Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Ghosts of 1968

Sometimes history makes great men. That's what we're told in great historical books and thought-provoking essays, but always in retrospect. The great lesson of this election cycle will be a re-affirmation of the notion, that states simply and ever so eloquently, "Let us dedicate to what the Greeks wrote so long ago: to tame the savagery of man and make gentle the life of this world." Robert F. Kennedy was my first connection to politics, roughly twelve years after he was assassinated, and the inspirational inner voice that guided him is the statement we demand at the crossroads for another generation.

As it was in 1968, never were the stakes perceived to be higher than they are now. And it is in the great hope of a better tomorrow that we should pause and consider the words of a true American patriot. RFK was a poet warrior of the first order, and he is the mantle upon which I selected my candidate in 2003, even though it was clear that none of the candidates could reach this lofty ideal.

With a heaping amount of respect for Ezra's Kerry endorsement over at Pandagon, mine will be more politically spiritual and filled with the ghost of a great man lost to the march of history.

I hope you will often take heart from the knowledge that you are joined with your fellow young people in every land, they struggling with their problems and you with yours, but all joined in a common purpose; that, like the young people of my own country and of every country that I have visited, you are all in many ways more closely united to the brothers of your time than to the older generation in any of these nations; you are determined to build a better future. President Kennedy was speaking to the young people of America, but beyond them to young people everywhere, when he said "The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it - and the glow from that fire can truly light the world."

And, he added, "With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth and lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own."

Today, as in every great crossroads that this nation has faced, responsibility is the passage way to citizenship, and service its most humble privilege. Our individual liberty is founded in the freedom of speech and to freely determine; our right to express and demonstrate our ideals, to set ourselves apart from the dark shroud of tyranny; our right to call government to its duty and its obedience to the people; and above all else, our right to affirm our membership and devotion to a common society - to the neighbors with whom we share our part of the world, our ethnicity and our children's future. And therefore, the fundamental rights of man can be secured and harbored only when government will answer its people - not just to the fortunate and connected; not just to those of similar religious beliefs; not just to those of a selected race or ethnic group of people; but to every person who shares responsibility and honors its people's service.

"If Athens shall appear great to you," said Pericles, "consider then that her glories were purchased by valiant men, and by men who learned their duty." That is the source of greatness in all nations, and it was the key to my selection of John Kerry in December 2003.

Yes, that was December 2003 ... not because I like to bank on long odds at the gambling window. But because I have watched Kerry work a campaign for years as my former Senator, and when Big John moves he shakes the windows and takes no prisoners. And if that wasn't enough: he yanked Dean down from the tree and had that glare of a winner. It was like the man's expression came to a point. His expression said, "I want this." And when the Senator has the motivation, he has never lost a campaign.

I saw that look in his 1996 campaign against Bill Weld, and that night in Iowa I saw it again.

While the Massachusetts Senator has been characterized as a "flip-flopper" and overly nuanced, there is a wonderfully hopeful and imaginative quality within him that sees open-mindedness as a course for possibility and tempting certainty as a wake up call for enduring freedom. Never could this statement be defined better in his decision to serve his country with distinction in an unpopular war, and then return to demonstrate against the very conflict in which he was awarded a Silver and Bronze Star.

This was not the gambling man's option if he ever held ambitions for the Presidency, which clearly he was groomed to do from a very young age. It was a deep glance into the breadth of his character. Speaking to truth to power. Fighting for the common man with a capacity beyond his years. Listed on the Nixon Administration's Enemies List. It was the right thing to do then, and more now than ever we need a leader who can perform in remarkable moments and deliver.

Witness his role in the BCCI investigation during the Iran-Contra hearings, his willingness to lead a thankless task of looking for Vietnam MIA's and a less-publicized break from his party to repair the deficit in the 1990s, and you get a second look at his principles and judgement. The man makes tough choices, lives with them, and has never backed away.

"There is," said an Italian philosopher, "nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things." Yet this was the measure of his generation, and Kerry was the young prince of a veteran nation demanding to be heard, a symbol of a failed foreign policy that still has raw and unhealed wounds. In many ways and forms, the current war in Iraq is a distant cousin to that conflict and if we do not head the warnings of Saigon and the Ashau Valley, we are doomed to repeat them in the battlefields of Fallujah and Najaf.

So, as a practical matter, herein lies the fundamental difference between the President and the Senator. It's a choice between bitter experience and vituparative isolation; between intellectual flexibility and dogmatic certitude; between a thinking man's curiosity and a devoted man's hardline belief structure. I look at neither man and see a profile destined for Mount Rushmore - not just yet, anyways - but in the Senator there is hope and promise and I am going with that. If there is one thing that disqualifies the President from consideration it's his reluctance to be inspired by the possibilities of the future beyond shallow rhetoric and empty suit patriotism. But people want more than that from their President, and it's not all Bush's fault that he isn't so inspired. He was placed in a moment of history for which he was not well-equipped or prepared to engage. The Presidential Office as a symbol was beyond the trappings of his ideological vanity and some poorly placed comments during the first debate about "hard work" sealed his fate, forming an average guy's opinion that he really didn't want this job in the first place.

Kerry, on the other hand, has a reverance for the office and understands its historical context. He has gazed upon the Oval Office, not with a sense of entitlement or a blank check, but with a sense of profound responsibility. He understands that the presidency is more than a pulpit or a perch for self-interest - he sees it as a compass steering its people toward the experiment of democracy. The cruelties and obstacles of this rapidly evolving planet cannot - and must not - yield to anachronistic convictions and boiler plate innuendo. It cannot be moved forward by those who hang onto a present that has already begun dying, who grasp the illusion of security in defiance to excitement and danger which arrives from even the most peaceful path of progress. This new world demands new ideas and the qualities found in youth; not because it marks a moment in life but a state of promise, a thirst for imagination, the act of courage over reservation, an appetite for adventure over a life without instigation. These are the qualities that gave birth to a new nation. And we need them now.

Not tomorrow or next year. Now. It represents our working model for freedom.

"Democracy is no easy form of government," Robert Kennedy once declared. "Few nations have been able to sustain it. For it requires that we take the chances of freedom; that the liberating play of reason be brought to bear on events filled with passion; that dissent be allowed to make its appeal for acceptance; that men chance error in their search for the truth."

Senator John Kerry is the closest to these ideals. And for these reasons, among others, I will wholeheartedly vote for him on Election Day. Freedom is challenged by those who conspire to restrict and to destroy it on a daily basis. I trust that you can look beyond the partisanship and the smears of this election cycle and make a choice for promise and for hope.


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