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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Kerry At Cooper Union

[A few edits made.]

Cooper Union was made famous by Abraham Lincoln's February, 1860 speech. The speech argued that the party's stance on slavery in the territories was loyal to the founders' view, responded to attacks that it was a sectional party, and ended with an emotional defense of the party -- right makes might. [I originally had that backward!]

It showed those in the East that this prairie lawyer was the real deal and that he was a reasonable alternative to Sen. Seward (NY), who was popular but deemed too divisive of a choice for the nation as a whole (shades of Dean?). In other words, Lincoln had a real chance of winning the damn thing, and he was nominated as the party's candidate a few months later. This decision was made easier by a slew of speeches Lincoln made right after Cooper Union in the Northeast that showed his value to the party.

John Kerry recently gave a speech to Cooper Union. It was not quite as important. To be fair, other politicians gave speeches at CU during the 1860 campaign season, and not all was as well received as Lincoln's. Still, Kerry can learn a thing or two from Abe. I think the most important thing is the Lincoln was there to defend the party, not himself. This was largely a result of the time, tis true, a time when personal advancement was frowned upon in politics. It had to be done behind the scenes.

[The speech was also better advertised by a Young Republicans club of the day ... I did not know until after the fact that Kerry was in town. So, this discussion will be concern some advice I would have gave him if asked beforehand. The local coverage was not too enthusiastic, one calling it a basic "stump speech" without much passion. The NYT emphasized the remarks about the Swift Boat Controversy. And so it goes.]

All the same, the defense of the basic principles as well as the basic shallowness of the other side resulted in a wonderful speech. It brought to the fore a cause, not just a person. And, one hundred and sixty four years later, a cause is again what is important. Kerry was chosen by the voters as the candidate in part because he was thought to be the best person to beat Bush. Bush, however, is not demigod, but the leader of a group. A cabal, if you like, but still far more than one person. What he stands for is what we must truly fight, if we are among his opponents.

This is especially the case because the government is controlled by Republicans. Some of the most important decisions can even be deemed "stealth" ones because appointments (generally unopposed), regulations (no legislation needed), and executive actions are often done largely outside public view. Others are quite important, but require a lot more than one man to put them into place. In fact, for those who think defeating Bush alone will take us "back to normal," you might be quite mistaken. [Also, "normal" left a bit to be desired even in 2000 -- Naderites et. al. aren't completely off. See also, here.] Criticize him, sure, but criticize the cause more, and offer a clear alternative. In fact, do it first -- like Lincoln did. After all, while showing your path is right, you can easily show why the other side is wrong.*

The press, quite often seen as mere stenographers of the talking points of both sides, helps only somewhat. They do, all the same, put out there what the Kerry Campaign says. And, if you don't trust them to do so, you might very well be of the wing of the Democratic Party that still aren't too happy about how the campaign is going. It would be right to some degree to so believe. Vietnam is flooding the papers these days as if it was 1968 partly because Kerry himself made his service there such a dominate issue.

But, the issue shouldn't be what he did or did not do (a matter open to confusion of memory, even both sides weren't biased) thirty five years ago! It should be what he did throughout his career, what Edwards has to offer, what the party has to offer, and why it has to offer an alternative to the current party in control. Too much "I" and him (Bush) these days. Follow Lincoln's lead -- what do you stand for, why is it right, why is the other side (not person) wrong, and rally the troops.

And, be clear about it. Lincoln was a lawyer. He was of an era where rhetoric was king -- he was no soundbite guy. All the same, Kerry too often sounds like Douglas trying his damnest via causuistic logic to defend the Dred Scott Case even though it directly disputed the constitutionality of his cause (popular sovereignty). Kerry also should remember how you say something is important too, even if your basic cause is sound. A bit of flavor helps too. Edwards knows. As I say here, becrying those who attack Kerry's image not his substance, is a bit foolhardy, especially in this media age.

I support Kerry/Edwards. I like various things about them. I like their overall cause more, though I would go further than they are likely to go. This is fine -- politics is the art of the possible and being realistic about the strengths and limitations of your side. All the same, it is very important this election to remember why it was deemed so important to choose these guys -- to defend certain principles. And, it would do well to make sure we focus on them, and make sure others are as well.


* Some of the thoughts in this paragraph in particular was inspired by remarks at a public discussion by contributors to The W Effect: Bush's War on Women, edited by Laura Flanders. It helped remind me what was really important. Hearing a single mother/activist talk of her struggles with a disabled child and how the government wants her to marry the father of the child that was never there to get funding does that. The book's title is a bit ill advised in fact because "Bush" alone isn't the issue -- he is just a representation of it.