GEORGE VS... (3-31-04)
So I've been listening to this Air America thing. Franken's funny, and they talk about the issues, and... (sigh)
I may as well come out with it.
There is a certain assumption made about people who, like me, really can't stand George W. Bush. Some of these assumptions make logical sense. Ones that have to do with environmental or tax policy, for instance. But the two assumptions I am about to reference are, in the utmost, bunk.
The first is the notion that in order to be against George W. Bush, one must be FOR John Kerry.
Now, I watched the Democratic primary process with an interest rarely rivaled in my life. Because as a Texan, I believe I have an understanding of the ideology that George embodies for many people in my home state and elsewhere in the Middle. It is, in my view, an ignorant and insular worldview, one which I recognize on instinct. Bush knows it better than I do, and knows exactly how to use it.
Those in the left-hand column of the national scorecard are often quick to point out how stupid George Jr. is. However, "stupid" is a word that implies a mental deficiency. Bush is not mentally deficient. He is willfully ignorant, and has had the luxury to become very wealthy and powerful despite that fact. His associates, however, have not all had that luxury, and are not even remotely stupid. In fact, they're crafty as hell.
Which is why the last few months were the months of Intense Primary Scrutiny. It was an odd time. Cranking the television volume, searching the faces of those who would deliver us from dark predictions such as that of General Tommy Franks ("a terrorist, massive, casualty-producing event [will occur] somewhere in the Western world - it may be in the United States of America - that causes our population to question our own Constitution and to begin to militarize our country in order to avoid a repeat of another mass, casualty-producing event.").
I began to understand the Jews of the first century A.D., searching for a Messiah to rid them of those troublesome Romans.
But we didn't get a Messiah. I watched them all, gesticulating and using the Clinton thumb-point (he shoulda patented that sucker) to underscore their various messages. I came away from different debates with different favorites.
Edwards seemed to have fresh-faced optimism on his side. But his backing by the largest trial lawyers' association in the U.S. didn't help me trust him.
Bob Graham was kindly and hailed from Florida. But had the charisma of a stewed tomato.
I never liked Gephardt.
Lieberman...whatever. Too much Al Gore on him.
Sharpton...c'mon, I live in New York. I know the stories.
Clark seemed to have the resume down pat. Consistency, though...not so much.
Truthfully, the closest to my personal ideologies were Braun & Kucinich. But even then, there were sufficient gaps to keep me from hitching my wagon. Unicorns & whatnot.
Which brings us to Kerry & Dean.
Now, I have to admit that, like many left-leaning Bush-haters, I danced with the bad boyfriend. Facts like Dean's stance on gun control and the bizarre secrecy surrounding his gubernatorial files were all but drowned out in the blinding light of Howard The Hun. Goddammit, Bush was a crap-ass President, and Howard was FUCKING PISSED OFF about it. AND he had raised most of his funds from people across the country who were just as pissed off as he was. Holy shit, how can you beat that for sheer cathartic value?
The problem was that Dean the Story came across much better than Dean the Candidate. He was often bested in debates (most often by Kucinich, incidentally), and took on a strikingly Rumsfeldian cast in interviews. But truthfully, the worst thing he did was apologize for the Iowa "RRRARRRGH!" speech. If you're gonna do something, just do it and let voters make the choice. But alas, even Howard The Horrible proved to be a pole positioner.
Which brings us to John Kerry.
During the debates, I knew nothing of Kerry's history. I knew he had fought in Vietnam, and that he had subsequently protested the war. That much I was okay with. But he just never SAID anything.
Sure, he'd talk. But it was that Washington talk, that kind we heard every day from Ari Fleischer or Scott McClellan, or whoever the fuck they've got mealy-mouthing their way around press corps questions today. He didn't give bad answers. He just didn't give good ones. Howard and Dennis had a ball with him regularly.
And there was the nasty little fact about his Iraq war vote and subsequent change of heart. Try as I might, that kept bugging me. With every attack on Bush, a tiny "but..." clinked at the back of my mind. I just didn't like the guy.
But I watched, and I believed. I believed that the 50 percent of the American people who had so strongly registered their rejection of Bush in 2000 could find our spokesperson. We just had to look hard enough. I began to trust to hope.
And yet, as soon as the Kerry win in Iowa began to register, I knew. I knew what I had known throughout the whole campaign: The force that in 2000 had created one of the most uninspiring Presidential choices in history had risen once again. The American attraction to safety.
John Kerry simply didn't threaten anybody. He said non-controversial things in a non-controversial way, and looked Presidential to boot. And Iowa, for the love of Pete. Well, it's right smack in the Middle, isn't it? What greater bastion of political safe-betting could there be?
From there, the media knew what to do. Follow the leader, always upwards, upwards. And now here he is. Our Messiah, John Kerry. Well, fuck.
However, it took a while for me to figure out what I thought of my new point man. Inarguably he steered clear of the Sunday-morning conversion patter that Bush had Revelationized the Middle with. Greatest Hits clips of his young antiwar years flashed across hastily-arranged network news profiles (one suspects they had been collecting their footage in Vermont up till then), and he didn't seem so bad. Absent the other candidates to smack him around, he filled the screen rather Presidentially, and completed sentences in a manner that George Sr. would be proud of.
But the problem with a 30-year political career is very like the problem with the internet: It's got a lot of stuff on it. Some of that stuff is good. The rest...
In February, I came across a Village Voice article by Sydney Schanberg. He had some interesting things to say about Kerry's Senate record on Vietnam POWs. His observation suggested a say-one-thing-vote-something-different trend in Kerry's voting record on the subject, and that disturbed me. I had read Schanberg's brilliant piece in October on Bush's Middle East westernization crusade, so I knew he wasn't a Republican in hippie's clothing. Oh well, I thought, I guess everyone has warts.
Last Sunday, March 28th, I was flipping around on our pirated cable connection. Landing on C-Span, I saw what I recognized from press clips as a young John Kerry, lumbering behind a shortish man in a white suit. Both were walking onto the set of the Dick Cavett show in 1971, mere weeks after John Kerry's incredibly controversial testimony in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Neither of these events was familiar to me, so I watched.
The first thing that struck me was how contemporary the arguments seemed to be. The democratization of the world vs. the pall cast by occupation, supporting the troops by not asking questions vs. supporting the troops by asking lots of questions, on and on till you would've thought Tim Robbins & Rush Limbaugh were up next in a cage match.
But as I watched, I began to notice something. John O'Neill, Kerry's opponent and fellow Vietnam veteran, was scoring some points. They were scattered, but they were definitely there. The most notable were quotes from Kerry's own testimony in front of the Senate, in which Kerry described horrible atrocities committed by veterans, insisting that they were war crimes under the Geneva Convention.
Okay, fair enough. But O'Neill continued to quote Kerry, who clearly said that "anybody who took part in those, if you carry out the application of the Nuremberg Principles, is in fact guilty. But we are not trying to find war criminals." What, then, O'Neill continues to ask, was Kerry trying to do? And you know what? We'll never know.
For you see, there sat John Kerry, non-answering away on national television. Not that he didn't score some major points on O'Neill, who took on the unenviable task of defending President Richard Nixon's integrity and honesty, but in truth the match seemed to me to end in a draw.
I thought about that debate for a number of days. I listened to Al Franken and his pals deflect the Bush Squad's attacks on their boy, and I chimed in when workplace Republican-jeering would occasionally break out (sometimes I realize that I'm very, very far from Texas). But the doubt remained: Just what was John Kerry about?
My wife dug up a Salon article by John Dean, Nixon's former counsel and Watergate whistle-blower. In it, Dean recounts Nixon dirty trickster (and later, evangelical writer) Chuck Colson, ironically saying of Kerry, "Destroy the young demagogue before he becomes another Ralph Nader."
Pursuing that quote led me to another article in the Boston Globe chronicling Kerry's antiwar years. Indeed Nixon was interested in the young Kerry, going so far as to have Colson and the trusty H.R. Haldeman do a bit of digging on the young firebrand.
In the Nixon tapes (of which we have so many), Haldeman had this to say: "Kerry, it turns out, some time ago decided he wanted to get into politics. Well, he ran for, took a stab at the congressional thing. And he consulted with some of the folks in the Georgetown set here. So what, what the issue, what, he'd like to get an issue. He wanted a horse to ride."
According to the Boston Globe, the tape inexplicably ends there.
What does all of this mean? To be honest, I really don't know. But I really don't know if I like it.
The problematic conclusion I feel reluctant to come to is that while George W. Bush is not the right President for the United States, neither is John Kerry.
The reason this is problematic for me is that three years of Neocon overlordship has impressed upon me the need to rid ourselves of Nero before Rome starts burning. But is a vote for Kerry really a vote for a clothed emperor? A look at his financial contributors is little different from the Shrub's: Citigroup, Time Warner, even one of George's prime breadbaskets, Goldman Sachs Group.
So I have this to say: Yes, it is possible to be against George W. Bush and NOT be FOR John Kerry. Just as it is possible to be both against George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Yes, that, my friends, is the other assumption about Bush-haters that really cheeses me off. No sooner is a jab at Bush out into the air than the cries begin: "But CLINTON...but, but CLINTON..."
Okay, look. Bill Clinton ain't in office anymore. Hasn't been for 3 years. All we got now's this other guy. And if you want to attack him...well, I guess I won't stop you.
FOR FURTHER READING:
When John Kerry's Courage Went MIA, by Sydney Schanberg, published in the Village Voice.
John Kerry, Candidate in the Making, by Michael Kranish, published in the Boston Globe.
The Widening Crusade, by Sydney Schanberg, published in the Village Voice.
General Tommy Franks on the end of the Constitution, published by the Centre for Research on Globalisation.