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After several weeks of fulminating about John Kerry’s war record and the medals he presumably awarded to himself, Republicans finally got down to the real point about the man who would be president.
Amazingly it was none other than the forgotten Robert Dole, himself something of a war hero from World War II, who seems to have been the only man in the GOP to grasp it.
“One day he’s saying that we were shooting civilians, cutting off their ears, cutting off their heads, throwing away his medals or his ribbons,” the once and never-again presidential candidate remarked in an interview on CNN’s Late Edition last week. [Transcript]
“The next day he’s standing there, ‘I want to be president because I’m a Vietnam veteran.’ Maybe he should apologize to all the other 2.5 million veterans who served. He wasn’t the only one in Vietnam.”
The point is not whether Mr. Kerry did or did not really do some courageous things in Vietnam or did or did not deserve the medals the Navy gave him.
Those who claim he didn’t have not proved their case and even if the issue were settled one way or another, it would have little to do with whether the Massachusetts senator should or shouldn’t be president. Predictably, Mr. Kerry’s supporters leapt to resurrect the still unsettled questions about President Bush’s own military record or lack thereof.
Such is the level of presidential politics these days that this sort of trivia is all the contenders and their allies can think of to say about one another. How can they do otherwise? On the major issues of the day, the two candidates are barely distinguishable. Each one simply grunts the appropriate noises that can be anticipated to rally his own legions and avoids violating any of the several constraints on what can be said publicly. Those constraints apparently do not extend to insinuating the most vicious charges about each other’s characters.
What Mr. Dole had to say was, at least in the remarks quoted above, somewhat different. It has nothing to do with what may or may not have “really” happened nearly forty years ago halfway around the planet but with what Mr. Kerry is known to have said and done.
After he won his medals, Mr. Kerry came back to this country, made a big splash out of throwing them away, and proceeded to denounce his former comrades, his country and the war in which it was then involved. The recent ads citing his testimony before the U.S. Senate make what he said back then perfectly clear.
“They told the stories at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads,” he testified, speaking of Vietnam veterans who had publicly claimed they had committed these acts. The ads cut off his attribution to the veterans and suggests that Mr. Kerry was making these claims himself, but so what? He repeated the charges because he wanted the senators and the public to know about them, and he claimed he believed them himself.
Apparently there was never any thought on his part to bring legal charges or work for an actual investigation by the government. Frankly, most who hurled such charges were just interested in grandstanding, for personal or political reasons.
Admittedly, Mr. Kerry was a lot younger then than he is now, and there’s evidence he was by no means as nutty as some of his buddies in Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
He resigned from it after a substantial section began considering committing a few more atrocities against Americans. But, just as the point is not whether he really deserved his medals, so it is also not that he once said silly things.
The point is that he cannot now believably renounce what he said and did in 1971 about his own comrades and his own country and at the same time boast of his heroism in the same war and run for president on that record. But that’s precisely what he is trying to do. The controversy about the war in Iraq and Mr. Kerry’s criticisms of it seem to demand that the Democrats wrap themselves in the mantles of patriotism at least as much as the Republicans always do.
In 1971 it was politically convenient for Mr. Kerry to renounce such mantles. Today it’s politically convenient to don them.
And that’s what tells us all we need to know about John Kerry, and it’s as good a reason as any why he should not be president. The real question for voters who agree with that reason is, whether they can come up with another one why George W. Bush should be president at all.