Man Without Qualities

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

A Little Bit Of Cambodia In My Life II

The post immediately below has drawn substantial commentary, both in the blogosphere and by e-mail - and the commentary seen by the Man Without Qualities has been remarkably good.

For openers, a necessary but not sufficient condition for the Cambodia whopper (inevitably to be called "Cambodiagate?" - or has that already been taken?) to reach Monicagate stature is that it gets enough media coverage. That hasn't happened yet - but, for the reasons discussed below, it probably will get a lot more coverage soon. The second necessary condition is that "the right" or "Bush supporters" widely overstate the case and the significance of the scandal. Unfortunately, that has already begun to happen.

The take that this controversy will be one of the many things continuing to drive up Kerry's negatives, playing into people's existing tendency to think the guy's a pompous phony (or as I call them in the post immediately below, one of Kerry's many "embarrassments") is a best-case scenario. The scandal may also cause a substantial number of people to come to their senses and stop focusing on Vietnam-era doings at all - which, of course, would disadvantage Kerry-Edwards.

Comparison of the Cambodia whopper with Gore's whoppers and distortions - including whatever partially baked version of the "internet-invention" whopper one wants to entertain - is good (if approximate) on several counts. The mainstream media has not given the Cambodia story the coverage it deserves, and is probably resisting putting out a story that substantially disadvantages their guy - the Nightline non-effort was further evidence of that if any were needed. The mainstream media also resisted putting out the Gore whopper stories - but eventually they had to relent enough so that the stories and the issue cut pretty deep. In the Cambodia case, those media have a colorable excuse at the moment: The book hasn't been released, yet. Yes, some people have received advanced copies. But once the book is released the mainstream media will have a harder time not addressing the points it raises - and the arguments that they should be covering those points will have more bite. Not that the mainstream liberal media won't try, mind you. The story is already migrating out, as Instapundit puts it with a link to this Chicago Sun Times column. An important thing to remember here is that it is only necessary that enough media actually report on the story to get it out - not that every, or even most, mainstream media outlets provide good coverage. Don't expect Dan Rather and Peter Jennings or Nightline ever to give appropriate coverage to this story - but don't think that they have too for the story to get out and cut, either. That's why outfits like Fox News are now eating the mainstream ratings lunch every day.

An astute reader e-mailed the question: Why would SBVFT have an impeachment-like backlash when the President and the Republicans aren't trying to do anything with this information? Well, "the Republicans" - or some Republicans - are trying to do things with the information. Of course, they have every right to do that. But John Kerry's defenders are already on that point with their focus on the Republican Bush-supporting contributors to SBVFT. Yes, the President and his campaign have been wise to avoid the SBVFT, and I do not think he should expressly disavow them either. But if enough of his supporters start overstating the case (or perhaps one prefers the other cliche: overplaying the hand) this scandal allows them to reasonably make, a Monica-like backlash is a very real possibility.

We are not at the backlash stage, yet. If the matter is handled correctly - like the many Gore distortions and whoppers were handled by the Bush campaign and his sympathizers in 2000 - the effect of this scandal could be very positive for Mr. Bush. But if Bush supporters widely overstate the case things can get a lot dicier.

To paraphrase an old economics maxim: More reasonable is better!

One of Bill Quick's commenters also thinks I just missed the point (which, of course, wouldn't be a first for me):

Sorry, but Musil misses the point on this one. True vets shade the truth, or invent out of wholecloth, daring episodes of their service... but that isn't what Kerry did. Kerry, as he did in his anti-war testimony, claimed to be doing immoral and illegal things at the behest of his superior officers (to include the President of the United States, in his Cambodia claims). To claim that I had wild orgiastic sex with the cheerleading squad in high school is an understandable lie.... to claim I raped the cheerleading squad and ate their bodies is rather less reasonable.

That the voting public will construe the Kerry whopper as of overwhelming severity is premature, to say the least. I certainly don't expect Kerry-Edwards to admit to that severity, even if they believe it. Indeed, Lanny Davis appeared on Hannity & Colmes last night all tricked out in his highest dudgeon over the mendacity of the SBVFT accusations - so filled with unfelt "outrage" that his face seemed blank above the lips. I expect John Kerry to adopt a similar approach and argue something like this:

So I wasn't actually in Cambodia at the time I said I was. That's a nice "gotcha" my opponents have come up with.

No, I was where I was ordered to go: Right at the border of Cambodia as part of the then-secret and now-well-known, illegal American incursion into Cambodia. I spread no significant falsehood about my commanding officers or the President. Sure, I may have got a little carried away when I described myself as being in Cambodia. In fact, at the time seared - seared, I tell you - into my memory I was personally intensely concerned that my unit had in the confusion accidentally crossed over into Cambodia, through the very national boundary to which my President had determined to show his utmost deliberate contempt. I later determined that had not been the case. Maybe I still later stretched a point or got confused during my efforts to right those serious wrongs. But, if so, my error concerned an insignificant point in the larger scheme of the monstrous errors and wrongs committed in Southeast Asia I was attempting to right.

But make no mistake about it: Even this minor point is one reason why the sacred bonds of trust I have always maintained and cherished with the American people have caused me not to bring up the matter up for more than 12 years. Yes, I may have stretched a minor point years ago to accomplish a larger good - and I ask your forgiveness if I did that. Many combat veterans get carried away on details in service to their country. But the material facts here are that American soldiers had been illegally sent into Cambodia as part of the same incursion that placed me as a witness - a kind of martyr - at the very threshold of that travesty committed by an American president who lied about it to the American people. As president, I will never lie to you. ... And blah, BLAH, BLAH!

Perhaps Senator Kerry can be shown to have updated his Cambodia story, but this Washington Post article found by Powerline - while intriguing and interesting (especially since it's also posted on the Kerry-Edwards website) - is not that:

A close associate hints: There's a secret compartment in Kerry's briefcase. He carries the black attaché everywhere. Asked about it on several occasions, Kerry brushed it aside. Finally, trapped in an interview, he exhaled and clicked open his case.

"Who told you?" he demanded as he reached inside. "My friends don't know about this."

The hat was a little mildewy. The green camouflage was fading, the seams fraying.

"My good luck hat," Kerry said, happy to see it. "Given to me by a CIA guy as we went in for a special mission in Cambodia."

Kerry put on the hat, pulling the brim over his forehead. His blue button-down shirt and tie clashed with the camouflage. He pointed his finger and raised his thumb, creating an imaginary gun. He looked silly, yet suddenly his campaign message was clear: Citizen-soldier. Linking patriotism to public service. It wasn't complex after all; it was Kerry.

He smiled and aimed his finger: "Pow."

Heck, people, the man was making a joke.


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