OK, so now we have heard enough about Sen. John Kerry's attempt at being witty.
As you remember, one week prior to the Nov. 7 election, the Republican establishment went after the Massachusetts Democrat. Kerry was quoted: "You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."
The Republicans seized on this remark in order to go after Kerry for allegedly "troop-bashing." Kerry fired back stating that he was tired of people (particularly Republicans) who never served in war attacking those who did.
In any case, Kerry apologized for his bungling an attempt at a joke.
Kerry's remarks may have, however, been a Freudian slip. In other words, while I believe that he intended to make a wisecrack criticizing President Bush, there may, at the same time, have been something else that I think is quite important.
What Kerry's remarks actually point to is something that you and I both know to be true: Although the military is called "voluntary," there is a draft. The draft is both an economic draft and a draft for those who are lost between the cracks of society. If one has few economic options; if one has not done well in school; if one is of color; if one is from an economically depressed region, the military can often look like not only the best option, but the only option.
This is not troop-bashing. It is a reality. Too many of our youth, particularly prior to the invasion of Afghanistan and then Iraq, looked at the military as a means to stabilize their lives and, perhaps, acquire some skills.
So, where is the controversy? Instead of focusing on Kerry stumbling over his words, there should be a discussion about why there are few alternatives for our youth. In fact, we should use this incident to engage in a broader discussion that covers not only education but also the economy.
I wish that Kerry had used this moment to discuss the fact that with the declining number of high-wage jobs in manufacturing for semi-skilled workers, the chances for working-class youth to succeed — no matter what their ethnic stripe — is in a continuous decline; actually a tail-spin.
It would be too much to expect that the Republicans would have such a serious discussion since they have been the foremost champions of stomping on working people and enhancing riches for the rich. But I keep coming back to my daughter's friend. I want to know why this young man — intelligent, well-spoken, completed high school — felt that his only real chance to get ahead was to put himself in the middle of a war that he knows to be illegal and that he does not wish to fight.
Why, Mr. Bush?
Bill Fletcher Jr. is a labor and international writer and activist. A visiting professor at Brooklyn College-CUNY, he is the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum.