The Right Coast

May 12, 2004
A Kerry Surrogate
By Maimon Schwarzschild

This RightCoaster made a television appearance yesterday. (A star is not born, or in this case made, either.) It was a fairly low-key segment on the local public TV channel about Iraq and the prisoner-abuse affair. I tried to make the points that Bush and Rumsfeld have a war to fight, and that the abuse affair is being exploited by opponents of the war, and by people for whom American defeat in the war would be a price well worth paying for humiliating and defeating the President.

Whenever I "do television", which is not often, I have a strong experience of what the French call "esprit d'escalier": spirit of the staircase, meaning you think of brilliant things to say, but only after it's all over and you are on the staircase on your way out.

When I arrived at the studio, it turned out that I had an opponent on the program: a local lawyer who had been a Navy Undersecretary under Clinton. It emerged that this man had been in the Navy in Vietnam with John Kerry, and is now campaigning almost full time as a "surrogate" for Kerry around the country.

The odd thing about the fellow, it seemed to me, was his ingrained leftism, coexisting with a perfectly conventional -- trial-lawyer -- personal style. It wasn't just what he said on the air, which veered into conspiracy theory territory about Bush knowing and approving in advance of ("pervasive") torture and war crimes. Off the air, he was even more revealing. As we chatted with the program host, he reverted repeatedly to the idea that the Iraq war is "racist". (An odd idea, surely?) His eyes lit up almost worshipfully, though, when he reported meeting Daniel Ellsberg at some Kerry campaign stop. It was all very much in the spirit of the 60s and 70s anti-war left.

Can these people win a national election? Say what you like about Bill Clinton, he did not cultivate the Sandinistas, as Kerry did, and it is unlikely that he thought of Daniel Ellsberg as his personal hero. This is a different sort of Democratic candidacy. Will it come through to people what Kerry's political reflexes are, and for that matter what sort of reflexes his "surrogates" have? I hope so.