Went to see Going Upriver last night w/Nick. It's a great way to get psyched to vote for Kerry if you need or want that. We saw it in a shoddy art-house in the Richmond with like three other people in the audience, so I'm not sure that it's really getting out there. It might be big on DVD if Kerry wins: a kind of "get to know they guy before he becomes president" rental.
But the film. Kerry has an inspiring and humbling story, to be honest, but it's also one full of irony and a grim kind of forboding given what's going on today. The paralells between Iraq and Vietnam -- geopolitical, tactical, attitudinal -- are enormously disturbing. Nick and I have a mutual friend (possibly Nick's best friend) who is about to head back for his seventh stint in the middle east, so the feeling is personal.
Let me say this real quick: any hippy bullshitter who thinks Kerry's going to "escalate" in Iraq, or who thinks President Kerry would have done the same thing going to war had he been in charge the past four years is telling themselves an amazingly false story, probably in order to justify the dissident stance they've come to enjoy. Go see this movie, and then let's talk about it.
That being said, you can see the seeds of Kerry's douchbaggery quite clearly.
It's something of a mystery how he rose to the head of the VVAW, and my impression is that there wasn't a really strong leadership structure or organization there; it was a chaordic system and he just sort of emerged.
Part of this emergence was that he was clearly the only or at least most viable connector between the ultra-square Sentaors and the fairly radical vets who were protesting the war that had fucked them, that they felt was continuing to fuck the country. This was a tenuous position to be in. The heart of the film covers the VVAW's week of protesting in DC: camping on the Washington mall, going to Arlington Natl. Cemetary, meeting with people in Congress, etc, the peak of which (in terms of natl. impact) was Kerry's speech to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The documentary doesn't dwell on it, but it's clear there was tension between the two contradictory worlds Kerry was walking in. The difference between the now-grey-haired former-radicals who talked about the time, and the tone of the journalists (squares) who were there is revealing. The fact that most of the vets were bivouacking on the mall while Kerry attended at least one high-powered DC cocktail party, that he worked hard to keep the protests peaceful, that he was cast as "the responsible radical," and that this generated some resentment with some other vets leaves little doubt that a difficult balancing act was taking place.
Beginning with the Winter Solder gathering -- which was a very very very powerful point in the film, as I can only imagine it was in real life, and which is still decried as a fraud by the right -- you can watch Kerry's radicalization, and you can watch him thinking how to connect the raw, true, revolutionary energy of his fellow veterans to the rest of America. His work was largely in tempering, shaping and focusing so the veterans could spark real change and self-reflection on Main Street USA rather than just be another radical spectacle. There's a little moment of the early, shadow-eyed radical Kerry where he's literally talking about "connecting these points of energy to change America."
I liked that; found it pretty interesting and relatable to my own life, though my own circumstances are much less dramatic and heightened.
But the irony! The irony! Nixon was worried about the "young demogogue." Kerry's speech to the Senators got something like 4 or 5 minutes of uninterrupted play on the nightly news. Huge impact. Senators talking of cutting off funds for the war, etc. Nixon is quoted as saying, "we've got to stop this Kerry before he becomes another Nader."
Just think about that for a minute. Oh yeah.
So they dug up John O'Neil to be the counter-Kerry in the proto-spin world of proxy press wars. This Talk-Show debate was in the film a little bit. It's also highly ironic that the same John O'Neil is the author of a recently published book attacking Kerry's biography, and a founder, organizer and spokesman for the Swift Boat Vets 527. This fight goes a long way back, it turns out.
Anyway, it's a decent film, if a bit uncritical. For instance, it didn't address some of the inconsistancies in the timeperiod addressed. E.g. the medal-throwing thing.
My sense is that this is a movie made by someone who believes in the Kerry of 1971, who wanted to help America remember that time, and that's why I like it. I want to believe in the Kerry of 1971 too. I find it preposterous that all the things he did then were a matter of political careerism. If you want to get into public office, you don't do it by leading protests and getting arrested -- yes, Kerry was arrested for protesting the war at least once -- and in fact he lost his first bid for public office, running for Congress in 1972. (source: wikipedia).
But it's all there to see, all the tensions of what getting seriously into politics means. All the compromises. 20 years in the political machine have rendered a man who was always a little square but once took enormous personal risks against the conventional wisdom to advance a cause into the candidate we now see. I want to believe that the idealist is still in there, but I don't expect Kerry to give me any proof of this until he's elected. See, I'm pretty convinced that Kerry's pretty fucking serious about winning, that explains why he doesn't run on this part of his biography: polls and focus groups have told him its a loosing "message."
Now, I find this mode of politcking highly dissatisfying. Not just because it produces a bland candidate who sounds like a broken record, but because it completely discounts the ability of a campaign to be a catalyst for change, to actually alter public opinion, to generate consensus, enlightenment, awakening.
This is at the heart of what I so hate about the current political system (and why I so loved what John Stewart did the other day on Crossfire): electoral politics has ceased to be any kind of national conversation in which people's beliefs are seen as open to change, or in which problems are actually investigated, discussed and solutions developed. Instead it's one mushy focus group target vs. another. I do believe that Blogging as a communicative form has the potential to change this, but only if bloggers (and their readers) are able to put more distance between what they discuss and the world of the big media spinwars.
I do believe we've reached a tipping point though. The 2008 presidential election is going to be very very different from the one in a couple weeks. I'm not certain that it will be better, but there will be change.
Anyway, enough ramblin' for now.