Start Explaining and Fast

Several times recently on the Jim Lehrer News Hour, the Shields part of the long time “Shields and Brooks” political punditry (opposite’s attract; “fair and balanced”) team of Washington “insiders”, punditized that, in response to the Brooks part saying that the New York GOP convention protesters were people “without a party,” the reason, according to Shields, that Kerry wasn’t getting traction in the polls was because of his asinine answer standing in front of the Grand Canyon several weeks ago that, IF HE KNEW THEN WHAT HE KNOWS NOW ABOUT THE IRAQ WAR, HE WOULD STILL VOTE FOR IT.

Jon Stewart of the Daily Show put it well shortly after Kerry made this blunderous statement. He said, referring to Kerry, “Come on now, that was a softball. Hit it out of the park! All you have to do is say, NO.” Of course Kerry didn’t – he said yes. Oh sure, “it wasn’t that simple.” He did actually say he would vote to authorize the president and not for the war, but to the nation this is a distinction without a difference. And you don’t have to be a Republican to feel that way. We all heard it. We know what was said. As Stewart went on to bemoan, “is he trying to lose?”

Oh what a clever trap Karl Rove set for Kerry, and how he took the bait. Bush taunted Kerry in front of the press, asking the press whether Kerry, knowing then what he knows now, would he still vote for the war. Of course, the press went to Kerry but at first Kerry was smart and wouldn’t bite. But Kerry couldn’t take the taunting. Pride cometh before the fall! He got baited into answering. At, of all places, the Grand Canyon, he turned and said yes. YES?? How could he say “yes?” That continues to boggle my mind and many others.

Let’s see, if we knew then what we know now? That the main reason for going to war was false, that over 10,000 civilians would be killed, that a thousand U.S. troops would be killed, that we had too few soldiers deployed, that we didn’t have our humvees properly armored, that the insurgency would be a lot worse than anticipated, that the world would generally be opposed to what we are doing and long term alliances would be damaged, that our national debt would be out of control and the war would cost us hundreds of billions with no end in sight, that Iraq and Al Quaeda weren’t connected, that our President had mislead us about a variety of things related to Iraq, that the US would be torturing prisoners and violating the Geneva Accords, that we would be locking up people indefinitely with no civil rights at all, and on and on. If Kerry knew that all this was going to occur, he would still vote for the war????? Say what??????

All Kerry had to do was to say no. N. O. No. All he had to do was to say, well, if I knew that there weren’t going to be weapons of mass destruction found, that a thousand soliders would die, that ten thousand civilians would die, that it would cost us hundreds of billions of dollars and no end in sight, that we would be violating the Geneva Accords and torturing prisoners, that we would be imprisoning people at Guantonamo Bay indefinitely with no civil rights at all, that Halliburton and Bechtel would be getting most of the big U.S. governmental contracts without bids, etc. etc., of course I wouldn’t have voted for it. BBBBBBBBUUUUTTTTTTT NOOOOOOOOOO!!! He said yes.

Ok, so he said yes. Now what. There are a couple possibilities. One is that he could admit that he screwed up and made a big boo boo. We all do that sometimes. Especially with that kind of pressure. He could say that, but the press would jump on that and say he is flip flopping again, and that would hurt him. So scratch that. People like Brooks are just waiting for him to do it. That would give credibility to their flimsly argument that Kerry is somehow an extreme flip flopper. (Bush is worse in reality.) But he is going to have to explain it. This is such a fundamental question with the Democratic base that it threatens to erode what was rock solid support under him. This is what Shields has been referring to. Kerry has to explain in a way that doesn’t seem like he is completely changing positions (again) that he didn’t mean “yes” in the way that we all took it. If he can do that, he has a good chance to resolidify the base. If he can’t, then he has a good chance to lose. He cannot continue to stick with his current answer, trying to distinguish between voting for “authorizing the president” and voting “for the war,” and keep the base together. This isn’t going to be easy, but Kerry is a smart guy. Maybe he can do it.

In spite of this, Kerry still has a chance to win, not because of his greatness but because of the ABB (anybody but bush) principle. But he has to provide an alternative vision. His unfortunate “yes” on the key question of the campaign has to be explained, and that explanation has to be credible. Otherwise we all might be doomed to the worst three words we could ever hear at this time: “4 more years.”