Wednesday, February 11, 2004


This week and last, due to the re-insertion of the Bush/National Guard issue by Democrats, conservatives have attacked John Kerry on past statements he made concerning Vietnam and its use in politics. Here's a sample:

"What saddens me most is that Democrats, above all those who shared the agonies of that generation, should now be re-fighting the many conflicts of Vietnam in order to win the current political conflict of a presidential primary.” - Kerry, in response to an attack on Bill Clinton’s draft record, made by Democratic Primary candidate Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.)

“You and I know that if service or non-service in the war is to become a test of qualification for high office, you would not have a vice president, nor would you have a secretary of defense, and our nation would never recover from the divisions created by that war.” - Kerry again, responding to another attack on Clinton’s draft record, this time by the first President Bush.

The isn't exactly news. It was reported last fall by The Hill, when Howard Dean's campaign took issue with the same thing. And yes, on some level it looks like Kerry is trying to have his cake and eat it too. Especially when he makes comments like this: (Hannity and Colmes, 02.03.04)

"What I've always said is that I've defended Bill Clinton's choice and I would defend the president's choice with respect to going into the guard. I've never made any judgments about any choice somebody made about avoiding the draft, about going to Canada, going to jail, being a conscientious objector, going into the National Guard. Those are choices people make.”

However, there are some differences between the 1992 Clinton campaign Kerry was defending, and the 2004 Bush campaign he challenges.

Namely, in 1992 Clinton ran on a platform of social and economic reform; the military was not a central issue. Bush, on the other hand, went so far as landing a jet on an aircraft carrier to create the impression of a bond between himself and the military. It not only signaled the direction of his 2004 campaign, but served as a figurative "shot across the bow" of the Democratic challengers.

The message? Not only is this president strong on defense, but damn it, he's got a bond with the military.

Last May, our friends on the right were all too happy to sing this song. I'll hum a few bars, you be sure to note how quick they are to draw comparisons between Bush and other Democrats, as pertains to the military.

This is an exchange between Brit Hume and former Reagan communications staffer, Eric Dezenhall. (Fox News Special Report With Brit Hume, 05.07.03)

HUME: What here has the Democrats so upset?

DEZENHALL: That it worked. Bush's landing on the aircraft carrier was effective. This is a man who -- a president who is absolutely comfortable with military power, and the exercise of it. When you are supposed to be ashamed of it, he's not. The best crisis management response he could give, is not only did I do it. But I would do it again. And this is what presidents do, they land on aircraft carriers to send signals of confidence to a military that did a good job.

HUME: Now, this is not the first photo opportunity that we have seen, or event that embodied within it that we've seen, a pretty major photo opportunity that we've seen in which a presidential figure, or presidential candidate donned military garb, and rode in a piece of military equipment. We recall also famously the Michael Dukakis tank situation. Michael Dukakis had served in the Army and he had every reason, if he wanted to check out military equipment, to put on the necessary helmet, and ride in a tank. That went badly. This went well. What's the difference?

DEZENHALL: The difference is your own personal authority. And it is absolutely plausible when George Bush gets out of a fighter jet in the helmet, and walks on the aircraft carrier, it is consistent with what we believe to be true about him. In 1993, when Bill Clinton took a helicopter out to an aircraft carrier, and began talking the lingo of fighter pilots, there was a lot of eye rolling, because everybody knew that Clinton was not a pro-military guy. It was simply not plausible. It looked like a photo op. But with Bush, it's what you expect and this is what a victorious president does (my emphasis.)

Sean Hannity says the same thing, albeit in fewer words. (Hannity and Colmes, 05.07.2003)

HANNITY: We've got to take a break, but the fact is Clinton would never have been greeted that way by the military. And he just won a war, and he is the commander-in-chief and that's what got you -- has gotten you guys so mad.

What we have here is the classic case of a bully getting punched in the nose. Eight months ago, when the right thought Dean was the sure-fire Democratic nominee, they were clamoring for a race based on ties to the military. Now that John Kerry, a decorated war veteran, has brought them that fight, they want to cry "no fair" and go home.