HELL yes.