John Kerry's Saturday morning policy address to an enthusiastic crowd at Boston's Faneuil Hall was a stirring rebuke to six years of Bush administration policies on the war, on civil liberties, and on the invocation of patriotism to silence dissent. It was an articulate, passionate speech that genuinely expressed much of the frustration liberals have felt over the past six years. It was also a noble sentiment. And it was also far too little, too late. The war has become a quagmire, and two thousands Americans have perished in the meantime. And yet, unfortunately, Senator Kerry's stance on the war has evolved as the public opinion's stance on the war evolved.
Senator John Kerry opposed the first Gulf War, on the basis that his vote would mean that Congress would have little say in the conduct of the war. He then in turn voted for the 2nd Iraq War, and since the announcement of his presidential campaign and subsequent defeat, he has ever-so-slowly drifted towards a staunchly anti-war stance. His current position is that Iraqi politicians respond only to deadlines. Americans must leave by May 15th, if the Iraqis cannot form a government.
In Senator Kerry's younger days, he was a forceful and passionate critic of Vietnam. These lessons have stayed with him, he claims. "I believed then, just as I believe now, that the best way to support the troops is to oppose a course that squanders their lives, dishonors their sacrifice, and disserves our people and our principles. When brave patriots suffer and die on the altar of stubborn pride, because of the incompetence and self-deception of mere politicians, then the only patriotic choice is to reclaim the moral authority misused by those entrusted with high office."
John Kerry invoked the spirit and memory of this anti-Vietnam movement; people who took principled stand against a deeply divisive war; people who were derided, spit on, and told to love America or leave her. Yet his voting record has been nothing but cautious realpolitik throughout the Bush years. His stance during the Presidential Campaign was that the American people were mislead, and that the war was botched. True enough, however Kerry refused to say that his initial vote to authorize the war was wrong, and "when asked if he would still have gone to war knowing Saddam Hussein did not possess weapons of mass destruction, Kerry said: `Yes, I would have voted for the authority. I believe it was the right authority for a president to have." Speaking to reporters at the edge of the Grand Canyon, he added: "[Although] I would have done this very differently from the way President Bush has.'"
Why would the good Senator refuse to say that the evidence for war was flimsy as all hell, and he would have never committed a tenth of a million American soldiers to the desert to die for Iraqi democracy? Every liberal knew in his or her heart that a President Gore or President Kerry would have never committed such an atrocious breach of international law, nor gone to war with intellectually dishonest, misleading evidence. Why? Because during the campaign, a plurality of the public still believed that committing troops to Iraq was the right decision. A Pew Poll from October of 2004, in the last throes of the election, put public support for the war at 48%. Kerry was playing more realpolitik games. Now that the public has shifted to a decisively more anti-war sentiment, Senator Kerry has against altered his stance, with a New York Times column, and with the Faneuil Hall campaign events.
This author does not fault Senator Kerry for playing politics with his position on the war. Senator Kerry is not the serial flip-flopper the Bush administration painted him as. Rather, this author wishes to express a frustration that the Senator Kerry and the rest of the Democrats could not take a principled stand, and that their unflinching cooperation and later tepid opposition to six years of reckless Bush policies have characterized them as weak, unprincipled and compromising. Had the mainstream Democrats like Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, or John Kerry taken a stand against the war from the beginning, it would have lent them much credence and credibility once the public realized what a disaster the conflict had become. Granted, this is a frustration that almost every Democratic-leaning blogger has expressed since the beginning of the age of blogs. Yet it is a valid frustration.
What is done is done, of course. Senator Kerry's address was a notable rebuke to the charge that opposing the war is unpatriotic. During Vietnam, "truth was ultimately understood that the faults in Vietnam were those of the war, not the warriors." Kerry intoned, then stretching the quote into our present situation. However, John Kerry should have been this anti-war, anti-Bush voice all along, instead of incoherently babbling about granting authority, but not agreeing with the deployment of force, or quarreling about giving up on diplomacy. The fact is that John Kerry knew that his vote to authorize the war granted the president the authority to pursue that war. He cast his vote with one eye on the presidency, and one eye on the polls. He should have known better. Of course, then again, he and his political advisors were not fools. An anti-war stance would have hurt him at the polls, but the question is, would it have hurt him as much as his foolish waffling on the issue, tiptoeing around his real opinion?
John Kerry is a welcome voice into the anti-war fold (a fold that this author does not count himself among). He is a welcome voice among critics of President Bush's foreign and domestic policies; a group that this author proudly counts himself among. On the other hand, he was once a courageous young man filled with anit-war convictions and bold ideas on US policy. He has become a commonplace politican; his hands dirtied by the realities of electoral politics. A sad, if not, unexpected development. It is too often said that our politicians are cheap opportunists, who would betray their grandmother as a communist if it would help them at the polls. It's simply a sad thing to observe in a once principled young man.