Veteran, advisor claims Kerry campaign often ignored recommendations of veterans
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Thursday September 28, 2006
In Chasing Ghosts: A Soldier's Fight for America from Baghdad to Washington, veteran, author and activist Paul Rieckhoff describes a small, closed-door meeting between Iraq vets and John Kerry in Minneapolis in the summer of 2004 -- and the disconnect that followed.
RAW STORY has been granted permission to re-print the following excerpt:
At one point Kerry asked us all who we thought he should choose as his running mate. A few in the room mentioned John McCain. Rumors had circulated in the press for weeks about secret meetings between Kerry and McCain. Getting McCain to abandon Bush to run as Kerry's VP would change history. Together they could beat Bush. But Kerry made it clear the McCain option was not on the table.
One vet suggested Senator Cleland. Max is a hero and role model to every veteran. After losing three limbs in Vietnam from a grenade explosion, he ran for and won a seat in the Georgia state senate, and then became the youngest head of Veterans Affairs (VA) in history. An incredibly effective advocate for veterans, Max introduced America's first Vet Centers, revolutionizing VA care by providing vets with peer-to-peer counseling led by older combat vets. Max went on to be elected to the U.S. Senate. He was a guy with the most mojo I had ever been around.
But Max wouldn’t be Kerry’s choice either. Instead, Kerry asked us about Dick Gephardt. Everyone reacted tepidly. Then I proposed Wes Clark, arguing that in times of war, Americans trust a General. Generals project strength, which Democrats seriously needed. And Clark would bring in the most Independents and Republicans.
I came back from Minneapolis sorely disillusioned and angry. John Kerry was not the passionate activist he had been thirty years ago. He seemed like a good man, but over the decades in Washington had morphed into a calculating and coached politician.
A few weeks later, ignoring our advice, Kerry chose Senator John Edwards. Politics as usual.
Campaigning that summer for election in 2004 – an election that would have an atomic-blast impact on the course of history – the Democrats did not have the foresight, or maybe the guts, to carve out a real policy on Iraq. After the initial flurry of media coverage following my radio speech, the Democratic leadership made a strategic decision not to focus on the Iraq war. They didn't view it as a "winning issue." There were no Iraq vets among Kerry's inner circle of advisors, briefing him on the state of the war. We had tried to get through to him. We thought he'd appreciate what we had to say.
In the summer of 2004, a friend of mine, an impassioned Iraq vet, drove four hours to meet with the Veterans Outreach Coordinator for the Kerry campaign two days after he got home from Iraq. This guy had been stationed at Abu Ghraib, without proper body armor. When his mother bought him some real bulletproof armor on eBay and sent it to him in Iraq, the media got wind of the story and published a slew of articles about the under equipping of the military. So this soldier thought that the Kerry campaign would be happy to receive him.
But when he arrived at the Kerry HQ, the staffer said she didn't have time to meet with him. He protested, and somehow a staffer "found" time to meet with him in the lobby. He gave her about a dozen articles from major media outlets talking about the body armor story, including one in which John Kerry himself talked about his family by name on the floor of the Senate. She said, "Don't call me, we'll call you," and thanked him for his time. He said, "Can I see the HQ?" She said no, "for security reasons." He told her he had a security clearance and had guarded members of al-Qaeda, but she said sorry, rules are rules.
Later he went to a press conference to defend Kerry from the Swift Boat Vets. Kerry's cronies actually forbade him from speaking to the media, and they hid his famed body armor in a box under a table, telling him to stay on message!
Clearly, the John Kerry of 1971 never could've gotten in to see the John Kerry of 2004.
I realized then that I had no candidate and no party. Just as in Iraq, veterans back home were given limited resources, left to fend for themselves, and to make their own plans. A tremendous gap between the public and the truth existed in the national dialogue about Iraq, because the firsthand perspective, which only those who served on the ground could provide, was not being told.
Paul Rieckhoff is a Veteran of the Iraq War, a Lieutenant with the New York National Guard, and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.