Until , if you wanted to read about John Kerry denouncing the war as an “error of judgment of historic proportions” you had to take the wayback machine on a thirty-year hop. So certain was he that the war in Iraq would remain popular, at least among the swing-voters, that he squandered every opportunity to forthrightly criticize his opponent’s most blatant failure. he changed his mind.
That in itself isn’t news, at least not the kind to meet The Picket Line’s exacting standards of relevance. Kerry’s new rhetoric, while stronger than before, still tends to evaporate on closer scrutiny. Did he really say that he believed that the war in Iraq was a mistake, that he would not have invaded if he had been in charge, that it was all based on a lie? Well, on first reading, yeah, it does sound like that. But then when you read his speech over again, you find that he’s left himself plenty of room to weasel out of any such firm conclusions.*
But look over here: A quick exit from Iraq is likely if Bush is reelected, says the balloon floated by Robert Novak.
If Kerry’s speech was full of weasel room, Novak’s column is a room full of weasels, in the form of “officials” and “well-placed sources” “inside the Bush administration policymaking apparatus.” The column masquerades as an inside-scoop, but it’s really a telegram being sent by the Bush campaign to voters frustrated with the war, saying that maybe Bush is the one to end it, and in any case it’s not likely to last much longer so don’t worry about it.
It’s a message designed to appeal to credulous folk who would love an excuse to stop worrying about Iraq, and is designed to give them one less excuse to vote against the Dubya Squad.
But that, and Kerry’s speech (and a probably-not-coincidental chorus of Republican talk-show guests on ), show that both campaigns have come to believe that the tide of public opinion is starting to turn, and that it may become a liability for Bush and Kerry to run on their pro-Iraq-war records.
And the campaigns aren’t merely reacting to their perceptions of public opinion, of course — they’re also shaping it. When Kerry decides to try to sound as though he were anti-war, when conservative columnists float hopeful speculations that Dubya will bring the troops home soon, and when Republican legislators signal that there’s plenty of room for disagreement about the war in their party — this is not only pandering to an increasingly anti-war public, but it’s advertising and legitimizing anti-war attitudes to that public.
Is this a good thing? Well, it’s not a bad thing. But it’s a little late to do a lot of good. One way or the other, the U.S. government will continue to be led by someone who lied and cajoled and beat his chest and followed his merciless power greed to get us bombing Iraq. Note that presidents were sending messages to voters about how they’d get the U.S. out of Vietnam years before they actually stopped napalming people, so a change in political rhetoric or public opinion is not sufficient to change things for the better in Iraq.
But one day, perhaps, you’ll be able to conduct a poll to show that some huge majority of Americans claim to oppose the war or even to have opposed it all along. We may not have become even one notch less susceptible to being whipped up into murderous war frenzy, but we will have convinced ourselves that we’re not to blame for someone else’s mistake in Iraq.
* For instance, compare his speech to the interview with Libertarian Party presidential candidate Michael Badnarik that came out : “Iraq didn’t pose a clear and present danger to the United States. It didn’t pose a danger to the United States at all. And the US has not, in fact, ‘liberated’ the people of Iraq. They still have a dictator. For awhile, his name was Bremer. Now it’s Allawi. And the US has the innocent blood of thousands of Iraqis and more than 1,000 of its own young men and women on its hands.” Couldn’t fit a weasel in there with the weasely equivalent of a shoehorn. That’s how you say something when you mean it.