Robert’s note below on O’Rourke’s piece on John Kerry in the Philippines in 1986 needs a footnote. I was also part of that delegation to monitor the elections of 1986. This was the first explicit move in Reagan’s democracy project that--because once the election was scheduled we wanted to make sure it would be honest--looked with a weary eye on a former ally. After all, even though Marcos had recently moved toward a kind of nationalism and socialism, and put his country into a tail-spin, he had been a sincere ally of the U.S. since WW II. The people, however, were being strangled. Reagan decided to act to ensure that the election--which we were pretty certain would, if fairly conducted, go against Marcos--wasn’t going to be manipulated by Marcos and his thugs.
Because I wanted to stay away from the politicos (all of whom were spending their time in Manila; more cameras there) I volunteered to go to the island of Negros (main city is Bacolod), the fourth largest island in the country made up of thousands of island. It is one of the larger islands, with a population of around three million, is just west of Cebu and South of Panay. It is the prime sugar growing area of the country. I wanted to be in an area that was more interesting and more dangerous (I was young then) than Manila. There were four of us to cover the North of the island. We had many interesting adventures, including being arrested in a Northern fishing town by the mayor, a Marcos supporter, after we discovered that he wasn’t allowing his people to vote. We were brought to his office, offered something to drink. The mayor entered, as the guards were asked to leave. He pulled out a Colt 45, cocked it, placed it gently on the table, then delivered one of the best speeches I have ever heard (or read). It was Demosthenes-like in its elegance and pith, talked about friendship among nations, our common fight against the Japanese, the love his people had for America (and especially General MacArthur), and all the good that Marcos has done for both his people and ours. He said he would not believe that the U.S. came to his country to overthrow such an ally. My colleague and I were unpersuaded and, after we were able to prove to him that we were--in effect--representing the policy of the United States by asking for free and fair elections, he saw that he had no choice. He knew the regime was finsihed. He uncocked the pistol, placed it in his holster, bowed deeply, and bid us Godspeed. We went back to the polling stations, and noticed--unlike an hour earlier--the whole town was lined up to vote, and we were cheered. Marcos lost.
I mention all this because the O’Rourke essay reminds me, and to note that I also saw at the time that a choice had to be made and almost everyone I was with (both Republicans and Democrats) made the right choice, but some politicians (like Kerry) didn’t know what to do because there was a choice, and because they couldn’t calculate the consequences to their own persons, they dithered. Yet, a decision had to be made. Not all Republicans liked the gambit either, it should be pointed out. There were a few there who were Kerry-like in their unwilligness to decide in what they called a gamble. Even after I got back, Republican sentiment was not simply on Reagan’s side in this matter. But it worked. And Kerry, and such other over calculating and wrongly ambitious low level politicos, were jerks then (as O’Rourke says) and remain jerks now.