The Right Coast

December 28, 2004
Wade Sanders Redux
By Maimon Schwarzschild

Bruce Kesler, a San Diego businessman who was a Marine in Vietnam, writes:
I seem to have used up my letter-to-the-editor allotment from the San Diego Union Tribune, especially after the Union Trib recently published my op-ed on December 19, 2004 ("The Revolt of the Vietnam Veterans").

So I can't reply to Wade Sanders' op-ed in today's San Diego Union Tribune. Perhaps a RightCoast reader will take up the slack and write a letter-to-the-editor in my stead. (Email:
Here is Kesler's letter:
Wade Sanders writes lambasting Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld for almost every sin Sanders can imagine, calling for Rumsfeld to resign or be fired. Sanders also charges that President Bush "more than any other president in history [uses] massed troops in uniform as a background for his speeches", and admonishes the President: "If you want to use our men in uniform as your personal props, then please honor moral and ethical standards that go with the job."

Missing from Wade Sanders' diatribe are these uncomfortable facts:

-- Sanders was an Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Reserves under Bill Clinton. The Reserves have had to be used extensively to fill the gaps in the regular forces in Iraq, precisely because Clinton and his assistants reduced U.S. active forces to under 1.2 million, instead of the planned post-Cold War 1.6 million;

-- Sanders served with the Swift Boats in Vietnam, but did not serve in John Kerry's boat, nor on any missions with John Kerry. Yet Sanders, a "campaign surrogate" for Kerry, travelled the country during the campaign, denouncing as liars and worse the Swift Boat veterans who criticized Kerry's self-exaggerated war record. Sanders first claimed that only those who actually served on Kerry's boat would be credible, but then dismissed the sailor longest on Kerry's boat when that sailor opposed Kerry;

-- Sanders, speaking for Kerry in San Francisco, likened the Swiftees to lying propagandists like Goebbels, a description perhaps more suited to Sanders himself;

-- Sanders, either a failed student or an abuser of history, apparently never saw photos of Roosevelt or Truman or Eisenhower or Johnson or Nixon surrounded by uniformed troops during wartime;

-- Sanders somehow forgets that Kerry surrounded himself with all the veterans he could find, including Sanders himself, as "background for his speeches", hoping the country would ignore the Swiftees and other veterans opposed to Kerry.

Yours sincerely,

Bruce Kesler
Encinitas, California
I had a brief encounter with Wade Sanders myself last May. I had been invited to appear on a local PBS television program to talk about the Abu Ghreib affair. When I arrived at the studio, it turned out that Sanders, whom I had never heard of, would be on the show as well. Sanders, now a San Diego lawyer, was indeed a Vietnam veteran and former Navy Undersecretary in the Clinton administration. He was actively campaigning for Kerry, to whom he was evidently personally close. I blogged my reaction at the time:
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... 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 voters what Kerry's political reflexes are, and for that matter what sort of reflexes his "surrogates" have? I hope so.
Well, it came through. But perhaps I would have done better on the program if I had been briefed in advance by Bruce Kesler.