When the Democratic dream team of John Kerry and John Edwards came to Raleigh on July 10, peace activist Bill Towe of Cary was among the many who used his e-mail list to help drum up attendance. Then he joined the 20,000 heading for the N.C. State campus, his trusty "War Is Not The Answer" sign in hand.
He didn't get in.
Only the official "Kerry-Edwards" signs were allowed, Towe was told at each of the three entry points he tried, and the fact that he was carrying a blue VIP ticket--meaning he'd have stood right up front as a national board member of Peace Action--didn't matter. "I reminded the gatekeepers this was in violation of my constitutional rights," Towe says. "All views should be allowed at public events."
Orders from the Secret Service, Towe was told. Moreover, unless he got rid of the peace sign, he couldn't stand outside the gates either. So he left.
Towe's experience with the Kerry-Edwards campaign is emblematic of the relationship between progressive activists who opposed the invasion of Iraq and Sens. Kerry and Edwards, both of whom voted to authorize it. "I am disheartened, disappointed, but not surprised," says Towe. Both Kerry and Edwards also voted for the USA PATRIOT Act, he adds. "I could say a lot more but will leave it alone for now."
"Most of the folks I am associated with are very upset that the ticket has two senators who were so wrong about the war, but there really is no option," says Blaise Strenn, who led the campaign for Howard Dean in Raleigh. "[President] Bush is just so bad we need to rally together to get the Democratic ticket elected."
For the record, Morgan Jackson, who heads the Kerry-Edwards campaign in North Carolina, said Monday he hadn't heard about Towe's problem. He did say that the Secret Service required the campaign's own handmade signs to be submitted and inspected the night before the rally, apparently guarding against the chance someone might hide something in a sign somehow.
The Secret Service office in Raleigh had no comment.
So antiwar activists aren't thrilled about Kerry-Edwards, but they're stuck with them. So what else is new?
The so-what is that Kerry's nuanced--or waffling, take your pick--position on the war has opened him up to regular shots from Bush that he's a flip-flopper "who voted for the war but is against the liberation." Edwards, too.
On the eve of next week's Democratic National Convention in Boston, the national press has picked up the theme. The Los Angeles Times, in an editorial, said the Democrats can't keep saying the war was "wrong" without answering the question, which they've been ducking as "hypothetical," of whether they made a mistake when they voted for it. "If they won't answer that question, they have no moral standing to criticize Bush," the newspaper said.
If they ever intend to answer it, Boston is the place and next Thursday night, when Kerry accepts his nomination for president, is the time, says David Broder, the widely read Washington Post columnist. Broder says, quoting Democratic officials, that Kerry and his "values" are unknown to most voters. "Next week in Boston," Broder said Sunday, "Kerry will have his best--and perhaps his last--chance to put his own stamp on this race. He cannot afford to miss it."
Tim Liszewski of Raleigh and Aimee Schmidt of Cary, who are heading for Boston as North Carolina delegates pledged to antiwar Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio (Kucinich won four delegates statewide out of the state's total of 107), think Kerry's best course is to declare flat-out "that the war was a mistake from the beginning."
Both plan to vote for Kerry, and both are confident that Kerry, had he been the president, would never have chosen to invade Iraq. His vote in favor of the war "was a reaction to the hysteria" Bush created around Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction, Liszewski thinks. "It's unfortunate he didn't have the balls to say, wait, let's do things in a logical way and not go in there with guns blazing."
But unless Kerry denounces the invasion in Boston, they think, he risks losing millions of votes from progressive--and especially younger--voters who will end up staying home, voting for Ralph Nader in states where he's on the ballot, or voting for Bush because he's the incumbent and because Kerry will have failed to persuade them that he'd be any better. "It's not a foregone conclusion that progressives will vote for Kerry-Edwards," Schmidt warns.
Even Zack Hawkins, a Kerry delegate from Durham who backed the Massachusetts senator from the start, isn't completely in sync with Kerry's Iraq position. Hawkins, a recent N.C. Central graduate and head of the Young Democrats in Durham, says he supported invading Iraq if Saddam Hussein was proven to have weapons of mass destruction and also if the invasion had United Nations support. "Saddam was high-risk for everybody in the region, if that was the case" that he had WMDs, Hawkins says.
Kerry spelled out his position on the war in a tortuous, 6,400-word speech on the Senate floor Oct. 9, 2002, when he voted to authorize Bush to take whatever military action "he determines to be necessary and appropriate ... against the continuing threat posed by Iraq."
Saddam Hussein certainly seemed to be hiding biological and chemical weapons and was seeking nuclear weapons, Kerry said. That's what all the intelligence experts had concluded, and that was the only logical reason for Iraq's decision to expel U.N. weapons inspectors four years earlier.
But now Saddam was letting the inspectors back in, and Kerry said Bush had committed himself to giving the inspectors a chance to do their work, and to invade only if their efforts failed and our allies were "at our side." In voting to give Bush authority to go to war, Kerry added, "I am not giving him carte blanche."
In the run-up to the war, as it became clear that Bush never intended to do anything but invade, Kerry was increasingly critical, saying he wouldn't "support the president to proceed unilaterally." But as Slate magazine summarized it, Kerry said American security should never be "ceded to any institution"--meaning the U.N. "In the days leading up to the war," according to Slate, "Kerry was unclear as to whether he would support an invasion without a (second) U.N. Security Council resolution," which never materialized.
Edwards was clearer, saying he supported the invasion, though it should have been done differently, with broad international support.
Lately, the two have taken to saying that they will never send American troops to war "needlessly," without saying directly that the Iraq invasion was, indeed, needless.