Bush, Kerry, and the Exorcism of Vietnam

by on September 22nd, 2004

For more than thirty years, the American psyche has been haunted by a spirit that infects us with self-doubt, whispers “quagmire” at every obstacle, and makes wannabe-hippie protestors believe they’re heroes of democracy. Vietnam shattered our sense of unity and our confidence in victory, but more than anything else, Vietnam crushed our national optimism and faith in America’s role in the world. To this day, we have not been able to fully escape that spirit of pessimism and doubt.

September 11th brought back our national unity for a time, but while we mourned our losses, some took to the streets to protest our response. Before our troops’ heels hit the ground in Afghanistan, the word “quagmire” was already being batted about, and Iraq proved even more dogged by false reminders of Vietnam.

Today, all the doubts of the Vietnam era that have dogged our country for thirty years have now coalesced into the form of one candidate: John Kerry. One could not have picked a better representative of the sentiments and contradictions of the anti-war movement than the man Democrats in Iowa selected to represent their party.

This man enlisted in the Navy because he thought military service would make a great addition to his resume. Then, upon his return, he sensed that the political winds had shifted and he switched sides, throwing his medals away and meeting with representatives of the enemy in Paris. He is a perfect symbol for the members of his generation that lost their faith in America and chose cynicism over patriotism.

George W. Bush represents a sentiment shared by many in our generation that America is the greatest country in the world and an incredible force for good, not just another state inferior in diplomacy to France and morally equivalent to Sudan. Like us, George W. Bush is an optimist when it comes to America’s role in the world and when it comes to his faith in the American people. John Kerry has banked his campaign on the past in Vietnam while George W. Bush has banked his campaign on the future.

The blame-America-first-ers, the Bush-haters and the wannabe-hippies are giving this election their best shot, with every dollar and every bit of energy and passion they can muster – and they’re still losing! Mainstream America already looks at them with embarrassment and distaste. When the President wins re-election in November, there will be a civil war within the Democratic Party, between those still clinging to the doubts of Vietnam and those, tired of pessimism, that want to look forward to the future. The result of that battle for the soul of the party, will spell either a permanent cure for America’s Vietnam syndrome or the beginning of the end for the Democratic Party.

In November, America has an opportunity to exorcise the ghost of Vietnam. With this election, our nation faces a choice between the doubt of the Vietnam-era and the hope of the 21st century, that spirit of optimism that made this country great and continues to keep us the envy of the world.

Hunter Williams