By Wayne Woodlief
They told John Kerry that he and his Vietnam Veterans Against the War could never force an end to the bloodshed. But they did, alongside thousands of other protesters for peace.
The Washington wise guys said Kerry couldn't beat James Shannon, House Speaker Tip O'Neill's anointed favorite for an open Senate seat in 1984. But he did.
Now the smart money says Long Jawn can't pass his bill to "make polluters pay" to curtail the destructive carbon they've emitted into our air - and our lungs - for far too long. Kerry's got resistant Republicans and reluctant Democrats to win over. But he is tough and smart and may surprise the naysayers again.
"This bill is a national security priority, a jobs priority, a health priority," Kerry told me, a day before he and congressional leaders met with President Obama on the climate bill.
But his American Power Act would cost the energy utilities billions and is being slammed, mainly by Republicans, for potentially raising rates and axing jobs.
Little if any progress was made at the White House. Obama likes the idea but he's not yet in fighting mode. And some Democrats talk privately about deferring the bill until after the elections, letting a lame-duck session handle it and send it on to a House-Senate conference where two Massachusetts men - Kerry and Rep. Edward Markey, author of a stronger measure already passed by the House - would play leading roles.
Asked whether a weaker bill that could be strengthened in conference is an acceptable strategy, Kerry said, "I'll take whatever I can get to begin the process of making the polluter pay." It's Kerry's bedrock position and it's a fair principle.
"I'm convinced we have more than 50 votes, but we're not yet to 60 [the number needed to block a filibuster]," Kerry said. "Some senators (mainly Democrats) are reluctant, on political grounds.
"And the Republicans are intent on virtually shutting the Senate down, trying to make sure nothing happens and then they can run on nothing happening in a Democratic Congress. It's a shameful game."
He said two moderate Republicans, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both of Maine, are potential yea votes. But would they vote down a filibuster?
"Who knows?" said Kerry. "(Senate GOP leader) Mitch McConnell has given them all marching orders. We need Republican senators to stand up and show the independence they ran on."
Ah, that fits GOP Sen. Scott Brown to a T. But Kerry wouldn't bite when I teasingly said, "I bet I know who you're talking about."
Still, Brown, who says he's pro-cleanup but against any bill that "would significantly raise taxes," is getting heat in TV ads by the Environmental Defense Fund. Even as a freshman a few months on the job, Brown is probably the most powerful senator right now. With Kerry insisting on "polluter pays" and Brown sticking to no new taxes, it seems our senators will split on this one.
Kerry has outside backing. Big utilities like Honeywell, Duke Energy, Edison Electric and Dow Chemical, as well as the Renewable Energy Markets Association, are pushing the bill. So are two retired Army officers, Lt. Gen. John Castellaw and Maj. Gen. Paul Monroe.
Castellaw said, "Military leaders know this isn't about polar bears and ice caps. It's about international stability." Monroe added that trouble spots like Somalia and Yemen are agitated by "climate problems and social unrest. . . Congress must pass this legislation to make the world a safer place."
Amen, General. Reason enough to give John Kerry - and millions of Americans - a victory.