Why even a hawk like me is backing Kerry

 I am, as some Guardian readers know, just about the only gay in this village. When it came time to decide for or against the invasion of Iraq, the huge majority of my colleagues could not support it, and many bitterly opposed it. But I could not oppose the removal of Saddam and this, to say the least, has left me exposed - though increasingly tempted to flaunt my political perversion in the faces of the many detractors.

 So when Tom Wolfe says that he wants George Bush to win the election because of those who are against the cowboy oil-chimp from Hades, I get it. I have had it with the people who try to "understand" those zealots who blow up women trying to register to vote in Afghanistan but are horrified by born-again Christians going to church in Grand Rapids. I have had it with Chiraciennes, Pinterites, Palaeo-conservatives, Zarqawi-symps, isolationists, Srebrenica-avoiders, conspiracy theorists, know-nothings, low-level Jew-dislikers, former Conservative foreign secretaries, the anything-we-do-is-wrong army, the let's-do-nothing brigade and those who cannot wait for China to compete with the US as an equal superpower.

 On domestic grounds, if I were an American I would always vote for the Democrats, for abortion rights, help for the poor, equal treatment for minorities and a new health-care system. But what I care about, more even than these questions, is the fumbling towards a new world order, a new United Nations, a state of things where we are ashamed not to help and not to intervene, and conscious that our negligence will cost us dear in the end, from Palestine to the Congo.

Right now, in Iraq, a disparate bunch of extraordinarily brave men and women are trying to bring about a new future. They are Shia clerics, communists, academics, trade unionists, Kurdish autonomists and even some feminists. The kind of people that George Galloway, who supped with the Saddamites even as these others languished in jail, calls - using his trademark moral inversion - "quislings". They're the ones who will be risking everything to register their compatriots to vote, to formulate a new constitution and give birth to a new Middle East. No wonder then, that other corrupt regimes and violent bigots so loathe them.

 So why vote for Kerry? Hasn't he flip-flopped? Hasn't he tried to cuddle up to the smooth while rejecting the rough? Wasn't this the wrong war, in the wrong place at the wrong time? So isn't his strategy going to be all about exit?

 I was reminded the other day by an American blogger of how things went in the last war but two - the one in the Balkans. Clinton was the cowboy bomber then (you remember, CND-niks - to divert us all from the dress and the cigar), and the Republicans were against. The Senate majority leader Trent Lott described involvement in Kosovo as a "quagmire". Diplomacy, the Republicans argued, had not been given a chance.

 In 1999, at the height of the Kosovan crisis the chief political correspondent of the web magazine Slate predicted that, "You can be sure of only two things: Each party is arguing exactly the opposite of what it argued the last time a Republican president led the nation into war, and exactly the opposite of what it will argue next time." He had that right. Even here in Britain an opposition that consistently urged action against Saddam from 1998 to 2003, without once demanding evidence, now discovers that it was somehow being duped all along. Well, Michael, that's politics.

 And actually Kerry has been better than that. Many of his objections to the war have concerned the extraordinary incompetence of the planning and execution of the occupation. Not enough troops, the absence of proper plans, the hubristic assumptions about the postwar period, the vile own-goal of the Abu Ghraib torture revelations - a scandal for which no one in the administration, despite its symbolic importance, has taken personal responsibility.

 The administration has, understandably, made a great virtue of its determination. But, as anyone who finds themselves debating with a Bushite will attest, you soon get to the point when judgment is clouded over by rhetoric and argument obscured by assertion. The opponents are all Ba'athists, the UN is a sink of corruption, those who are not with us are against us. They kick up the dust and obscure the path and Kerry is right, we need to be more intelligent and more focused than this.

 I believe that - because they see the world the way I do - American Democrats will not let down Iraqi democrats. I believe that Kerry is in a better position to seek help and support from the rest of the world. I believe he is a more thoughtful man than Bush, and I believe that that thoughtfulness is what we now need. I hope that by midday tomorrow John Kerry will be the next American president.

 Are you wearing your poppy yet? If not, why not?

On Sunday, just before we went on air, the presenter of the programme for which I was punditting along the lines above was told by the gallery that she had to wear a Remembrance poppy. She dashed out, had one fixed to her jacket, and ran back. Unfortunately this left her two guests conspicuously poppyless and there will, I know from experience, be a couple of letters on their way to me right now complaining of our lack of respect for our fallen soldiers.

 Yesterday morning the new all-tabloid Times carried what appeared to be a small and angry-looking zit on its masthead. Inspection with a magnifying glass revealed the pustule to be another teeny-weeny poppy. A larger, more confident one adorned the London Evening Standard. Yet there was more than a week to go before November 11.

 Poppy-wearing is fine by me. People now make what they want out of such institutions, choosing for themselves whether they are commemorating our glorious dead, or mourning the futility of war. It is a bit like wearing a one-minute silence. You can think what you like while you stand there, head bowed.

 What is slightly coercive, however, is the increasing insistence on some outward show of inner piety - and the gradual inflation in date and length of such demonstrations. The poppy must be worn by everyone and must be worn by the end of October; the silences must now be one minute for just about anybody who has died and two minutes for someone special.

 I know where this is headed. Five years ago Halloweens at our house were a witch's hat, a badly carved pumpkin and a bag of sweets. This year there was a party for 10, ghostly lights, face- painting, half-a-dozen pumpkin sculptures of Rodinesque brilliance and - finally - a mass sortie on to the streets of north London.

 In a decade we will be wearing poppies in June, building our own porch-cenotaphs and holding half-hour silences for those members of the Light Brigade who never returned.

story stats:    David Aaronovitch   Tuesday November 2, 2004   The Guardian,14259,1341201,00.html?gusrc=rss
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