The point of this worrisome litany isn't so much to rehash the extent of Kerry's post-Vietnam dovishness, though that's certainly a worthwhile task during a wartime election year. No, what I want to point out is that even the most obvious good vs. evil conflicts don't seem that obvious to lots of people when they're in the middle of them. I have no doubt that when Americans look back on what we are now calling the "War on Terror" the morality and necessity of it will seem every bit as obvious as the morality and necessity of the Cold War seems to most of us, including Bill Clinton.
But just as millions of Americans were flat-out wrong about the urgency and necessity of fighting the Cold War, today there are millions of good and decent Americans who do not want to look the current enemy in the eye. They cling to polysyllabic professors who find clever ways to say the same dumb things over and over again. They look to America-detesting Europeans, mistaking cynicism for sagacity. And they look to politicians like John Kerry who proudly shift their opinions based upon the most convenient way of avoiding tough decisions, calling their zigs "nuance" and their zags "sophistication," promising to "stay the course" only if it's plotted as a U-turn.
It's far from clear why George W. Bush's poll numbers have been rising while he's facing the worst barrage of criticism of his "war presidency," but I can't help but think that it's partly because he calls himself a war president at a time when Americans realize they need one. John Kerry may be qualified in all sorts of ways, but it's clear that, since he returned from Vietnam, the one thing he hasn't prepared for is to be "war president."
The same went for Bill Clinton, of course. But he was lucky enough to run for president when we lacked an "intellectually coherent thing."
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