Man Without Qualities

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Pathetic ... And Bound To Lose II: The Silence of The Republicans

An astute reader e-mails:

Today's news makes it sound like Kerry's gonna push it: he's sending a letter to Bush saying, essentially, if you want to complain about my votes then let's just *have* a debate about Viet Nam. So it sounds like the plan is to avoid all discussion of his real record by trying to turn it into a discussion of Viet Nam. It's going to be a long summer.

I agree. I agree that's exactly Kerry's plan and I agree that if he sticks to it we will have a very long summer - at the end of which Senator Kerry's election prospects will resemble all the other deserted, post-summer boardwalks throughout the country.

The plan described by my reader is , in my opinion, desperate - especially since it seems that Senator Kerry intends to direct it at every one of his critics (not just the President). Criticize John Kerry's voting record and hysterical anti-war activism, and you're a "henchman." Well, I'm doing that right now - and I never met the President. Am I a "henchman?"

Senator Kerry is outright lying when he suggests - as he often does - that the President or anyone connected to the President has been criticizing Kerry's military record. But Kerry's actual military record is a lot less indicative of the kind of president he would make than his voting record and his long record of political activities. He can't hide from his voting record or his post-Vietnam hysterical denunciations of the behavior of American soldiers in Vietnam or his record in the Dukakis administration that produced the illusory "Massachusetts miracle." And he can't stop people from considering those things with his customary arrogance.

So far, the media have been very weak in discussing Kerry's post-Vietnam-return antiwar activities - or the rest of his past, for that matter. After all, many of the people now involved in the mainstream media of Kerry's age participated in many of the same activities. The nation has learned to forgive them. Even Jane Fonda has apologized for some of what she did in the depths of her Vietnam era insanity - and on this point Ms. Fonda is more responsible than Senator Kerry, who does not apologize but instead just misrepresents his past. But if Kerry keeps pushing Vietnam, the Bush campaign won't be so gentle - and, ultimately, the media won't remain gentle, either. At some point Senator Kerry is going to have to stop misrepresenting his antiwar statements and outright apologize for some of them - especially his assertions to Congress that American soldiers were routinely war criminals. Veterans on the campaign trail are going to demand that of him - to his face.

The more the Senator pushes the "I was tough in Vietnam so you can't talk about my political record" argument, the more transparent his ploy appears to more people. He is at the moment pushing it pretty hard:

In a letter to Bush, Kerry wrote: "As you well know, Vietnam was a very difficult and painful period in our nation's history, and the struggle for our veterans continues. So, it has been hard to believe that you would choose to reopen these wounds for your personal political gain. But, that is what you have chosen to do."

Even so, I don't think it's at all clear that we will get an early read on whether the Kerry ploy will work - or if he will give up trying. For example, my guess is that lots of very high profile Republican veterans are ready to come forward and strongly challenge Kerry on this point. Senator Kerry's position leads almost inevitably to his accusing any veteran who says Kerry has a weak voting and political activities record of impugning his patriotism and military record. Is this Democratic candidate going to stand up on a podium and hoot down a veteran who's saying with sincere conviction exactly what Senator Chambliss is saying? Is the Democratic candidate going to lash out from his podium and accuse the veteran of being a Bush "henchman?" That would make Howard Dean's lashing out at the old heckler ("You sit down! You had your say! Now, I'm going to have my say!") look positively like an act of political genius. Is Senator Kerry going to savage as "henchmen" a troop of veterans who follow his campaign stops and say these things outside on the sidewalk? I don't think so. Yet, the Kerry posturing leads to exactly those preposterous situations for him.

One interesting question is: Why hasn't that kind of thing happened, yet? I suspect that the White House may actually be holding such responses back at this point to the extent that can be done (the White House by no means controls all such responses, although it does have influence). I have no special information, but it's clear that Kerry's political and anti-war activism record have to be treated carefully and precisely. It's Kerry who's desperately trying to confuse matters - and that's a disgrace on his part. That means that the Republicans are right now running extensive private polls and focus groups on how to direct the criticism. It will come - and it will be very effective.

And when it comes the criticism will not be limited to Senator Kerry's voting and activism record. Kerry is by all accounts personally a complete jerk and completely out of touch with ordinary people. He is so remote that it is actually, terrifyingly possible that Senator Kerry really does think that he has opposed all those nasty "special interests." Unlike Bill Clinton, there aren't many "Friends of John" out there. He appears to be amazingly insubstantial and vulnerable. His wife, because of her efforts at influence and past activism, is also fairly subject to criticism - and her past use of her enormous, inherited fortune and her bizarre personality will likely be significant liabilities. Those criticisms, too, must be directed with precision. [UPDATE: It's so generous of Maureen Dowd and the New York Times to the Bush re-election effort to clear the way for examination and criticism of Teresa Heinz Kerry with an empty but nasty cat-swipe at Laura Bush.]

I don't think the Republicans have completed their planning. Even if they had completed it, I'm not sure they want to extensively damage Kerry right now. For example, the anti-Kerry internet ad now appearing on the Bush web site is only seen by visitors to that site - not the part of the public that will be influenced by the campaign. If the White House blew Kerry up now, Bush might end up running against some stronger candidate. My guess is that Kerry will be a bigger disaster for the Dems than Dukakis was.

UPDATE: Viking Pundit suspects a Rovian strategy in this relative Silence of the Republicans.


Easterblog opines:

Pundits of the left and right are now engaged in tormented disputes about the nuances of Kerry's Vietnam statements and actions more than 30 years ago, but this misses the big picture. The big picture is that Kerry thought the war was wrong but went anyway because he felt it was his duty.

This is wrong.

It is probably not incorrect to say that Senator Kerry felt that the war was wrong - although Senator Kerry himself says that his feeling against the war intensified enormously during his four month turn in Vietnam.

But it is just false to say that he "went anyway because he felt it was his duty" and it borders on prevaricating to suggest that this is the "big picture." It is no secret and no disgrace to John Kerry that he joined the Navy after he was told that his application for an extended student deferment that would have allowed him to study in Paris was turned down by his draft board. That is: John Kerry had no choice, he was required by law to enter the military - and then he was sent to Vietnam. As the Harvard Crimson put it in 1970:

When he approached his draft board for permission to study for a year in Paris, the draft board refused and Kerry decided to enlist in the Navy. The Navy assigned him to the USS Gridley which between December 1966 and July 1968 saw four months of action off the Vietnam coast. In August through November, 1968, Kerry was trained to be the skipper of a patrol boat for Vietnamese rivers. For the next five months, until April of 1969, Kerry was the commanding Lieutenant of a patrol boat in the Mekong Delta. He was wounded slightly on three different occasions and received a Silver Star for bravery.

The above recounting of some of the facts in the case of John Kerry's military service is not intended to disparage his actual, dangerous service once he reached Vietnam.

But, whatever the "big picture" of John Kerry's involvement with the military includes, it definitely includes his post-Vietnam activism, including his denunciations of American servicemen then fighting in Vietnam. As recounted by OpinionJournal, Kerry said in his April 22, 1971, testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (link in PDF format; the excerpt begins on page 180, the second page of the file):

Several months ago in Detroit, we had an investigation at which over 150 honorably discharged and many very highly decorated veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia, not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command. . . . They relived the absolute horror of what this country, in a sense, made them do.

They told the stories [that] at times they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned on the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country.

Any putative "big picture" of Senator Kerry's involvement with the military that omits such testimony and activities, and suggests that John Kerry could have legally avoided military service but chose to go anyway, is nothing short of Orwellian.


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