Saturday, June 25, 2011

Dear John Kerry,

My response to a letter from Sen. Kerry to PDA asking for our support around his (very weak) Afghanistan proposal, and appealing to us to see him as the young Lieutenant who became the voice of the Vietnam Vets against the war:

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Sen. Kerry,

My hasty and rude comment on your letter to PDA failed to honor your willingness to reach out to us. Please allow me a second chance to respond.

The heart of your letter is a discussion of the problems of decreasing the US commitment to Afghanistan and establishing a stable government while protecting US interests and still defeating the enemies of the US. The underlying unspoken assumptions are that "we" have some right to be there, "we" have some claim to be able to "build" their nation, "we" have lessons to teach in good government and democracy, and "we" have a right to go into other people's countries to kill "our" enemies.

These assumptions come in two flavors: unapologetic Republican and nuanced sugar-coated Democratic. Missing from both is the question: what do you mean by "we"?

Your "we", if I'm not mistaken, is the folks you move among, see every day on Capital Hill, mingle with socially and on business, the folks who come to you for favors and whom you go to for money ... the ruling class and political class and corporate folks who constitute your world and pay for your campaigns. But that's not all of who you are.

You appeal to the connection you have with us from your experience as a leader of the Vietnam veterans. Some of us are old enough to remember that and revere you for the part you played - a part you carried forward into your first years in the Senate around Iran/Contra. I would suggest that it also marked a unique episode in the life of a young man who had been groomed and educated for a life among the powerful and wealthy - an experience of intense involvement with the regular folk of America - the grunts - to the point where you shared our anger and earned leadership as one of us.

As your constituent I read your emails, and have been deeply disappointed by your positions, your framing of issues and your lack of passion for the interests of regular folk. Now, when we are in such distress and our security and very survival needs are under relentless attack, and we need so badly for something different to happen, they have become painful to read. But if there were a way you could somehow reconnect with the passion and anger of young Lt. Kerry, there is an urgent need for someone "on the inside" of the system to come over to us, throw their support to our movements and give expression to our demands for a "new deal" and fresh start - to a Monopoly game that has reached the end and that only a few winners still want to keep going.

The way Roosevelt did in the '30's in a time much like this one.

The need for someone to play this role is urgent. I canvass my neighbors every year around one campaign or another - including several of yours way back when - and I can tell you that the level of bitterness, anger and disillusionment of regular folk with the political and economic system is becoming explosive. When it breaks it will be a lot like Greece, only more chaotic, because our labor movement is so weakened and we lack national leaders who are known and trusted by the millions.

I'm not sure how you would do this. You've drifted pretty deep into the rarified world of the elite. But Lt. Kerry is still there inside you somewhere. Perhaps you could tell everyone you're checking into a rehab hospital, and instead disguise yourself as an unemployed Vet and just start traveling around asking a lot of questions and doing a lot of listening - until you really start seeing the world through our eyes again and feeling our pain and anger as your own, the way you did in '72.

It won't be easy. It would involve incurring the anger and even hatred of many people in your life - perhaps most of your fellow Senators, the members of your clubs, your wife's family, your fellow Bonesmen. It could even be dangerous. Many of them still hate Roosevelt, as I'm sure you've noticed. But you might find an answer in it to the question of why you were put here on this Earth.

Hope that helps.
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