Man Without Qualities

Monday, February 09, 2004

Ineffective Vaccine

Senator John Kerry is now openly questioning - disparaging is actually the more accurate word for what Senator Kerry is doing - President Bush's National Guard service record. The Wall Street Journal and others believe that the Senator is trying to use his Vietnam biography as a political shield against his national security voting record. The Journal gives many reasons why Senator Kerry's post-Vietnam record is a big problem for him - and why he is therefore trying to distract attention from it this way.

What's especially curious about this Kerry ploy is that it has been tried recently by other Democrats and it has not worked. Most recently, Wesley Clark disparaged Senator Kerry's military record in a manner having substantial points of similarity with Senator Kerry's attempt to now disparage the President's military record. Senator Kerry seems not to have learned when Mr. Clark was forced to recant. And, of course, Wesley Clark himself failed to establish his credibility on national security matters even with a thirty years military career as "inoculation."

But the most spectacular example of the ineffectiveness of this particular inoculation is the defeat of former Senator Max Cleland of Georgia, who has recently been very active in supporting John Kerry's bid for the Presidency. Saxby Chambliss defeated the then-incumbent Democratic Senator Max Cleland with a campaign including a controversial ad which Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call described as follows:

The spot begins with a screen showing video footage of al Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. "As America faces terrorists and extremist dictators, Max Cleland runs television ads claiming he has the courage to lead," an announcer states. The ad continues: "Max Cleland says he has the courage to lead. But the record proves Max Cleland is just misleading."

The ad brought howls of protest from the left, and accusations that the Chambliss ad inappropriately "associated" Cleland with bin Laden and Saddam Hussein and somehow "questioned Senator Cleland's patriotism." Both charges were absurd, and were seen as absurd by most of the public. To be weak on defense and national security (as Senator Cleland was) of necessity means being weak on defending and securing the country from somebody. Naming that somebody in a campaign ad is perfectly appropriate and in no way "associated" Cleland with bin Laden and Saddam Hussein or "questioned Senator Cleland's patriotism" any more than John F. Kennedy's "missile gap" ploy "associated" Richard Nixon with the Soviet Union or "questioned Vice President Nixon's patriotism." Nobody in his right mind would argue that Kennedy was suggesting that Nixon worked for the Soviets. The fault in Kennedy's ploy lay in it's serious inaccuracy, not in any "association" or "question of patriotism" it attempted to create for his opponent. In contrast, accusations that Senator Kerry has been weak on national security are perfectly accurate. In fact, to be Senator from Masachusetts requires one to be weak on security, so Senator Kerry has been himself counting on the ineffectiveness of his "inoculation" for decades in Massachusetts. The furor on the left and the Cleland "inoculation" didn't work in Georgia, either. So the "inoculation" works in neither liberal nor conservative states. Yet Senator Kerry is shooting up.

Senator Kerry's ploy will probably make his campaign problems with national security worse than they are. The world has changed since Vietnam. We have other problems, other enemies now. Kerry's ploy carries a severe risk of presenting him as someone overly focused on the past, which he is. It's just one more way in which he is out of touch.

More and yet more. But I will be amazed if anyone cares strongly about this non-issue now or will even tolerate hearing about it in a week.

And now: A National Guard comrade comes forward with a letter to the Washington Times. But the problem is that the people who care about this non-issue (and, to be fair, there are several of them) would have to remove their tinfoil hats to read the letter. And they're just not going to do that.

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