May 29, 2004

"The truth has a force of its own"

"He fears you, Aragorn. He fears what you could

Tim Grieve, Over the course of the last
month, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee
has spoken out forcefully against the administration's
disastrous adventure in Iraq. Kerry has accused the
president of rushing to war, of failing to build
alliances, of alienating America's allies and of
misleading America's citizens. But the New York Times
wonders why he's being so cautious, and the Los
Angeles Times asks why he isn't doing more.

Break the Bush Cabal Stranglehold on the "US
Mainstream News Media," Show Up for Democracy in 2004:
Defeat Bush (again!)


"The truth has a force of its own"
In a Salon interview, John Kerry talks about Iraq, his
"personal" decision on a running mate and the "craven,
petty, childish and destructive" politics of his

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By Tim Grieve

May 28, 2004 | GREEN BAY, WIS., May 28 -- Outside,
the motorcade is a noisy rumble of motorcycle engines
and squad-car sirens, a roaring spectacle that stops
traffic and pulls folks out of their homes to see
what's coming by. Inside the Secret Service's black
Chevy Suburban, it's almost impossibly quiet. Two
armed agents ride up front, the back flash of red and
blue emergency lights illuminating their faces. The
press secretary sits alone in the back, thumbing
e-mails into his Blackberry. John Kerry is in the
middle, waving now and then to well-wishers who can't
see him through the SUV's dark-tinted, bulletproof

Kerry knows what it's like to be invisible.

Over the course of the last month, the presumptive
Democratic presidential nominee has spoken out
forcefully against the administration's disastrous
adventure in Iraq. Kerry has accused the president of
rushing to war, of failing to build alliances, of
alienating America's allies and of misleading
America's citizens. But the New York Times wonders why
he's being so cautious, and the Los Angeles Times asks
why he isn't doing more.

As Kerry turns away from the window and starts to
talk, it's hard to know exactly what the media would
have him say that he isn't saying now. The Bush
administration's "arrogance" has "cost Americans
billions of dollars and too many lives," Kerry says.
Its deceptions about the war may have taken an even
greater toll. Kerry says the White House lacks "any
credibility" at home or abroad; indeed, the Bush
administration has misled the nation so often now that
Kerry says he has no way to know whether the new
terror threats John Ashcroft revealed this week
represent legitimate national security concerns or
simply a political ploy aimed at propping up a
foundering president.

Kerry launched an 11-day "focus" on national security
issues Thursday morning in Seattle, where he delivered
a speech in which he called on the United States to
enter a new era of alliance building even as it
preserves the right to strike -- preemptively and
unilaterally -- when necessary to prevent a terrorist
attack. By Thursday evening he was in Green Bay, where
he promised a crowd of veterans and military families
that he would "never send troops into harm's way
without sending enough troops to get the job done and
without a plan to win the peace."

Media second-guessing notwithstanding, Kerry's message
is starting to break through. Big crowds embraced him
in Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin this week --
thousands stood in the rain to see him on the Seattle
waterfront. Fundraisers in Oregon and Washington beat
the Kerry camp's expectations, and the Seattle event,
which brought in an estimated $2.2 million, is
believed to have set a record. National polls are
giving the first signs that Kerry may finally be
edging ahead of Bush, whose public approval ratings
have never been worse. Perhaps more encouraging for
Kerry is that he's edging out Bush in the battleground

Kerry talked with Salon Thursday night as his
motorcade traveled through Green Bay, where he was to
campaign Friday before returning to Washington, D.C.,
for Saturday's dedication of the World War II

At the beginning of May, the New York Times all but
declared your candidacy dead. Now the polls -- and the
crowds you've drawn this week -- seem to suggest
you're very much alive. Has the tipping point come?

Well, we're five months away still, and that's a long
time in politics. We'll just keep working day to day.
You don't take anything for granted. You've got to go
out and meet people and talk to them and ask for their
votes and give them a reason why.

Do you have the sense that things are starting to

Yeah. There's a lot of energy, a tremendous amount of
energy. I think people are beginning to wake up and
feel the broken promises of this administration. On
Iraq, on security, on schools, on healthcare, on jobs
-- they haven't paid attention. They haven't been
there for the working people.

You gave a major national security speech in Seattle
this morning, but you didn't talk a lot about your
specific plan for Iraq. Your staff suggested that
you'd done that before and maybe didn't feel the need
to do that again today. Do you need to do more to get
your plan in front of the public, or is this an issue
where you've decided to stay away and let Bush suffer
on his own?

It's not a question of staying away. I speak about it
every day. I think it's just a question of how much
you can fit in one speech. I made it very clear that
they've had a bad foreign policy, that they've broken
our alliances, that we shouldn't go to war just
because they want to go to war and that they haven't
done what they need to for the troops. And I will.
It's pretty clear.

What's the best outcome the United States can
reasonably hope for in Iraq now? Is there any hope
left of achieving the vision Bush set out for the

There is, if he [would do] it properly, if the
president leads and does what's necessary. But I think
he's made it far, far more complicated than it had to
be -- far more risky and tenuous -- and it's entirely
possible that they won't be able to do it.

Is the only real solution -- the only way to get the
world community fully involved -- a change in
administrations here?

I think it's going to take a new president to clear
the air, to turn over a new chapter for America, to
renew our relationships with the level of trust that's
necessary. I don't think this administration has any
credibility left.

What's the administration's credibility with you now?
Attorney General John Ashcroft issued warnings this
week of possible terrorist attacks over the summer.
Did something in the back of your mind say, "Gee, I
wonder if this is related to the campaign?" or did you
assume immediately that the warnings were legitimate?

I just have no way to measure it. Instead of feeling
absolutely confident, I have no way of measuring it.

And you should feel absolutely confident.

I should feel absolutely confident.

According to recent polls, more than 50 percent of the
American public now believes that the war in Iraq has
not been worth the cost. Do you agree with that

I've always believed that the president went to war in
a way that was mistaken, that he led us too rapidly
into war, without sharing the cost, without sharing
the risk, without building a true international
coalition. He broke his promises about going as a last
resort. I think that was a mistake. There was a right
way to hold Saddam Hussein accountable and a wrong
way. He chose the wrong way.

But you voted in October 2002 to give Bush the
authority to use force in Iraq. Was that vote a

No. My vote was the right vote. If I had been
president, I would have wanted that authority to
leverage the behavior that we needed. But I would have
used it so differently than the way George Bush did.

Would there have been a war in Iraq if you had been

I can't tell you that. If Saddam Hussein hadn't
disarmed and all the world had decided that he was not
living up to the standards, who knows? You can't
answer that hypothetical. But I can tell you this. I
would never have rushed the process in a way that
undoes the meaning of going to war "as a last resort."

And that's what you thought you were authorizing --
war as a last resort?

Absolutely. You know, we got a set of promises: We're
going to build an international coalition, we're going
to exhaust the remedies of the U.N., respect that
process and go to war as a last resort. Well, we

And not only [did we] not go to war as a last resort,
they didn't even make the plans for winning the peace.
They disregarded them. They disregarded [U.S. Army
General Eric] Shinseki's advice, disregarded Colin
Powell's advice, disregarded the State Department's
plan. The arrogance of this administration has cost
Americans billions of dollars and too many lives.

The argument that the administration disregarded and
disrespected the military seems to resonate strongly
with the people who come to see you.

Well, the truth is the truth. The truth has a force of
its own. I'm just going out there and telling the

Are the media letting you get your version of the
truth out there? Are you frustrated with what Bush
would call "the filter"?

I don't have any way to measure it. I haven't seen
enough of it or felt enough of it. I think people are
beginning to look at this thing with a great deal of

The campaign or the war?

The war, and the war's consequences, and the campaign
because the campaign has a direct impact on it.

Al Gore and Ralph Nader have both spoken recently
about the consequences of this war -- particularly,
the consequences that should be suffered by those who
orchestrated the war. Gore has called for the
resignation of Bush's entire Iraq team. Nader has
called for the impeachment of Bush himself. Do you
believe there should be consequences for the
architects of the war, above and beyond the
possibility that their leader may not be reelected?

Under normal circumstances, for some people, the
answer is yes. I called for Rumsfeld's resignation
months ago over his miscalculations. But I'm running
for president to replace all of them. And the fastest
way to deal with it is to do that.

Are you surprised that the Rumsfeld issue has
disappeared so quickly? There were calls for his
resignation, and then -- almost overnight -- there was

I'm not surprised, but it doesn't make any difference
to me. I called for it five months ago, and it was off
the table until the prison problem. I think the impact
is sinking in for the American people, and I think the
American people will hopefully opt for a forced

The Bush campaign has spent some $80 million on
television advertisements, most of them negative spots
attacking you. The president has mocked you as a
flip-flopper, and his surrogates are out there
attacking you every day. Do you ever find yourself in
disbelief over the way you and your record have been

I find it about as craven, petty, childish and
destructive in terms of America's hopes in politics as
anything I've ever seen.

When you were first thinking of entering the race, did
it occur to you that the Bush campaign would use your
Vietnam record as a campaign issue? You must have
thought, knowing the difference between your record
and the president's, that at least the question of
service in Vietnam would be off the table for them.

No, no, no. No, I knew what they do. I knew they'd try
to do anything. I saw what they did to John McCain and
I saw what they did to Max Cleland. So, you know, we
were ready, and I think we beat them back. And the
more they want to bring it up, the happier I am. I'm
happy to go anywhere in the nation with Dick Cheney
and George Bush and have a debate about what they did
and what I did during that period of time. Let's have
that debate.

The Republicans did it to McCain again last week, when
House Speaker Dennis Hastert suggested that McCain
didn't really know what sacrifice meant. I would have
thought that rank-and-file Republicans would have been
outraged, that they would have called for Hastert to
resign or at least apologize. But it didn't happen.

There is a kind of turnoff factor-slash-powerlessness
that people know exists until the day they get to walk
into a voting booth. So I think they just process it,
put it in the ledger. And as we get into September and
October, I think you'll see that it will bubble up to
the surface.

How do you break through all that? How do you keep
people from just throwing up their hands and saying,
"Well, both sides are lying about everything"?

I think we're doing it. I think we're doing very well.
If you look at the battleground states, I'm told that
we're ahead in every one of them. That's how you break
through, by going out and campaigning, talking to real
people. I intend to continue to do that. I love going
out and meeting people and talking to them, like we
did tonight.

You know, we're having more of a conversation than a
shouting match. I think that's important. I want to
talk to people about real choices. I do not want to
run for president and not have used that special
moment of opportunity to talk about real things with
people. So I'm going to lay it out as it is.

Wednesday night in Seattle, you gave a speech at a
fundraiser that was almost Reaganesque. The room was
very quiet after your wife, Teresa, spoke. And you
talked less about the failings of this administration
and more about the need to restore faith and hope in
America, the need for this country to serve as an
example for the rest of the world. It was a speech --
at least 85 or 90 percent of it -- that a lot of
Republicans probably would have liked, if only you
hadn't been the one giving it.

I think there's some truth to that. I understand what
you're saying. But I think we're breaking through with
a lot of them. I can't tell you how many Republicans
have come up to me and said, "Can't vote for the guy,
gonna vote for you." There's a huge move over of
Republicans, and I'm very pleased with that.

The biggest "move over" would be that of John McCain.
Is there even a possibility that he will be your
vice-presidential pick?

I have just made it as clear as I can that I'm not
going to discuss any aspect of this -- process, time,
possibilities, hypotheticals. I'm just not going to
contribute to any of this. I'm just going to keep it

As you know, the Republican line on you is that you're
a "flip-flopper." Do you think the White House really
views you that way, or is this just an intellectually
dishonest political exercise?

Of course it is. It's not only intellectually
dishonest, it's shallow beyond belief. It's exactly
what they said about Bill Clinton, it's exactly what
they said about Al Gore, it's exactly what they said
about John McCain. It is the standard operating
approach of Republicans who have nothing to say for
themselves, so all they do is try to brand somebody

Well, it's not exactly what they did to McCain.
Nobody's accused you of having an illegitimate love

Not yet. I'm waiting for those. That's probably August
or September.

I'll tell you what. What's really so craven about it
is that they pick something that they implement badly
and screw up, like Iraq or No Child Left Behind or the
Patriot Act. And when you point out that they screwed
it up, they say that you're "flip-flopping."

But they, on the other hand, break a promise to have
no deficit, break a promise not to invade Social
Security, break a promise to fund No Child Left
Behind, break a promise to introduce the
four-pollutant bill and move forward on the
environment, break a promise to deal with the real
health issues and prescription drugs, break a promise
of humility in American foreign policy. I mean, you
start running down the list -- I've never seen a
grander array of flip-flops. This is the biggest "say
one thing, do another" administration in modern

So maybe when you voted to authorize the use of force
in Iraq, you were agreeing to never raise any
questions about how the president used the power he
was given.

I didn't sign off on that. This is the biggest "my way
or the highway" crowd we've ever had in Washington.
They have no interest in legitimate governance. They
have all the interest in power, favor, privilege,
perks and reelection.

Does Bush understand what's going on here? Does he
have the capacity to understand that people change
their minds when confronted with new circumstances? Or
is he so consumed with consistency, with staying the
course, that he can't see that?

You have to go ask him. I'm not making any judgments
about him on a personal level. I'm simply talking
about the differences we have in terms of policy.

I think it's important to talk about my vision of the
country. I'm offering real plans, real options and
choices to make American stronger. And they're real.
My healthcare plan really does lower the cost of
healthcare for Americans. My education plan is going
to liberate communities from the burden of special
needs and help them afford after-school programs and
things they need to do. My foreign policy plan is
going to make America stronger in the world and deal
with terror more effectively. These are the things
Americans want, and that's exactly what I'm going to

But how are you going to do that in Iraq? For the guy
on the barstool who's watching it all on TV, how do
you explain the difference between what you would do
in Iraq and what the Bush administration is already
trying to do?

I'm going to keep faith with America's honor and our
obligation to our troops. I will not allow their
contribution to be wasted or in vain. I'm going to
stand up for them, and not extend them in some
stubborn, inappropriate way. I'm going to bring other
countries to the table. You know, we're going to find
a resolution that doesn't have this sort of endless
exposure to danger, leaving our troops overdeployed,
overextended and undersupported.

Is there a unique opportunity in this campaign for
Democrats to seize the high ground on national
security and foreign policy in a way they haven't for
a long time?

Well, look, I think Democrats have always been strong
on national security. We had Franklin Roosevelt, Harry
Truman, John Kennedy. You know, Bill Clinton was tough
on Kosovo, tough in Bosnia, tough in Haiti. I think we
have a great record. I'm not going to let the
Republicans pretend they're doing something better or
have the better ability to do that.

But this is the first time in a long time that a
Democrat will lead with that punch.

You bet I'm going to lead with it. I'm not shy about
it one iota. I think these guys have made America less
safe, and I think I have a plan to make us stronger.

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About the writer
Tim Grieve is a senior writer for Salon based in San

Posted by richard at May 29, 2004 09:21 AM