John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, delivered a speech at Grinnell College this weekend and Kerry defended what he called the “right” to disagree with the course President Bush has set in Iraq.

“Too many people try to crush the debate and suggest that it’s unpatriotic or somehow you just have to listen to the president and stay the course,” Kerry said. “A lot of us feel that presidents can be wrong and policies can be wrong and you have to speak out and persuade people and I think it’s very important for people not be to be deterred in their willingness to have an alternative point of view.”

Kerry suggested there is a “patriotic obligation” to speak out against the war. Kerry, who was attacked during the last campaign for speaking out against Vietnam when he returned from serving there, said it’s “shameful” that President Bush’s allies are now attacking the retired generals who’ve spoken out against the Iraq war. “It’s not acceptable,” Kerry said. Kerry said those generals “earned the right” to speak out because they “spent their lives in the uniform defending America.”

Kerry said Iraqis have had free elections and it’s time for them to govern themselves, and withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. “Our soldiers have done a brilliant job. They’ve given the Iraqis the opportunity to have their democracy,” Kerry said. “No young American soldier should be maimed or killed because Iraqi politicians are unwilling to make the compromises necessary to make democracy work.”

Kerry said he’s focused on the 2006 elections in this country and has thus far traveled to 33 states, helped almost 150 candidates and raised about $7.5 million for this fall’s campaign. His stop in Grinnell was part of that nationwide tour. “To make a difference at the grassroots level…getting people involved around the country,” Kerry said. Kerry made his comments during a telephone interview this weekend with Radio Iowa.