John Kerry was in Barre, Vermont last weekend for a Democratic Party fundraiser, and had it not been my duty as a Vermont political columnist to attend, I would have stayed away. Why? John Kerry makes my tummy hurt!
It's OK. I haven't forgiven Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon for Vietnam yet, either. But on that dark day of October 11, 2002, Kerry along with 28 fellow Democrats voted in favor of what became the "blank check" that gave George W. Bush the green light to lead America into another Hell.
I attended the pre-rally press conference in a backroom at Sean & Nora's Restaurant with one goal in mind: to ask Kerry if he agreed that he and his fellow Democrats had abdicated their vital role as an "opposition party" back then?
Sitting at his elbow as I asked was Sen. Patrick Leahy. Leahy, along with Vermont's other senator, Independent Jim Jeffords, had the wisdom and the courage to vote the right way. In fact, Vermont's only congressman, Independent Rep. Bernie Sanders, voted the right way, too, giving Vermont a congressional corner on good judgment.
Couple that with a report this week that Vermont has the largest per-capita, aging baby-booomer population in America and one is reminded of the adage that people who remember history are not likely to repeat its mistakes. A lot of Vermonters remember Vietnam.
Kerry could have made it simple, saying something short and sweet like, "I made a mistake. I was wrong and I was wrong because I was misled by the administration and I deeply regret it. And I and the other Democrats who were misled, Republicans, too, promise you we will correct this horrible mistake in US foreign policy."
But he's John Kerry and he had to say it his way.
"That was a very difficult vote for a lot of people based on information and intelligence given at the time that, at the time, persuaded many responsible people that you needed to hold Saddam Hussein accountable. Now that said, there were a set of stipulations about how they would proceed to do that, and from almost Day 1, they began to break those. And from Day 1, we Democrats tried to criticize and hold them accountable for that.
"I've made it very clear that that vote was based on misleading intelligence that now may be purposely misled, which is why this investigation is so critical. (The current Senate Intelligence Comitttee investigation, or lack thereof, that prompted the Democrats to shut down the Senate earlier that week.)
"But nevertheless," continued Kerry, "it was based on evidence we now know, and a serious of incompetent choices, so that none of us, I think, would vote to give the authority based on the abuse that [the president] conducted. I can tell you that as a presidential candidate .... I gave 4 major speeches laying out how the president ought to proceed to be faithful to our troops."
Please, don't remind us.
"There's enough blame to go around if you want to cast it as Robert Kennedy said in 1960s when he talked about Vietnam. And I'll accept my share of it, but I'll tell you this, none of us are prepared to continue to see these kid of miscalculations and misjudgment applied to the lives of our young soldiers and to the interest of our security. I believe that I've laid out to the best of my conscience these steps we can take as a nation to not leave chaos, to accomplish the goals that are able to be accomplished and to bring our troops home, all of which are integrated. I think our party has actually stood quite tall on this and I'm proud of the voices – Pat's and others – that have spoken out very clearly over a long period. And the bottom line is we've been right every step of the way and we've been consistent."
Right every step of the way, eh?
The questions went in a different direction for awhile -- political party housekeeping, but then a local TV reporter returned to the answer Kerry left hanging without a period at the end.
"Here's the bottom line folks," said Kerry. "We were told the were weapons of mass destruction that weren't weapons of mass destruction. We know that Scooter Libby has now been indicted for lying about how they approached the destruction of some truth regarding the walkup to the war. So that raises all kinds of questions which the Intelligence Committee has thus far avoided, which is precisely why the senate was shut down the other day. The American people deserve answers to that question. I can't tell you.
"I can tell you this: that the photographs I was shown at the Pentagon, with the Secretary of Defense sitting there, did not contain the things they told me they did.
"I can tell you that the people they relied on, sources they never told us, had they told us, I would have had a very different view if I had known that it was Mr. Chalabi who was the source in some cases. So the whole walkup is very much at issues and knowing now the dangerous games that have been played with the truth, Americans want and deserve a full explanation of what happened."
And the future?
"We don't need American forces acting as police officers in their country. It helps to further alienate people. It helps to anger the population. It makes it more of an occupation than is healthy. Iraqis need to search Iraqi homes. Iraqis need to stand up for Iraq. President Bush says we'll stay 'as long as it takes,' which allows Iraqis to decide how long it takes, [and] we remain in a vise.
"You have to get out of that. Clearly there's going to be some American presence as long as Iraqis want it and that's an issue. But we do not need massive numbers of combat troops that are draining the American treasury, depleting the capacity of our military and in fact contributing to the problem."