Saturday, July 31, 2004
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.