Thursday, November 04, 2004

Kerry Teaches a Lesson

Bush’s election victory came as a bit of a surprise to me; I had expected him to tank with the American public by now, brought down by his accumulated falsehoods, failures, felonies, and fakery. That reckoning will come.

But for those of us who are not enthusiastic about Bush, equanimity is in order: some things are beyond one’s control, and now is a time to prayerfully build inner strength, to connect with the light in others, to live artfully, and to be grateful for the good things we have. Even if Kerry had squeaked out a win, given all the Americans out there who identify so strongly with Action-Man Bush’s “toughness” and “moral values,” it is clear that there are historical processes that our nation needs to work through. We are now on one particular path through those changes. Frankly, I think that, one way or another, the adherents of Bush’s brand of “conservatism” will need to wise up to a clearer realization of humanity’s inexorable interdependencies (some of which are beneficial to us, others hard to accept). I think that that growth process is going to be painful for both of the two Americas, red and blue. And I do not think that a Kerry victory would have done much to assuage those challenging, inevitable dynamics.

I hope the reader will remember my call for equanimity now while I indulge in recounting my thoughts as I crawled into bed late last night. The tone was anger, and it will not help if we only hold onto that anger; we must draw its lessons, and move on.

Anger at Kerry. Anger that he failed to understand his enemy. If I could have advised him, I would have told him to take every page out of Karl Rove’s playbook, and attack Bush relentlessly, viciously, dirtily, below the belt (pick your flavor of the week: dynastic heir masquerading as good old boy, daddy’s silver-spoon-protected draft dodger, moron student, brain-compromised booze-soaked cokehead, AWOL guardsman, bin Laden family business beneficiary, selected not elected, asleep at the switch on 9/11, master of justice-department-buried Administration felonies, war-manipulating demagogue, unfeeling death-dealing coward, etc, etc, etc).

Why this unseemly strategy? Because, when historians look back on this campaign, they’ll see that there was only one chess move that mattered: the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads, brought to you, with the slightest veneer of deniability, by Karl Rove. Bearing his mark of Zorro: attack the opponent at his point of greatest strength. Kerry the war hero became Kerry the unpatriotic wimp, and there, debates be damned, he remained in the minds of enough voters to bear him off into the land of pathetic political footnotes.

Kerry’s Swift Boat Waterloo reminds us of the way he set up his own ambush. He invited the attack by ducking at the Democratic convention, portraying himself simply as the gung-ho war hero, dreaming that he could somehow avoid any presentation of his subsequent anti-war protest activities. Please. He brought the fatal blow upon himself. Mr. Electability should have known before the convention that his best strategy was to take – gasp – a risk. He should have come clean and succinctly told America that in his youth The Hero saw both sides of war: the duty to serve and the duty to speak your conscience. In that way, Kerry would not only have staked out a position of real, defensible moral courage, he – and he alone, and this too is his historic failure – could have gone a long way to healing the wounds of the Vietnam era. At the same time, he could have set up a mature national discussion about what our present open-ended war commitment really means. And initiated an effective critique of Bush’s war leadership.

Oh well, missed a chance.

I hate to say I told you so, but this Deaniac saw the flaws long ago. My convictions on the manner of winning a campaign haven’t changed since well before the Gore debacle. The risk-averse Democratic strategy of the polite cave-in, of acting Bush-lite, has always been and will remain a loser until the last miserable fool of the likes of McAuliffe, Lieberman, Daschle, Gephart, Gore, and Kerry – is out of politics. How many pathetic losses will it take before the Democrats just try showing the courage of their convictions, taking some risks, differentiating themselves from their conservative opponents, giving some genuine inspiration, and, at the same time, for pity’s sake, playing dirty?

Look, Kerry defined himself for all time when he voted for the war in Iraq. If you thought that was a good idea at the time, don’t tell me now that the only problem is Bush’s incompetent handling of the occupation. You broke it, you own it.

If you thought that was a bad vote, you should have known a long time ago that you were buying a lemon in John Kerry.

But what’s done is done. My bedtime blaming session is limited to those sorry souls inside the Washington vortex who should know better. For the rest of us, I hope that anger and disappointment will be replaced by a simple, clear sense of what our strategy needs to be next time around. Spell out your compelling, inspiring progressive American values like caring, protecting, cooperating and lifting up; and attack your adversary with great cunning and equal or greater force than he, inevitably, will heap upon you.