One America, Two Americas, Red America, Blue America

Election '04

BOSTON – For some reason, the guys in the media pack seem to be having a much harder time getting Teresa Kerry than us news hens. Many of them are stuck on the "loose cannon" view-with-alarm interpretation, not having noticed that the woman has actual charm.

True, she has an exotic background – sounds and even looks a little like Ingrid Bergman in "Casablanca." She's also worth $500 million, which I suppose frees one from at least a few of life's petty constraints. The media pack has boiled her long, patient exchange with a writer for conservative billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife's notoriously right-wing newspaper into, "She told a reporter to shove it."

That newspaper has printed ugly and untrue stories about both Kerrys. She said, "Shove it," after she had tried seven times to get the reporter to stop misquoting her and after he either tapped her or grabbed her, depending on who's doing the describing.

Anyone who sees the whole incident on videotape is inclined to agree with Sen. Clinton: "You go, girl." But those who merely hear the hacks repeat, "She told a reporter to shove it," are certainly going to get the wrong impression.

A beautiful example of distortion by lack of context. What's interesting is how many right-wing "journalists" seem to feel entitled to do this, as though they have no obligation to be fair. The media get more and more divided into those who have some concept of journalism and those who simply consider themselves political and cultural warriors.

Teresa Kerry's speech was a bit of a camel (designed by a committee): The top third was funny, clever and self-deprecating, and deftly turned the table on her critics. Then someone stuck in a laundry list of dandy things John Kerry will do if elected, which was just filler and went on way too long. The final part was earnest and sentimental, and likely written by Mrs. Kerry herself.

The long-awaited and much-heralded Barack Obama did not disappoint, and when you consider the burden of expectation that had been placed on the poor man, that's almost miraculous. I did not think he was as effective a speaker as Mario Cuomo was in 1984, but at least an A-minus. He uses a wonderful rhetorical device the late senator from Texas, Ralph Yarborough, had down to perfection – topping one applause line with another, then again and again, until the crowd is roaring with approval. A political star is born, always an exciting moment.

So Tuesday night it was One America, Wednesday it was Two Americas from John Edwards, and I assume John Kerry will give us many, many Americas, with a little something for everyone. What a protean nation we are.

The D's all think Boston is a swell town and are happy as clams, which so infuriates right-wing commentators who insist it's all a charade. According to them, liberals are not allowed to be cheerful, friendly or patriotic, and anyone who is can't be a liberal. It'll be interesting to see what becomes of the charade theory in New York, where the R's are planning to put forward only their most moderate faces.

Hate to be the skunk at the garden party, but the one topic the D's, in their determined-not-to-be-negative mode, are avoiding like said skunk is Iraq. Since their candidate was in favor of going in (Howard Dean, who opposed the war, got a lot of applause Tuesday night), he's stuck with that position. Ever since poor George Romney (whose son is now governor of Massachusetts) said back in 1968 that he had been "brainwashed" – meaning he was told a bunch of lies – over Vietnam, politicians have been afraid of admitting they were misled for fear people will think them simpleminded. What happened to Romney was that the press turned on him mercilessly and pilloried him as though the fault were his.

The more or less official Democratic line is whether you were for the war or against it, the administration screwed up the implementation beyond recall, which I suppose works politically and has the added virtue of being true. Nonetheless, I don't think it gets us far enough: We spent at least 20 years after Vietnam arguing about what we needed to learn from that experience, and I don't want to see the lessons of Iraq confused.

It is not just a matter of Use Overwhelming Force and Have an Exit Strategy (two lessons from Vietnam), it really is much more important to understand why we should not have invaded in the first place. Not just a case of bad information on the WMD, on the supposed ties to Al Qaeda, on the nonexistent nuclear program, etc. We need to get it through our heads that the real mistake was invading in the face of almost universal opposition from the rest of the world.

There may be a time and place where we will have to act unilaterally, but this wasn't it. Painfully, clearly not. The single most important weapon we have against terrorists is international cooperation, and that's what we so stupidly blew in this case. Just threw it away in a miserable display of arrogant "diplomacy" – a combination of threats, lies and bribes that insulted our closest allies.

And such is the despicable state of our political debate that those making any of these obvious points are promptly accused of being "Saddam lovers" by people who consider concern for human rights a symptom of the dread Jimmy Carter-like softness.

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