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Dotty Lynch: The Real John Kerry Finally Stands Up

by Pamela Leavey

CBS’s Dotty Lynch writes about John Kerry’s “Dissent” speech, in her Political Points column today, “Kerry has the opportunity to lead a movement once again… by rallying a very angry public to force a change in policy. Richard Nixon worried about Kerry’s potential as a leader back in the 70s; maybe the new Kerry will finally prove him right.”

John Kerry greets his brother, Cameron Kerry, before addressing the crowd at Faneuil Hall in Boston, April 22, 2006. (AP)

John Kerry came to national attention not because he was a war hero but because he was a dissenter. In 1971, he appeared on “The Dick Cavett Show,” testified before Congress, and electrified anti-war rallies with his message that the war was wrong. His phrase, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” was used for years to define his commitment and eloquence.

On Saturday in Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall, Kerry stood tall and proud and came to terms with what seemed so right in the 1970s and so wrong in 2004. He gave a speech about the American tradition of dissent and his own and others’ disagreement with Bush administration policies on both Vietnam and Iraq.

Thirty-five years to the day that he testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he was introduced by the widow of a Swift Boat buddy, Don Droz, who emotionally recounted how her late husband told her how he and Kerry were planning to come home after Vietnam and “tell the truth about what was going on.” Judith Droz Keyes, who spoke out in her husband’s name in the seventies, described Kerry as a man who “has once again become the voice of moral opposition.”

One of the Kerry supporters who packed the hall asked afterward “Where was she at the convention?” a reference to the fact that Kerry’s military experience and not his anti-war activities were showcased in 2004.

The Kerry campaign took pains to downplay his anti-war activities, a tactic which angered a number of veterans — especially those who launched the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Once when another producer at CBS and I spoke to the campaign about a profile we were thinking about which would juxta-play both facets of his biography, they greeted us with dismay. “Would you have to go into the protests?” they asked. They decided against letting Kerry be interviewed for that profile.

On Saturday, Kerry’s dissent on Vietnam dovetailed completely with his current position on Iraq and he spoke eloquently about why he was opposing the administration and what they should do to end the conflict. After the tortured explanations during the presidential campaign and the ad which played over and over about “being for the $87 billion [for Iraq] before he was against it”, Kerry’s clarity and confidence were even more startling.

His speech was laced with patriotic language and filled with historical examples. Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln were both attacked for opposing the government, said Kerry, who quoted Jefferson: “Dissent is the greatest form of patriotism.”

Kerry may be reflecting a new boldness on the part of liberals to come out and say what they believe and to reclaim the moral high ground on patriotism.

Sociologist Todd Gitlin in a new book, “The Intellectuals and the Flag” argues that the intellectual left must take back the flag in order to reclaim power. He argues that especially since 9/11, what intellectuals must make clear is that they are patriots. Gitlin also says intellectuals must do more than dissent and should sharpen values and “sketch visions” for the public on where American democracy should go.

Kerry presented a plan and exit strategy for Iraq. He said the Iraqis only respond to deadlines and so he would have the Iraqis “demonstrate an effective unity government by May 15” and “agree to a schedule for withdrawing the American combat forces by the end of the year.”

The Faneuil Hall crowd was his crowd but the standing ovations were more than perfunctory. Kerry disappointed many Democrats in 2002 by voting to give the President the authority to go to war and kept frustrating them during his campaign with tortured answers on what the policy should be. But Saturday, he knocked it out of the ballpark as he brought his life and the two wars which define him into sync.

Kerry has the opportunity to lead a movement once again – not by using this as a campaign jumpoff, but by rallying a very angry public to force a change in policy. Richard Nixon worried about Kerry’s potential as a leader back in the 70s; maybe the new Kerry will finally prove him right.

Personally, I believe that John Kerry proved Nixon right years ago… and it was exactly that which angered the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, not the concept that his campaign downplayed his his anti-war activities. This small group of Nixonian defenders, turned Bush defenders have never understood the concept of speaking the truth to power.

UPDATE: Evidence of those who fail to understand the concept of speaking the truth to power, is seen at RCP, with Tom Bevan’s distortion of the truth. What Bevan’s and other’s fail to understand is that Kerry never condemned “the entire U.S. military” with his testimony before the Senate’s Fulbright Commission, Kerry told the truth about a war that had gone terribly wrong. John Kerry has spent his entire career standing up for the military and veteran’s rights, which is something “those who never wore the uniform in battle attack” have never done.

Bob Herbert on Kerry’s Speech
Kerry Takes Same Stance on Different War
John Kerry’s “Dissent” In The News
Kerry Speaks the Truth to Power – Dissent Is Patriotic

6 Responses to “Dotty Lynch: The Real John Kerry Finally Stands Up”

  1. I caught JKs speech and thought it was very good as well. What’s interesting is that he has been saying the same thing for 2+ years but different columnists, pundits and bloggers keep acting as though this is all brand new. Give me break.

    And I happened to stomach a few minutes of NBC’s most prominent RW shill – Tweetybird Matthews – and he was doing his usual schtick of the Dems not being able to shoot straight, the Repubs are great and all knowing blah, blah. And then he goes on to ask his panelists why do the Dems end up with these stiff wooden guys as prez noms? Because his peanut gallery is far more interested in returning next week for more face time than the truth, they don’t respond with facts they respond with what they think he wants to hear – what fits into Chris’ narrative of the situation. So they start to babble nonsense instead of telling Chris the truth which, is that Dems tend to value intelligence over braun, especially “supposed” braun. And that what idiots like Tweety Matthews sees as stiff and wooden, the rest of the world views as gravitas.

    Matthews’ of course couldn’t conduct this discussion without gushing over Reagan and how he was the real deal. Give me another break! I have no doubt that in 100 years time, once all the folks who actually can remember Reagan have passed and historians of that time are left to give an unbiased overview of his presidency, they. like many of us, will wonder what all the fuss was about too. How Matthews can stay on the air and claim to be an Independent is beyond reason. He might as well have concluded teh show with a segment of free airtime for his brother who is running for Lt. Gov. as a Republican in Pennsylvania. Maybe if Faux News’ John Snow gets the WH press secty gig, Tweety can take his rightful place as a paid WH GOP propogandist, or as they like to be publicly known, a Faux News reporter. And he can take Joe Scarfborough with him too!

  2. florida dem Says:
    April 24th, 2006 at 10:09 am

    I agree, what is it with some of these people, in the media and on the blogs.

    I swear sometimes I think we the Kerry supporters were the only one’s who paid attention during the campaign.


  3. florida dem, Fedup,

    Totally agree, very good discussion fd. I always like to point out that the Presidency was Reagan’s best performance- worthy of the Oscar Lifetime Achievement Award. Funny, all his other stuff was mediocre.

    One of the things historians are already bringing up is the 29 officials in his administration who were CONVICTED of the charges brought against them.

    I think the teflon is starting to wear off.

  4. florida dem,

    I think the problem with tweety is psychological. No kidding. Really.

    Remember, way back in the day, tweety was a speech writer for Jimmy Carter – it’s true! I think what was after the beating Carter took from Reagan in ’80, tweety has taken to identifying with the attacker! I think this is a possibility.

  5. BTW – that was the best speech JK has ever given, ever.

  6. I finally got to see some of it tonight and it was a great speech from what I read and saw.

    JK has plenty of brawn but unlike the other candidates he has gravitas, brains, and a certain style.

    THe presidency was indeed regan’s greatest performance. Yet all the GOP and media can talk about is regan’s wit, regan’s style, the great communicator. Now bil has been getting on my nerves but there is no way Regan was a better communicator than clinton.

    I love the pic of JK with his hand on his brother’s face. You got to give the man credit he doesn’t mind showing his affection for his brother and sisters and there aren’t to many in public office who will show love for their family.

    They need to show more pics of him with his family he is at his best then and when he gets pissed off 🙂