Elizabeth Scripturient (the delinquent, ecumenical (hermionesviolin) wrote,
Elizabeth Scripturient (the delinquent, ecumenical

Today's Headlines from NYTimes.com

When Truth Dies in Battle
Amid the debate over John Kerry's Vietnam record, one thing is clear: War corrodes memory.

The author uses firsthand anecdotes to point out that people remember things differently even when they were all at the same place. Does this surprise anyone? Is this necessarily only a wartime phenomenon? Is it impossible to consider that perhaps Kerry has an agenda in mind and is remembering things (either consciously or unconsciously) so that they fit that agenda?

Putting Caps on Teenage Drinking
A nationwide plan to reduce underage drinking is long overdue.

What about all those European countries where alcohol is treated as just another beverage? Is it possible that perhaps in the U.S. there is a culture of underage drinking that encourages reckless behavior and that perhaps that is what we should be focusing on?

This is interesting.
August 24, 2004
The Vietnam Passion

I'm launching a major investigation into whether the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth organization is being secretly financed by the Kerry campaign. For today that organization begins airing ads drawing attention to John Kerry's 1971 testimony against the Vietnam War.

If voters see that testimony, they will see a young man arguing passionately for a cause. They will see a young man willing to take risks and boldly state his beliefs. Whether they agree or not, they will see in John Kerry a man of conviction.

Many young people, who don't have an emotional investment in endlessly refighting the conflicts of the late 1960's, might take a look at that man and decide they like him. They might not realize that man no longer exists.

That conviction politician was still visible as late as the 1980's. When Senator Kerry opposed aid to the contras, or took on Oliver North, he did it with the same forthright fire.

But then in the early 1990's, things began to evolve. First, Kerry relied on his post-Vietnam convictions and ended up casting the vote against the first Iraq war that threatened his political future.

Then the political climate changed. Bill Clinton came to power and suddenly the old Vietnam-era liberalism was no longer in vogue. The future belonged to triangulating New Democrats. Then Newt Gingrich came in and the frame of debate shifted further to the right. John Kerry was now in a position to run for national office - and thus needed to be acceptable to a national constituency.

Kerry's speeches in the 1990's read nothing like that 1971 testimony. The passion is gone. The pompous prevaricator is in. You read them and you see a man so cautiously calculating not to put a foot wrong that he envelops himself in a fog of caveats and equivocations. You see a man losing the ability to think like a normal human being and starting instead to think like an embassy.

Tough decisions are evaded through the construction of pointless distinctions. Hard questions are verbosely straddled. Kerry issued statements endorsing the use of force in the Balkans so full of backdoor caveats you couldn't tell if he was coming or going. He delivered a tough-sounding speech on urban poverty filled with escape clauses he then exploited when the criticism came.

Most people take a certain pride in their own opinions. They feel attached to them as part of who they are. But Kerry can be coldly detached from his views, willing to use, flip or hide them depending on the exigencies of the moment.

For example, on Aug. 1, Kerry told George Stephanopoulos: "I think we can significantly change the deployment of troops, not just [in Iraq] but elsewhere in the world. In the Korean peninsula perhaps, in Europe perhaps."

When Bush went ahead and outlined a plan along those lines, Kerry blasted the president, saying it was reckless to embrace the idea he had endorsed two weeks before.

Even more psychologically corrosive is Kerry's continual suppression of sincere belief. Almost every American has a view about whether this Iraq war is worthwhile or a big mistake - except John Kerry. He's both called himself an antiwar candidate and said he would even today vote for the war resolution. He's either lost the ability to make a clear decision on this central issue, or he thinks it would be imprudent to express a view.

Even on vital, personal matters, he radiates an air of calculated positioning. He now declares that marriage is between a man and a woman, but does anybody think he actually believes this? He's said life begins at conception, but has he ever acted on this profound belief?

All this is odd for a person who is such a child of the 1960's. "Authenticity" was such a big concept then. Nobody would accuse the current John Kerry of that. In fact, the Democratic convention dwelt obsessively on the period in his life when Kerry was authentic, so it could evade the last 20 years of rising inautheticity.

In short, he's not the flaming liberal the Republicans sometimes try to portray. He's not flaming anything. If today's Kerry had been called before that 1971 Senate committee, he would have prudently told the throngs that he was for the goals of the war but against the implementation, for the idea but against the timing, for the troops but against this nuance and that nuance and the other one.

Nobody accomplishes much in politics without consuming ambitions, but sometimes they are changed along the way.

E-mail: dabrooks@nytimes.com

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