The rally in Harrisburg was fine˝ about 20,000 people were there, far more than they’d expected, and we would have cheered if Kerry had simply stepped on stage and said, “I want to be your President” and then followed up with, “and when I am President, colorless green ideas will sleep furiously!”
As it happened, that’s pretty much the way things went. Basically, we got to hear in person a version of the speech we’d heard on TV the night before. This disappointed Janet, so I promised her that during the Q-and-A I would ask Kerry what he thought of Hardt and Negri’s new book, Multitude, and whether he didn’t believe that more traditional Marxist analyses like Braverman’s classic Labor and Monopoly Capital were still perfectly adequate to the challenges facing Bush’s successor. I know, I know, it’s really a comment more than a question. Alas, there was no Q-and-A.
And we learned that Kerry fought in Vietnam. I had not been aware of this.
As Chris Robinson said in the comments to an earlier post, “I’m fast tiring of the ‘Vietnam as a noble testing ground’ revisionism going on throughout the party.” Of course, I understand why we’ve come to this weird pass. Twenty years ago, Republicans and their friends in the media were going on about how the legacy of Vietnam would show up in electoral politics in the coming years, and they suggested that antiwar Democrats would not be “viable” as national candidates (being weak and soft and long-haired and tree-hugging and all). Then after they floated their first frat-boy Vietnam-avoider as a national candidate in 1988, it was clear that rich guys who’d opted for the country-club Republican version of draft-dodging would be acceptable to the party. Then, of course, they went after that draft-dodging, dope-smoking Clinton with a fury. Then they gave us a rich guy who’d dodged his dodge, coupled with a far-right crony-capitalist who’d had other priorities during the war. Then came 9/11, and suddenly these two sorry frauds became steel-jawed freedom fighters. Who can forget the brave words spoken by our President on that day? “If some tinhorn terrorist wants me, tell him to come and get me! I’ll be at home, waiting for the bastard!” Where Democrat girlie-men would have flitted hysterically around the country and then lied about it, President Bush spurned the over-cautious advice of the Secret Service, declaring coolly that he is the “Commander-in-Chief. Whose present command is: Take the President home!” It’s all true, you know. I saw it on TV.
So there’s really no mystery why the Democrats have leapt into the breach on this one. And in so doing, they’ve tried to remind Americans that there are plenty of Democratic veterans˝ and that this sorry-fraud administration’s policies on veterans’ affairs have been some sorry-fraud policies. Nothing wrong with any of that. Still. 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!
I don’t think these constraints are entirely self-imposed, either. I think Kerry would do just fine with progressive wonks, Deaniacs, civil liberties lawyers, antiwar vets, and liberal economists if he said any of the above, and I think he’d lose a couple million other people, some of whom might live in Ohio or Missouri. Which reminds me: why the hell didn’t we abolish the Electoral College? We’ve had three and half years now. Did we forget or something? Can we do it now, maybe on a weekend when nobody’s watching?
So I’m expecting another three months of “what if” and “hope is on the way” and “we can do better” and flags and tales of heroism in the Mekong Delta. It’s annoying, I know, and for some of us it’s worse than annoying. The curious thing is, of course, that amidst this happy, can-do, patriotic pep rally, progressives know we’re really playing defense˝ just trying to stop the most radical-right regime this country has ever known. But “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.
I still want to ask Kerry about Labor and Monopoly Capital, but I promise I’ll wait until next year.
P.S. While Janet, Jamie and I watched the proceedings with binoculars from a couple hundred yards away, Nick and his friends stood fifty feet from the stage and wound up shaking hands with Teresa Heinz Kerry and Elizabeth Edwards. Ordinarily I wouldn’t care about such things, but just last week, Nick and his friends drove to Wilkes-Barre to see Ted Leo play in a tiny club, and they wound up meeting Ted Leo himself, taking pictures with him, and helping him load out. How cool is that? What a bunch of lousy teenage bums, driving all around the state making friends with alt-rockers and high-fiving the candidates’ wives. Lousy rotten kids. When I was your age I was working double shifts at the landfill, separating the medical waste from the toxic waste for fifty cents an hour. But you’ll hear more about that when I accept the VP nomination in 2020.
And oh yes, that new posting policy. I have to go into serious book-writing overdrive this month, so for August I won’t be doing daily updates˝ just two-three posts a week or so. Just so you know.
Yes, the heavy-handed War Hero references are getting awfully annoying, already. Too bad that we’ll have to digest months more of the same Atkins-like rhetorical diet.
Thanks for this posting, Michael-- I laughed out loud at several points. Have a highly productive August, and we’ll look forward to your comments on the outrages of the month whenever you have time to address them. Now churn on that book!Posted by on 07/31 at 08:54 AM
Thank you, Michael, for mentioning one of my favorite books, Labor & Monopoly Capital. It is amazing how well its insights about technology and society hold up from when it was published in the early to mid 1970s.Posted by on 07/31 at 09:34 AM
No problem, Mitchell. The question is, does Kerry agree about how well it’s held up? A sliver of a sector of a wing of the intellectual left eagerly awaits the candidate’s answer.Posted by on 07/31 at 09:38 AM
"A sliver of a sector of a wing?”
Pass the mercurochrome.Posted by Linkmeister on 07/31 at 05:00 PM
Posted by Arthur on 07/31 at 06:57 PM
Saw him last night in Zanesville, OH. I was also disappointed how much was similar to the acceptance speech. And they were over an hour late.
The bottom line for me is Kerry is an acceptable speech giver, but not a great one (Clinton is likely the best ever and makes others pale, no?) In Zanesville, Ben Affleck gave a small intro, followed by John Glenn, then Edwards, and all were frankly better than Kerry. But it was late. And he is miles above our current orator.
The turnout here was great. About 10,000 in a largely Republican county. Great to see and hopefully we can carry Ohio this year.Posted by on 08/01 at 04:27 AM
Someone somewhere in this ‘sphere wrote about the military service thing being So Over. I agree. I don’t even care anymore if they have photos of Bush living in a whorehouse smoking dope during his mysteriously missing four months in the NG. Military service is a necessary evil; civilian service and leadership is what the presidency is all about. No practiced salute can replace that. The presidency takes guts, suasion, an appointed crew of advisors with useful and original ideas to keep us out of war, not put us in the middle of a hornet’s nest. Rip those medals off; work on personal and political respect. And above all, Don’t Be Repetitive and Boring!Posted by on 08/01 at 11:05 AM
Which reminds me: why the hell didn’t we abolish the Electoral College? We’ve had three and half years now. Did we forget or something? Can we do it now, maybe on a weekend when nobody’s watching?
I think the main reason is fear. It would be one of the biggest changes to our constitution ever, and I think many are frightened of tinkering with a system that in the past has seemingly worked (with a couple of notable exceptions). Another possibility is that the Republicans think the EC will give them some advantage, like last time. Thing is, I don’t hear many Dems making noise about the issue either, which is what you would expect if the Reps are trying to keep it quiet.Posted by on 08/02 at 04:57 AM
With the Electoral College, both Bush and Kerry can focus all of their campaign energy and money on Ohio, Pennsylvania, and other swing states. Without it, both candidates would have to worry about their margin of victory in every single state, and spend accordingly. Since neither party wants to put their next Presidential candidate through a fifty-state campaign, both parties have an incentive to keep the Electoral College.Posted by Seth Gordon on 08/02 at 08:32 AM
Andy and Seth, you’re both right-- fear and concentration, sure enough-- but about that GOP advantage: as you’re probably aware, the problem is that each state doesn’t merely have electoral votes in proportion to its population, each state has electoral votes in proportion to its population, as in the House, plus two more (for each Senator). This gives the vast empty states of the far west (where Richard Cheney is a moderate and Helen Chenowyth can get elected to national office) a great big thumb on the scales. You take away that +2 advantage in the 2000 election, and guess what? President Gore gets sworn in even though he “loses” Florida.
And that’s why we’re stuck with the damn thing-- for now, anyway. But it’s instructive to go back and look at what the GOP was saying in October 2000, back when they thought they’d win the popular vote and lose in the EC.Posted by on 08/02 at 01:27 PM
I’m confused. I thought the EC actually helped small states (many of which happen to go Blue)? See this projection, for example:Posted by daniel on 08/02 at 10:31 PM
Yeah, that’s what they say, but it’s true only if you think of Wyoming as a small state. The EC awards extra votes to states with tiny populations, which means that the states that make out like bandits in the EC are Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Nebraska, N Dakota, S Dakota, Alaska . . . and our friends Vermont, Delaware, Maine, Hawaii, and RI. New Hampshire and W Virginia could break either way this year, but went for Bush in 2000. I think New Mexico is the only other state with fewer than 2 million inhabitants.Posted by on 08/03 at 04:30 AM
George Edwards, a leading presidential scholar, has a book out on the EC, arguing for its elimination.
However, I just got done reading Texiera/Judis’ book, The Emerging Democratic Majority. It makes a pretty compelling--and encouraging--case that the EC is heading the Democrats way.
In response to “What’s Wrong with Kansas”, I think they might say “who cares?”. Basically if you look at the states Dems do badly in (Mississippi, OK, Kansas), they’re old economy, old people, and pretty sparse and declining. The latest Zogby state polls I’ve seen have Kerry with at least small leads in most of the swing states. Granted we can’t predict what will happen come November, but I think it gives cause for optimism for the years ahead, regardless of what happens this year.
On a side note, I was an LA on the Hill in 2000 and I recall the GOP concerns about losing the EC. I can only imagine what might happen if the 2000 result is reversed this year.
Posted by on 08/03 at 05:06 AM
Hi Glenn-- I’m familiar with the Teixiera/Judis argument, but all I can say is that their emerging democratic majority better emerge fast, before we find ourselves in a fiscal hole we can’t dig out of. Not to speak of those aspects of the GOP that are pro-torture, pro-mercury, pro-theocracy. . . .Posted by on 08/03 at 05:12 AM
Yes, the overweighting of small states (both in the EC and the Senate) sucks. I prefer the brute-force solution to this problem: break up some big states into several smaller states. (The folks in upstate New York would be just as happy to be rid of NYC, right? And the northern and southern halves of California have had a dysfunctional relationship for years if not decades....)Posted by Seth Gordon on 08/03 at 06:31 AM
The military service thing is not “so over” out in Red State America. And if it is working with my family (and it is) it is working.Posted by Melanie on 08/15 at 03:58 PM
Interesting-- but in which sense, Melanie? In the sense that Kerry’s credentials carry some weight in the R.S. of A., or in the sense that the barking-lunatic Swift Boat Vet attacks are leading your folks to believe that the deserter-in-chief and the wimp with other priorities have cleaner records than Kerry’s?Posted by on 08/16 at 04:58 PM
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