The ballad of John Kerry 

His loss is our loss, too

Last week, Sen. John F. Kerry bowed to the inevitable and dropped out of the race for the 2008 presidential election. It probably wasn’t his choice; but the polls, the media and his fellow Democrats were all against him. He didn’t stand a chance of getting the nomination.

Watching his speech on the Senate floor, it was hard not to feel sorry for him. Here was an intelligent, thoughtful man with the right ideas to make America safer at home and more respected abroad.

He went out fighting, too, prefacing his withdrawal statement with an insightful critique of the Bush foreign policy disasters and offering reasonable alternatives. His head was held high, even in defeat.

Someday, many years from now, someone will write a screenplay or opera about John Kerry’s life because it’s been one filled with almost Shakespearean levels of tragedy, drama, obstacles and small victories.

One of the tragic elements, of course, is that if it weren’t for a few thousand rigged votes in Ohio and elsewhere, Kerry would be the 44th president of the United States right now. And although it will take decades for the nation to recover from all the damage the Bush clan has inflicted upon it, Kerry could have started to repair it.

If John Kerry were president today, we’d have a sane foreign policy. Our economy would be moving again. Most importantly, American soldiers who are currently in caskets wouldn’t be there.

John Kerry was the right man with the right ideas at the right time, with a heavy dose of bad luck. He lacks the geniality of Bill Clinton, the blunt, anti-intellectual appeal of George W. Bush and the P.R. skills of Ronald Reagan.

But he may have been the best and most intelligent of them all. Unfortunately, his inability to fight as dirty as Bush and his own clumsiness led to his downfall in 2004 and contributed to his decision to not run in 2008.

He stood tall and strong like Lincoln but allowed himself to be portrayed as a Lurch-like figure. His heroic war record was trashed by Bush and Cheney, who lacked the courage to fight in Vietnam themselves.

When history looks back on John Kerry’s ill-fated 2004 campaign, it may well regard it as the last chance America had to restore democracy and end the twin madnesses of imperialism and militarism, both of which are destroying our once-great nation.

We will never know who actually won the 2004 election, or the 2000 election, either. Maybe Bush won them fairly, maybe he didn’t. There are too many unanswered questions about Florida and Ohio to ever be certain.

But what is inescapable is that John Kerry was right in 2004 when he predicted further chaos in Iraq and a descent into civil war. He was right when he pointed out that the United States had Osama bin Laden cornered in Afghanistan — and then dropped the ball.

Pointing out that we had 10 times as many troops in Iraq as Afghanistan, he asked, “Does that mean that Saddam Hussein was 10 times more important than Osama bin Laden? I don’t think so.”

Every one of Kerry’s dire predictions about what would happen in a second Bush Administration has come true. We are less safe today than ever before. America’s standing in the world has never been lower. Iraq has become another Vietnam, with America losing another war while our enemies grow stronger.

Bin Laden still walks the earth. Our economy, strained to the maximum, is on the verge of collapse, propped up only by Chinese loans. American jobs continue to be eliminated while executives get bigger and bigger bonuses.

No, John Kerry wouldn’t have been able to solve all these problems overnight. Not even Lincoln or Roosevelt or JFK would be able to do it. Our country is in such bad shape that perhaps nobody will be able to fix it for years and years to come.

But he came forth, courageously and with honor, with new ideas, an opportunity for a fresh start and new credibility. While he deserves some of the blame for not being given the chance to lead, it’s not all his fault.

The most effective smear campaign in American politics, questionable vote counts and the power of Bush’s simplistic tough-talk also contributed to his downfall.

No, Kerry will never be president. But millions of Americans now know that we blew the best chance we had to eliminate the dangerous Bush policies.

Kerry knows this, too, and it will haunt him for the rest of his life. It’s a shame. And a tragedy.

Yes, someday someone will write the definitive account of this flawed and brilliant man. He will be regarded as a giant, while his slanderers will be forgotten.

John Kerry’s defeat was a defeat for America, one from which we are still suffering. That is the saddest fact of all. 

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