A possible 2008 presidential candidate made an aggressive bid to woo progressives Tuesday, but it was a failed 2004 presidential candidate that told progressives what they needed to hear.
Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts ignited us at the Take Back America conference by admitting that his 2002 vote for the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq was wrong. “It is essential to acknowledge that the war itself was a mistake,” Kerry said, adding, “I was wrong to vote for that war resolution.” He received sustained applause and some cheers.
Contrast that with the comments of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has become famous for her assiduous courtship of the center — and at times, even the right — as well as her coy courtship with a 2008 presidential bid. While she criticized the Bush administration’s prosecution of the war and its “open-ended commitment,” she added that she believed it was wrong to “set a date certain” for withdrawal. She received a scattering of applause and a number of boos.
Kerry told the morning plenary session that he is going to sponsor an amendment to the defense spending bill demanding a withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of the year. It is measure that will apparently put Kerry at odds with the more cautious Clinton. It will force her to make a choice between those who are urging caution in Iraq and Kerry’s now full-throated denunciation of the war and the way it is being executed.
“A war on Iraq founded on a lie can never be true to the American character,” Kerry said early in his speech, which was almost totally devoted to the war, in contrast to Clinton’s, which was mainly focused on domestic policy. Kerry drew parallels between the Iraq war and the Vietnam War that he was a soldier in, noting that in both wars, thousands of soldiers were killed or injured long after policymakers realized they had headed in the wrong direction but stubbornly refused to reverse themselves. “It was morally wrong then and it is morally wrong now,” he said.
In direct contrast to Clinton’s refusal to back a firm deadline for troop withdrawal, Kerry said, “We need a hard and fast deadline” and a policy that demands that Iraqis take responsibility for their own security. He said that every movement in Iraq toward the establishment of a permament consensus government has been prompted by deadlines set by the Bush administration and coalition partners.
Kerry also offered a set of principles he said progressives should stand for:
• Tell the truth to the American people.
• “Fire the incompetents” and hold government accountable.
• Make America secure by making America energy independent.
• “Value work, not wealth.”
• Export products, not jobs.
• Provide affordable health care for all Americans.
• Address global warming and the pollution of our air and water.
Kerry was preceded by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who noted that she stood by Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania when he called for a definitive plan for troop withdrawal from Iraq and that she voted against the Iraq War resolution in the House. “This war in Iraq is a grotesque mistake,” she said, and she repeated her call for the dismissal of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
But of the two senators whose names are most closely associated with presidential politics, it was Kerry, not Clinton, who showed that he has learned from a botched 2004 presidential bid how to electrify progressive voters anxious to see one of their own in the White House in 2008.
--Isaiah J. Poole
| Tuesday, June 13, 2006 10:36 AM