The GOP wants to turn our Vietnam heroes into losers. And that's why one conservative Republican won't be voting for Bush this November.
This week Boston proved that this is not Mike Dukakis's Democratic Party. Not only was the convention a well-organized and flawless event (six arrests compared to 3,000 in Los Angeles four years ago) but the Democrats had all the making of a formidable campaign — organization, unity, and, most importantly, a simple and clear message: to make America stronger at home and respected in the world. Surprise, surprise, the Dems have really got their act together.
And the message of strength is something they must win if they plan to take back the White House this November. National security will be the issue of this election cycle. Recent polls do not bode well for the Democrats if my prediction is true. The latest Washington Post/ABC poll shows 57 percent of Americans think Bush is doing a good job on waging the war against terror. More significantly, 55 percent of Americans think Bush would do a better job on the war against terror than Kerry; only 37 percent favor Kerry over Bush.
This faith that the American people have in President Bush over Senator Kerry is puzzling, because Kerry has the credentials, the experience, and the courage to fight an effective war on terror. The only quality Bush has shown thus far is bravado.
The Bush administration has talked a big game and invaded two countries since September 11, 2001, but what has been accomplished? The mission? Has that been accomplished? We were successful in regime change in Afghanistan, but the administration failed to send enough troops to secure the country, and our reliance on non-U.S. personnel during the battle of Tora Bora probably is the reason why we failed to capture Osama bin Laden.
Again in Iraq, we were successful in regime change, but to what effect? We got rid of a regime that was not responsible for September 11, and secondly, we got rid of a regime that hates al-Qaeda almost as much as we do.
So we can't say that Bush has done a spectacular job on the war front — OK, perhaps, but not a great job.
Perhaps people feel Bush is more courageous than Kerry? Perhaps they feel he is more of a man? Well, if we want to examine courage, let's look back to Vietnam. When America needed troops to fight, Kerry voluntarily served his country while Bush and Cheney followed "other priorities."
So why do we continue to trust Bush on military issues? Perhaps the answer does circle back to Vietnam.
A few months ago, I ran into a guy I knew from my Washington days. He had worked for Bush II and was now working for Governor Schwarzenegger. A TB (true believer), he continued to have an unquestioning faith in our president. He berated me for my betrayal. How could a conservative not only vote for John Kerry, but give him money and volunteer for him in New Hampshire? How could I abandon the Party?
As the drinks flowed, the discussion quickly turned into an all-out blood bath. Soon our friends were fleeing the disaster scene, seeking shelter in the far reaches of the bar, while our TB and I slogged it out. The verbal barrage eventually ended with a comparison of John Kerry's war record versus the Bush/Cheney disappearing act. It was here that I thought I had the TB knocked out. Kerry said "send me" to Vietnam. "Send me" to fight on the frontline. How can anyone question the man's love for his country? How can one even compare that to the Bush/Cheney response to Vietnam? They said "send me anywhere other than Vietnam." Bush, who disdains his Yankee past, even suffered through two years in New England so that he could evade the jungles of Southeast Asia.
I had him beat. I was sure of it! But I was wrong! The TB had his answer, "John Kerry was obviously crazy for wanting to go to Vietnam." And heroes are not crazy.
Most Americans want to forget about Vietnam because it was the war we lost. We like winners: WWI, WWII, Korea, and the Gulf War. But, Vietnam still remains the ugly stepchild, and no matter how heroic our soldiers fought in that war, there seems to be many who won't give them their due. In the back of many Americans' mind, I think the doubt remains: How can Vietnam produce a hero?
Look at former Senator Max Cleland's reelection campaign. Max Cleland lost three limbs defending his country in Vietnam, yet, somehow, the Rovian Republican attack machine questioned his patriotism. John McCain honorably fought for his country in Vietnam. He was tortured and held as a prisoner by the enemy. When he was offered an early release, on the condition of betraying his country, he refused. Yet, when he ran for the presidency there were certain circles that quietly whispered that he was the Manchurian candidate incarnate.
How is it possible that the very men who signed up to defend our nation can ever have their patriotism questioned? More to the point, how can men who refused to serve their country question the patriotism of men like John McCain, Max Cleland, and John Kerry? It is because the Rovian machine has exploited America's painful experience with the Vietnam conflict and the veterans who fought in that war.
Somehow, the Rovian machine has painted these men as not being the real deal. They are not heroes. These are not real Americans. Real Americans don't lose wars, they win them. This has been the subtle message that Rove has tried to spin about the Vietnam Vets that have come across his path. So far he has been successful in dispatching heroes like McCain and Cleland to political oblivion.
Now they have trained their scope on John Kerry. We witnessed the first Rovian attack when the Bush people questioned whether Kerry deserved three Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star, and the Silver Star. Never mind the fact that Bush/Cheney never saw combat. Never mind the fact that they never saved a fellow soldier's life. Never mind the fact that they never volunteered to serve their country when few were willing to fight in Vietnam. You have to give Rove one thing; he has a big set of cajones to question Kerry's war record.
Yet I am confident that this election will not be shaped by the negative politics that we saw in South Carolina or Georgia, but by the positive message we heard in Boston.
The American people deserve a president that they can trust, and one that does not just speak about patriotism, but lives the life of a patriot. We need someone who does not make excuses for why he won't serve, when those who are less powerful and connected are drafted, but one who rises up and says, "send me." We need someone who understands that war is not a reality show, but a painful decision that produces real consequences. We need someone like John Kerry.