An Open Letter to John Kerry and the Democrats

Dear Senator Kerry:

The day before the giant anti-war demonstration on the Ellipse on September 24th, 2005, I walked into the Russell Senate Office Building, just walked in and strolled around for half an hour before going down to “Camp Casey” near the Washington Monument. I’m not a rube. I worked in the Helmsley Building, the gigantic Beaux Arts palace at the foot of Park Avenue, for over three years, and I suppose that if I had a job in the Russell Building, even as an office temp, I would become bored with it after awhile. But I was awestruck. Everything about the Russell Building breaths power and majesty. The elegantly dressed staff members, the cluster of flags outside of Senator McCain’s office, the plaque informing me that I am standing outside of what was once Harry Truman’s office tell me I'm in a place where history is being made and has been made.

Quite frankly, I was surprised hat I was allowed just to walk into the Russell Building, that I wasn’t slammed to the ground as a “terrorist”, or, at the very least, met by a pair of elegantly coiffed staffers in Brooks Brothers suits who would ask if they could “help” me before showing me to the door. But I wasn’t. In the end, that was what impressed me most of all, that I am allowed just to walk right into this great building in my jeans and t-shirt and ask to see one of my two Senators.

I tried to imagine what it must have been like for you on your first day as the junior Senator from Massachusetts, what electricity must have pulsed through your body knowing that, where a decade before, you were a scruffy anti-war protester negotiating to pitch a tent on the mall, you now represented the birthplace of Emerson and Thoreau, of Harvard University, of Lexington and Concord, of the United States.

And I tried to imagine something else. I tried to imagine that the next morning you came down to the Ellipse and requested a spot on the speakers list. Oh I realize that not only George Bush but you and the Democrats look at International Answer, the people who organized the speakers’ list at the Ellipse, and United for Peace and Justice as left wing extremists and that the rest of us (myself included) are “American hating dirties hippies who should just get jobs”. But still, I imagined that you walked (walked like all of us “dirty hippies” not road in a limousine the way you flag waiving patriot members of the elites do), past the spot on the mall where you camped out to protest the Vietnam War, past “Camp Casey” and the Washington Monument to the Ellipse and requested a place on the speakers’ list. Then to the sound of a few boos and many more cheers, you rose up to your full height of 6’5” and said the following.

“As a young man, I protested the Vietnam War and my friends I am here to tell you that as the Senator from Massachusetts, I oppose this war on Iraq. I was wrong to have voted for the authorization and you, Mr. President, you were wrong to have lied to me, to Congress, and to the American people.”

So who were we? Who were those approximately 100,000 people you and the rest of the Democratic Party chose to ignore. While you and the Republicans hold hands and have tea with the Saudi Royal family, you consider us too radioactive to touch. International Answer does indeed include left-wing extremists, though nobody to my knowledge who would bomb an abortion clinic or argue in favor of teaching the book of Genesis in biology class. There were also Communists, maybe even a few thousand of them, as you would have noticed had you seen the two slack jawed yokes (tourists?) gaping in horror at the young woman selling copies of the Socialist Worker. But I’m sure I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. As a veteran, an icon even of the movement against the war in Vietnam, I’m sure you’ve spent time in the same kind of crowds. And I’m sure you know that the vast majority of us, the vast majority of those 100,000 people who crowded the Ellipse and the stage in front of the Washington Monument, clogged the streets around the Old Post Office and the National Archives Building, and jammed Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House for hours weren’t Communists or left wing extremists or even necessarily liberals. Some of us were even Republicans. Most of us probably voted for you in 2004. In the end, we only had one thing in common.

We were right.

Unlike you, Hillary Clinton and all of the Democrats who voted “yes” that shameful October 12th three years ago, unlike the Washington Post and the New York Times, unlike the neat, well-dressed, clever Ivy League staffers who write your press releases and warn you to stay far away from “dirty hippies” like myself, we knew all along that Bush had been lying. We knew that there had been no Weapons of Mass Destruction and that the war wouldn’t be a “cakewalk,” that the Iraqis wouldn’t welcome us as liberators with flowers in their hearts. It was common sense. People will fight a foreign invader, however bad their own government may be. We knew that thousands of Americans would die needlessly. We knew that tens of thousands of Iraqis would be murdered. We knew that the war would weaken the economy, destroy the military and make it impossible to respond effectively to emergencies like Hurricane Katrina.

Senator Kerry, here’s what frustrates me the most about you.

Everything that was said about us last week was said about you in 2004. When you refused to acknowledge us, you were only continuing what you were doing in 2004 by refusing to acknowledge your own history in the anti-war movement. I live in New Jersey, a mildly liberal “blue” state and a Democratic stronghold that broke for you as early as 8:30PM (when I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that even if Bush won, I’d be in a state that voted against him). Yet still I noticed something in the fall of 2004, something ugly, a coarse, backward, reactionary mood that only got worse when you lost. I wish you could have seen it, the “911 Terrorist Hunting Permits” and “Jane Fonda Traitor Bitch” stickers on the back windows of cars, the old cop who said “oh Kerry’s only a lying Jew pretending to be Irish so he can win in Boston”, the two returning vets on New Jersey Transit holding forth in front of a worshipful middle class family how would should just “nuke all the ragheads”, my own father telling me that you “went to Vietnam with Jane Fonda to sell America out to the Communists”.

Everything that was said about us last week was said about you in 2004 and yet you couldn’t come down to the Ellipse and speak to us.

Senator Kerry it’s time for you and the Democratic Party to genuinely “flip flop” on the war, to admit you made a mistake on that shameful October 12th and come out squarely in favor of ending the occupation of Iraq. Don’t keep waiting for the wheels to come off the Republican Party. They already have. Tom DeLay is going to jail. New Orleans is gone. People are turning against the war if only because they realize that it’s not going to get them cheap gas after all. The most powerful nation in history is without a leader, has an incompetent head of state, has a majority party run by authoritarians and religious fanatics, and a minority party too timid and cautious to take control of the agenda, Sitting around doing nothing, taking no position on the war while Americans are dying in Iraq is shameful and unpatriotic. It’s cheap, cynical politics designed to protect you own jobs at the expense of the American people and everybody else in the world our considerable power and influence touches. It's getting to the point where I have more reverence for any one of 1000 basements in any one of hundreds of college towns in America than I do for the Russell Building. It's getting to the point where I have more respect for somebody who paints a sign or puts out a low-budget, Marxist newspaper than I do for someone who has the power to make real changes and doesn't use it. It's getting to the point where I'm beginning to believe that in 100 years your short biography is going to say something like this.

"John Kerry, who cut such a dramatic figure when burst upon the national scene to protest the Vietnam War, later served in the Senate. He ran for president in 2004 but lost to George W. Bush. In spite of a promising start where he vigorously prosecuted the Iran Contra conspirators his Senate career was largely ineffectual. A few fiery speeches early in his Senate career where he expressed his outrage over 'seeing the government lie, and realizing the consequences', were in striking contrast to his timid, hesitant campaign against George Bush for President."

Step up and take control of the microphone and speak. We’re waiting to hear from you.