The presidential pageant has now risen full in the sky and is blocking out the sun. Until November, we dwell in a weird half-light, stumbling into spooky shadows but shielded from the harsh glare of America's actual circumstances. Down is up, fiction is truth, momentous realities are made to disappear from the public mind.
The United States is "losing" in Iraq, literally losing territory and population to the other side. Careful readers of the leading newspapers may know this, but I doubt most voters do. How could they, given the martial self-congratulations of the president and relative restraint from his opponent?
High-minded pundits tell us not to dwell on the long-ago past. But the cruel irony of 2004 is that Vietnam is the story. The arrogance and deceit - the utter waste of human life, ours and theirs - play before us once again.
Several Sundays ago, an ominous article appeared in the opinion section of the New York Times: One By One, Iraqi Cities Become No-Go Zones. Falluja, Samarra, Ramadi, Karbala, the Sadr City slums of Baghdad - these and other population centres are now controlled by various insurgencies and essentially ceded by U.S. forces.
This situation would make a joke of the national elections planned for January. Yet if U.S. troops try to recapture the lost cities, the bombing and urban fighting would produce massive killing, further poisoning politics for the U.S. occupation and its puppet government in Saigon - sorry, Baghdad.
Three days later, the story hit page one when anonymous Pentagon officials confirmed the reality. Not to worry, they said: the U.S. is training and expanding the infant Iraqi army so it can do the fighting for us. That's the ticket - Vietnamization.
But this time Washington decided it couldn't wait for "Iraqization," a strategy that might sound limp-wristed to American voters. The U.S. bombing and assaults quickly resumed.
Meanwhile, Bush's war is destroying the U.S. Army, just as Lyndon Baines Johnson's did. When this war ends, the volunteer army will be in ruins and a limited draft lottery may be required. After Iraq, men and women will get out of uniform in large numbers, especially as they grasp the futility of their sacrifices.
Iraq is Vietnam standing in the mirror. John Kerry, if he had it in him, could lead a national teach-in - re-educate those who have forgotten or prettified their memories, but especially inform younger voters who weren't around for the national shame a generation ago. Kerry could describe in plain English what's unfolding now.
Kerry won't go there, probably couldn't without enduring still greater anger. Like other establishment Dems, he originally calculated that the party should be as pro-war as Bush, thus freeing him to run on other issues. That gross miscalculation leaves him proffering a non-starter "solution" - persuading France, Germany and others to send their troops into this quagmire. Not bloody likely, as the Brits say.
Bush won big back when he got Iraq off the front pages and evening news with his phony hand-off of sovereignty and his chest-thumping convention. But then his opponents - the insurgents in Iraq - struck back and managed to put the war story back in the lead on the news. (Might we expect from them an "October surprise" of deadlier proportions?) Kerry is like a bystander who might benefit from bad news but can't wish for it.
A majority has already concluded that it was a mistake to fight this war, but public credulity is not yet destroyed. A majority still wants to believe that Iraq won't become another dark stain in our history books.
During Vietnam, the process of giving up on such wishful thinking took many years. If the war story does stay hot on front pages, a collapse of faith might occur in time for this election, but more likely it will come later. Nixon won a landslide re-election in 1972 with his election-eve announcement that peace was at hand, the troops were coming home. When the enemy eventually triumphed in Indochina, Nixon was already gone, driven out for other crimes.
From the nation firstname.lastname@example.org