by Norman Solomon
October 10, 2002
Many news stories and commentaries have marveled at the failure of Democrats to seize the high political ground this fall. With the nation's economic stride continuing to falter under a Republican president, the main opposition party should be cruising for a triumph in the midterm elections. Instead, the Democratic Party may be lucky to hold its own in the House and Senate.
The key problem, we're told, is that Democrats come off second-best as defenders of national security and wielders of military might. Republicans have positioned themselves well to exploit their advantage on such issues when Americans vote on November 5. But we ought to be asking deeper questions about why this situation exists.
No political clash takes place in a vacuum separate from the media din. Yet, to hear countless journalists spin the received political tales, they're merely flies on the wall, noting events in the political arena. That pretense is absurd. The behavior of editors, reporters and pundits is crucial to the big dramas of politics.
In recent days -- despite the outspoken and sometimes courageous positions taken by some members of Congress -- leading Democrats have been shamefully deferential to war planners. If there is an afterlife, the late Americans now weeping at events on Capitol Hill this autumn surely include Sen. Wayne Morse and Rep. Patsy Mink, early opponents of the Vietnam War who refused to put their consciences on hold.
When antiwar Democrats stick their necks out, of course they're targeted by the GOP. But the ferocity of the assaults they undergo is greatly heightened by the dominant militarism of their own party -- and of the news media. Head-patting cliches about freedom to dissent don't make up for the dire shortage of media support for pro-peace positions in the face of fierce propaganda attacks.
No one in Congress better symbolizes the convergence of political opportunism and media pandering than John Kerry. Thirty-one years ago, as a Vietnam veteran, he denounced the war in Southeast Asia. Today, Kerry is gaining distinction among Democrats as one of the prominent hollow men in the Senate.
It was no surprise on October 9 when Sen. Kerry announced that he would vote for the pro-war resolution. Gearing up for a presidential run in 2004, he never seems to miss an opportunity to make his peace with the next U.S.-led war, as if to cleanse himself from the taint of past principles.
A week before his announcement, Kerry appeared for an hour on MSNBC's "Hardball" program. With a backdrop of earnest young cadets at The Citadel, the graying senator burnished his warrior persona.
"Soldiers who love each other and really fight for each other as much as for anything else, I think that that's what we want to make certain is what happens if and when we go into Iraq," Kerry said. "I'm prepared to go. I think people understand that Saddam Hussein is a danger. But you want to go maximizing your capacity for victory, not beginning with deficits. That's one of the lessons of Vietnam."
Millions of Americans actively opposed the Vietnam War because it was morally wrong, not because it wasn't being won. But these days, while drawing lessons from that conflagration, Kerry goes out of his way to tout a more media-palatable imperative -- "maximizing your capacity for victory."
In essence, like most Democrats in Congress, the junior senator from Massachusetts keeps trying to have it both ways -- sounding notes of restraint while helping to open the floodgates for a horrendous war. Pieties about democratic procedures spiced the red meat that Kerry spent much of the hour throwing out to the uniformed crowd and the national TV audience.
But in the race to the bloody bottom, Democrats will not be able to keep up with the GOP. By failing to challenge the momentum toward mass slaughter, Kerry and like-minded "liberals" are forfeiting their souls without appreciable political benefit. Because much of its base is inclined to be antiwar, the Democratic Party cannot hope to be united while staying on a path of "me too" militarism.
Inside the amphitheater in Philadelphia at the 2000 Republican National Convention, I was struck by the blood-curdling joy that delegates expressed when speakers voiced enthusiasm for past and future wars. The Democrats will never be able to equal such mind-numbing fervor for military madness. It's tragic that so many seem to be trying.
Norman Solomon's latest book is The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media. His syndicated column focuses on media and politics. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org