WASHINGTON—As predicted, John Kerry is to run as an honorable warrior. Positioned to attack George W. Bush not only for misleading the country into war, the Democratic nominee’s managers can only hope the country will prefer Kerry the war hero to Bush, missing in action with the National Guard, to clinch the argument that the country needs a “new driver.”
Kerry is backed up by squads of generals, who will be pitted in this campaign first against the dotty, weird Donald Rumsfeld and his chain of command, best known for setting attack dogs on Iraqi prisoners. But beyond that, Kerry’s high-level troops will be confronting Colin Powell, the solitary military person of any distinction in the Bush hierarchy. Under Bush, Powell’s career has been disintegrating into that of servant.
The Democrats are being viewed as a party that has finally been brought together by putting Vietnam to rest. It is a party that has also put the New Deal to rest.
Kerry’s most direct promises during his Thursday-night acceptance speech had to do with the military: He called for a marked boost in special forces, our key component in fighting irregular guerrilla wars, and he singled out the problem of our enlisted men and women, who are poorly paid and badly treated—our wounded swept out of sight as social discards. As he has before, Kerry directly called the press-ganging of reservists and National Guard a “backdoor draft.”
This will be a very tricky course, because Kerry is calling for a change of leaders not just during an undeclared war, but amid a humiliating defeat in which the U.S. must find ways to save face while extracting armed forces from the continuing insurgency in Iraq and the increasingly problematic situation in Afghanistan. In addition, our major ally Saudi Arabia—arms purchaser, oil supplier, and base for military operations—appears to be in jeopardy.
Meanwhile, Kerry’s domestic goals, as previously noted, are largely those of the Democratic Leadership Council. And here there are contradictions that simply can’t be ignored. Kerry and his political promoters at the convention, including running mate John Edwards and Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, talk almost breezily about creating more jobs, invoking images of an agonized mother trying to make ends meet for her kids in one or two jobs on a declining wage scale with scant, if any, health care and no retirement benefits.
But as the politicians talk on about all the jobs they are going to create, the policy wonks at the DLC are saying the outsourcing of jobs is not really a problem. The real problem, they claim, is unlocking the brains of children so they can jump the digital divide into the digital economy. Democrat and Republican alike, politicians say they support work, not welfare. They all have joined in boosting defense spending at the cost of social welfare. The DLC is firmly for free trade, which means loss of more American jobs.
Democratic politicians appear to agree that we are sliding backwards economically, creating a growing division between rich and poor. Some might argue that what the country needs is a dramatic spending program aimed at boosting an array of manufacturing that employs people at decent wages with health care and pensions. Instead, Kerry describes himself as a fiscal conservative and offers tax incentives for industry and the middle class. Help is on the way, he tells the mother. A tax incentive for Christmas? A science course for her kids to unlock their brains so that they might jump into the digital economy, which has not yet recovered from tanking at the turn of the century? This is help?
Like every other politician in the U.S.—from right-wingers to progressives—Kerry and the DLC wank on about “affordable” health care. They propose to bring the health care industry into line by trimming costs. The pols have been talking about cutting those costs since the ’80s, which is when stories appeared in the papers about old people eating cat food for dinner. But a real change in health care requires stiff regulation of the pharmaceutical industry, a giant contributor to political campaigns. Old-fashioned regulation isn’t likely because it flies in the face of the upbeat, erector-set dreamworld of the New Democrats in which every screw finds the right hole. The one real hope in health care is that politicians of both parties will get off the backs of the elderly and let them buy drugs from Canada and elsewhere abroad.
Regarding 9-11, Kerry wants to implement the commission’s proposals for a reform of the intelligence system. But just like Bush and Congress, Kerry does not advocate holding anyone accountable for the lapses in intelligence and national security that led to the attack. Neither the commission nor the politicians want to hold anyone accountable, while they are perfectly content to watch as the most innocent of our new immigrants are picked up and held for literally years without any charges and with no trial. Kerry says not a word about the Patriot Act, instead resorting to the usual political vagaries of invoking the Constitution by name.
Max Cleland spoke movingly of first seeing Kerry on TV and recognizing him at once as a brother. He didn’t bother to mention that the reason he saw Kerry on TV was because, having fought in Vietnam, Kerry opposed the war.
And where do the gays fit into the New Democrats’ world? No mention from Kerry of the people who will bear the brunt of the Republican right’s attack.
Democrats doubtless will unite in voting for Kerry just to try to get rid of the frat-boy president. One can only hope that Kerry will attack not just Cheney but this vicious secretary of defense.
And last night, Kerry let a bit of an appealing personality come through: a warrior exterior, but very private, somewhat sheepish, awkward—unlike most other politicians—and with a wife who doesn’t take shit from the press. These two could become lovable.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 20, 2004