Going Upriver

October 14, 2004

Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry
George Butler

This is a political biography in film format. I watched the compressed online edition, downloaded from Thekerrymovie.com while grading yesterday.

I have a couple of quick thoughts. The first, this is a good, powerful, well edited documentary covering the years from 1965 through about 1973. It opens with a montage of Kerry's childhood, ends with his debates against John O'Neil. It presents events as they were understood at the time, and makes the point that Kerry was a highly effective leader of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War because he was able to take powerful and heartfelt anger and translate it to the larger nation. The others would have ranted; Kerry spoke eloquently. Kerry held things together and helped the vets channel their anger into useful debate, even when Nixon tried to provoke them into doing something stupid.

The second thought is that just as there is a big change in George Bush's speaking patterns from his Texas gubernatorial debates to 2004, so too has their been a change in Kerry's language and presentation. In the 1970s he was an incredibly eloquent idealist, speaking from his heart about what he saw as a moral challenge to the nation. I had read the text of his Senate testimony before, but this was the first time I had seen the video footage. Even knowing some of the words, I was stunned by their power and force.

Modern Kerry only rarely touches that moral conviction expressed through prose. He touched on it a couple of times in the third presidential debate, but for most of the time he now speaks like a politician and not like an idealist. This may simply be a case of him continuing to present the raw ribs of conviction under an appealing coat of plaster and paint, but it still markes a change. On the other hand, in the 1970s Kerry was being eloquent about one big thing - justice - and looking for justice in the war, the war conduct, and the nation's actions and future. In 2004 he is talking about many things, and he speaks mose eloquently and most powerfully when he returns to that theme of justice. It may be that he has not so much covered over that earlier conviction as added onto it, with wings and outbuildings around the core structure of a search for a just world and a moral nation.

I think I will burn the downloaded copy onto a CD and mail it to my folks, who don't like Bush but also don't like what Kerry did in the 1970s.

Highly recommended.

Posted by Red Ted at October 14, 2004 08:14 AM | TrackBack
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