BOSTON - Given that 1968 was among the most tumultuous years in
American history, it may seem perverse to long for a little bit
of that '68 spirit. But watching the defanged Democratic National
Convention this week makes one nostalgic for the passionate dissent
of '68, if not its bloodshed.
Both then and now, Democrats convened after the public had turned
against a once-popular war and grown skeptical that it was crucial
to America's most pressing national interests.
In early 1968, after years of promises from Democratic President
Lyndon Johnson that a U.S. victory over North Vietnam was inevitable,
Hanoi's Tet Offensive - a military disaster but a propaganda bonanza
- convinced millions of Americans that just wasn't true. In March
of that year, a Gallup poll showed war opponents outnumbered supporters
for the first time. By the time the Democratic convention convened
in Chicago in August, it was plain that the American public had
lost faith in President Johnson's assertion that Vietnam was crucial
to the United States' epochal struggle against communism.
This year, a parallel milestone came in late June, when a Gallup
poll showed that, for the first time, most Americans thought the
war in Iraq was a mistake. The same poll showed that most people
no longer believed President Bush's assertion that the conquest
of Iraq was crucial to the United States' epochal struggle against
In 1968, the nation's divisions over Vietnam yielded a Democratic
convention that was more like a national convulsion than a party
get-together, with bloody riots outside the convention hall and
angry, downbeat rhetoric inside. The
fallout dominated politics for years to come.
By contrast, this year, if the Kerry blueprint prevails, we will
have little more than four days of pabulum. Tens of millions of
Americans may want to bring home our troops in a hurry, but the
nation's divisions over Iraq are barely being discussed inside the
Meanwhile, a quarter-mile away, thousands of protesters wave their
signs and wonder how it's possible that both major-party candidates
are pro-war in a nation where half the people think the war is crazy.
"What Bush has done in Iraq is a tragedy, and it has been right
from the beginning," said Walter Ducharme, 75, of Cambridge, Mass.,
a retired manager of a program for the handicapped.
"I mean, we went over there and we destroyed that country," said
Helena Melone, 37, a musician from Portsmouth, N.H.
But inside the Fleet Center, even though a New York Times survey
showed 90 percent of Democratic delegates to be against the war,
every last speech is tailored to win over the 10 percent or 15 percent
of voters who are wavering on Bush. No one offers any specific alternatives
to his Iraq policy.
Delegates understand the strategy. But the more candid ones admit
that they don't like it - and they're worried that we could end
up with a Democratic president whose Iraq stand is mostly different
from Bush's on style, not substance.
"If [Kerry's] elected and doesn't make big changes, we will have
been betrayed," says Vincent Lavery, 68, a Democratic delegate from
That's a far bigger "if" than most people realize. The frontrunner
to be secretary of state in a Kerry administration is Richard Holbrooke,
the diplomat who was the Clinton administration's most enthusiastic
advocate of both U.S. military power and U.S. nation-building. Holbrooke
is the man who promised U.S. troops would be out of Bosnia by June
1998. We're still mired in Bosnia, with no end in sight. Sound familiar?
Holbrooke is no neocon, with grand schemes to remake the Middle
East and the world. But he is absolutely the sort of policy-maker
who likes dispatching the U.S. military on missions around the world
that have little if anything to do with America's safety and security.
And this is the man Kerry would have define our Iraq policy?
Maybe John Kerry would be far different than George Bush when it
comes to Iraq. But the people who believe that do so as a matter
of faith - not because of anything that's actually come out of his