Here are links to get you into my existing blog stuff in its old incarnation
The Democrats and the Backbone Question, Part 2

The Democrats and the Backbone Question

I have been somewhat mystified as to why invidious comparisons of the presidential candidates Viet Nam era military records have taken on such a central role in this presidential campaign. As I was driving home from dropping Elizabeth off at preschool, it came to me, encoded in the phrase "vestigial spine." You know, I'd almost forgotten -- most Democratic politicians have almost no spine, so accustomed are they to trying hard to look like moderate Republicans. The military service issue is the pipe cleaner that can be wound round the vestigial spine to make it look like a real Backbone.

This morning, I received an email from MoveOn directing me to this speech given by John Kerry last night, telling me what a fine speech it was. But when I read it, I trip over passages like this one:

In fighting the war on terrorism, my principles are straightforward. The terrorists are beyond reason. We must destroy them. As president, I will do whatever it takes, as long as it takes, to defeat our enemies. But billions of people around the world yearning for a better life are open to America’s ideals. We must reach them.

To win, America must be strong. And America must be smart. The greatest threat we face is the possibility Al Qaeda or other terrorists will get their hands on a nuclear weapon.

I'm all for putting a stop to terrorism. But first of all, look where defining our opposition to terrorism as a war has gotten us: into several non-figurative wars. Secondly, I am uncomfortable with the phrase "terrorists are beyond reason." While I don't think we should negotiate with terrorists, or spend a lot of time wondering why certain mass murderers hate whom they hate, there is a dehumanizing subtext to the phrasing. Since he has not defined "terrorist," this is a fairly expansive dehumanization. Following with the sentence "We must destroy them" underlines the dehumanizing subtext of the previous sentence. And what about he choice of the verb "to destroy"? Not "destroy their networks," but "destroy them." Why didn't he just say kill them? "Destroy" is a euphemism used to describe the killing of animals. Then he juxtaposes these terrorists with those who are "open to American ideals." The people of the world deserve a life without terrorism whether or not they are receptive to American deals or ideals. Selectively arming militias and providing vast seed capital for private military startups will not deliver them from terrorism.

Then we come to the next paragraph, which is I think the more problematic of the two. He starts out "America must be strong." I'm all for a strong America, by which I mean an America furnished with a military of appropriate strength and skill to protect our country. This is being dismantled by the forces of privatization by people who believe we can buy strength on the open market whenever necessary. But I don't think that's what Kerry means by a strong America. I thinks he means that if he were to have chosen to invade some place like Iraq, he would have had sufficient military force not to screw it up. As nearly as I can tell, Kerry has carefully avoided the privatization issue. (And as for the next sentence, who could argue with "America must be smart."?)

I have to wonder if he really believes "The greatest threat we face is the possibility Al Qaeda or other terrorists will get their hands on a nuclear weapon." That seems to me a failure of imagination. Imagine instead a world in which military force is mostly privatized and is available for hire to whatever entity has the money; and that this privatization extends to nuclear weapons production; a world in which there are dozens of organizations analogous to Al Qaeda, competing organizations with private goals uncoupled from the common good that nation states have some obligation to provide for. Competing multinational private organizations with armed with nuclear weapons seems to me a worse scenario.

But returning to the subject of backbone, how many of the notions in these two paragraphs originate in part from the desks of Karl Rove and Karen Hughes? How much of Kerry's rhetoric on Iraq and on teorrorism boils down to I would have done what he said he'd do, not what he did. It seems to me that the military service issue has loomed so large so as to distract us from the fact that Kerry still lacks the backbone to stand up to the Republican machine.

There was a fair amount of talk in the blogosphere recently about putting on one's game face in order to win this one. I will, but my game face will not be a smiley face. At this point I'm not so much afraid Kerry is going to lose, but rather that if he wins we will still be stuck with so much of the hard right's ideological framework.