Sunday, April 25, 2004

'How do you ask a man to be last man to die for a mistake?'

So Kerry has to balance his pasts now, at once a hero and a critic.

The article describes the organization to which Kerry belonged after he returned from Vietnam, and some of the questions surrounding Kerry's involvement in it. One veteran questions Kerry's motives, arguing that it was "dress rehersal" for public office later. Give his Meet the Press performance last week, during which he backed off some of his youthful indiscretions, well, it's easier to view his actions cynically.

But maybe that's not it. Maybe the truth lies closer to an evaluation I heard over dinner in New Hampshire a few days before Kerry clinched the title. A former Clinton White House-er said it was simply that John Kerry used up all his courage in Vietnam.

Which, in the grand scheme of what he's gone through in life, probably wasn't the worst place to use it.

But as a Democrat, I do wish he had some left. And because things can't get much worse for my side, I'll go ahead and hope that he does . . . .

[Update] - Now that I've finished reading this article (having started it at 3am Sunday and not getting back to it until now) - here are my other impressions:

The article begins and ends by being about a story that Kerry was at a meeting once where the killing of pro-war Senators was discussed. Just him being there. Not that the idea was his. But it doesn't matter, because it's just a set up to talk about his anti-Vietnam activities and the various intra-Veterans groups factions that supported or opposed him. It's not a wholly positive piece.

A major theme here is legitimacy. Was Kerry a legitimate voice for the veterans? Did he legitimize them? There are two sides:

To many others, the high point was Mr. Kerry's testimony. "It legitimized us in the eyes of people who saw us as a bunch of dope-smoking hippies," Lenny Rotman of Boston said. "They didn't see John that way. Even my mother was saying, `If you stick with John Kerry, there'll be opportunities for you.' "

and

Mr. Kerry's fame, wealth and rank were all making him a lightning rod. Several men accused him of hogging the limelight. "There was a great deal of resentment about that," said Michael McCusker of Portland, Ore. "I felt some of it. Suddenly, he's the one speaking for us, and we didn't choose him necessarily."

Of course, that second bit could apply today - if you add up Iowans, the media, and NH choosing Kerry for us and the fact that he isn't always representing my views - or even the views that I'd like to think were once his own (as the article also calls into question, and I discussed above).

There's plenty in the article to support the idea that Kerry saw the chance to make his mark in a particularly public way, took it, and has ridden that and a fortunate family heritage to the nomination. But there's also a bit of a danger in that. It's possibly revisionist to see his actions then through who he is now.

If he did just use up all his courage in Vietnam and immediately afterward, then it's important to separate the truth of his actions then from the truth of his actions now.

There was truth in his actions then, so far as I can see. And especially in this "theme:" "We are here to say that it is not patriotism to ask Americans to die for a mistake."

More on that point in a bit . . .

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