Ever since US forces marched into Iraq, conservatives in Congress and their media stenographers have been at war with Americans who fail to read from the Bush Administration’s political script.
US Sen Jim Bunning, R-Kentucky, was ranting the other day about charging former MSNBC correspondent Peter Arnett with “treason,” after the always controversial journalist gave a ill-conceived yet thoroughly inconsequential interview to Iraqi television. Then, last Friday, 104 Republican members of the US House of Representatives signed a letter demanding that Columbia University fire an assistant professor of anthropology whose extreme — if not extremely significant — statements against the US war had made him a favorite target of the New York Post’s patriotism police.
Members of Congress, who should be performing their constitutionally-mandated advice and consent duties with regard to the war and its aftermath, are instead asking: “Would you like a witchhunt with those Freedom Fries?” By and large, the Republican torch bearers get points from their constituents and are written off as yahoos by everyone else. But there is a political point to this demonization of dissent and discourse. And it has been evident in the attempts to discredit US Sen. John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who has emerged as something of a frontrunner in the race for his party’s 2004 presidential nomination.
Kerry is not exactly a threatening figure. Indeed, the Massachusetts senator is less than the sum of his parts. He is reasonably smart, reasonably liberal, reasonably handsome and possessed of a distinguished record of service in the Vietnam War. This ought to make him a dream candidate for Democrats who are still casting about for an alternative to George W. Bush, who has no record of distinguished service — in times of war, or peace. But Kerry tends to waffle on big issues — he raised great questions about granting Bush Fast Track authority to negotiate sweeping new free-trade agreements, yet he voted for legislation authorizing Fast Track; he has expressed concern about threats to civil liberties, yet he voted for the draconian USA Patriot Act. He seemed to object to Bush’s rush to war with Iraq, yet he voted for the October resolution that continues to provide the White House with a flimsy excuse for launching a preemptive war against a sovereign state.
So why are conservatives all hot and bothered about Kerry?
During a discussion at the town library in Peterborough, New Hampshire, where Kerry was campaigning in anticipation of next year’s first-in-the-nation primary, the senator let loose with a comment that echoed posters, bumper stickers, campaign pins, reasonable magazine commentaries and casual comments heard across the United States in recent months. Speaking of Bush’s inept approach to international relations in advance of the current war, Kerry said, “Regardless of how successful the United States is in waging war against Iraq, it will take a new president to rebuild the country’s damaged relationships with the rest of the world,” Kerry told the overflow crowd. “What we need now is not just a regime change in Saddam Hussein and Iraq, but we need a regime change in the United States.”