Sunday, May 28, 2006

What did you do during the war, Daddy?

I sympathize with John Kerry that his military service in Vietnam has been so maligned, and I suspect that this would have happened to him regardless of how he portrayed himself during the 2004 presidential campaign.

Yet I always believed that he made a huge mistake in placing such a strong emphasis on his service in Vietnam. (I wrote an essay about this in 2004 for Pulp, but it is no longer available online and I won't bore you with it now.) First, if it was such a big deal that Kerry served in Vietnam, while Cheney and Bush didn't, then why was it not a big deal in 1992 that Bill Clinton had not served in Vietnam? Certainly, the idea that someone would be trashing Kerry's record, while our own president had apparently used his political connections to avoid combat, was odious. (As was Bush's attempt to link his service in the Vietnam-era National Guard to service in the National Guard today, when members of the guard are much more likely to see combat.)

But Kerry's service in Vietnam was no more relevant to his ability to be commander-in-chief today than was George H.W. Bush or Bob Dole's service in World War II. It did not negate, for example, his vote against using force to expel Iraq from Kuwait in 1991, a conflict that met all the criteria for armed intervention that Kerry laid out in his 2004 campaign. Furthermore, Kerry's emphasis on his war record--and by extension, his patriotism--implicitly conceded that the Democrats needed to prove they were just as patriotic as Republicans. In other words, he allowed the GOP to define the terms of the debate.

Of course, that's not to say that once Kerry did make an issue of his war record, that he should not have immediately taken to the offensive when it was attacked. I hope that he is doing so now simply to preserve his legacy. Because I do not believe that if he runs again in 2008, the result will be any different.


Blogger djhlights said...

I understand your point that his service should not be and is not a good barometer of his possible role as commander and chief, but I have yet to understand how this has anything to do with the maligning of his military record and in turn the navy who issued his awards and medals.

If the criticism was based on your premise, then IMHO it is legitimate critique of a candidate and the requirements needed for office. What occurred though was an open willingness to judge the issuing of his awards of merit presented by the military. It went from people who never served wearing Band-Aids with purple hearts drawn on them at the GOP convention floor to the extreme of people raising doubts as to the validity of the heroic acts that led the Navy to issue his silver and bronze stars openly in the MSM.

Who would have thought Kerry would even have to defend his medals but the military itself? There were mistaken people like me and others with strong ties to the military and the DoD who thought people actually respected those who served enough, especially with men and women garnering medals now, that attacking Kerry’s service was beneath contempt and spoke to the real respect they felt for the people who fight and the military who awards their honor.

The GOP by doing so and the media in their regurgitation without repudiation of this bile in my opinion have allowed the ability to attack not just those who served in war but the military and the awards they issue in a campaign for elected office.

Heaven help the future candidates who are veterans of the battles we fight now who put their past military service as an opening and major statement in their curricula vitae for applying for major political office which has nothing to do with how they would be in office.

10:02 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

I am by no means condoning what the Swift Boaters did--though I don't think Kerry should have been surprised by what happened, which makes his facile initial response all the more disappointing and frustrating to those of us who supported him. Keep in mind this did not start with Kerry--remember the whispers during the 2000 GOP primaries that McCain was unstable because of his captivity in Vietnam?

But even had there been no criticism of Kerry's record, I still believe that his heavy emphasis on his military record would have fallen flat with many voters. Candidates should be proud of their military service, but that is where the discussion should begin, not end.

8:57 AM

Blogger Amos_thePokerCat said...

I found the Swift Boaters to be spot on. I thought Kerry's recount of his service to be phony, threadbare, and did not stand up to the most trivial level of scrutiny.

Why did he do it? Because while for a large percentage of the population, military service does not matter, mainly because a large percentage of the population does not serve in the military, and everyone thinks they could be president too.

No, he made his military service a central point of his campaign because it made the far left Aaron Sorkin "West Wing" fantasy camp wet with desire. Know anybody in love with the show? Ask 'em. I bet that in the beginning, they were just walking around puffing up their chest that the Dems were running a real honest to god war hero. (Insert fake NASCAR accent done by someone from Boston.)

10:33 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

I didn't see anyone puffing out their chest, but I will agree that Kerry's military service was a box that many on the left thought had to be checked off for a Democrat to have red-state appeal.

6:02 PM

Blogger Amos_thePokerCat said...

I am extrapolating from a conversation I had two years ago(?), this time of year, just after Kerry had effectively locked up the nomination with a radical socialist (her self description) lesbian friend of mine. She gets teary eyed over most of the West Wing story lines as the characters try to do the liberal "right thing".

She was over the moon with Kerry. Not because of box checking, or some sort of Dick Morris triangulation, but genuine pride in having a "war hero" as a candidate. I have known her for more than 20 years, and I have never known her to say anything positive about the military before then.

I tried to warn her about what was going to happen. I was already hearing Kerry's record being deconstructed, even that early in the election cycle, but she was sure it was a lock. From what she said, it was a fairly common point of view with others she knew.

9:28 PM

Blogger Amos_thePokerCat said...

Oh, in the fall of 2003, I had a gig in Boston, and was spending about half my time in MA. I did not see a whole lot of enthusiasm for Kerry. The only left of center tech people that were fired up back then were the Dean-iacs.

In 2004 I moved on to another assignment, and could not track thier emotion roller coaster ride as Dean imploded.

9:37 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

You may recall that late in 2003 people were already writing Kerry's campaign obituary, and I believe Mickey Kaus at Slate was suggesting honorable ways that he could withdraw. Doubts about Dean's electability among more centrists Democrats, the capture of Saddam Hussein (which at the time seemed to blow a hole in Dean's unqualified opposition to the war in Iraq), and a full-court press by Kerry in Iowa saved his candidacy.

I'm not sure I'd characterize "The West Wing" as a liberal fantasy. It was more of a Democratic Leadership Conference fantasy. I stopped watching it because it was just too damn earnest.

10:54 PM

Blogger Amos_thePokerCat said...

Ya, it was basicly over after Iowa.

My point was more there was very little enthusiasm in what you would expect to be Kerry's base, early on.

I could not stomach watching even one complete episode of "West Wing".

The people that I know that faithfully watch West Wing and love it, are definately not DLC types. Maybe because it is "just so damn earnest", that is why they like it so much, and having a "gen-u-ine war hero" as the candidate of your party resonates with that same "earnesty-ness".

10:46 AM


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