- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 8, 2004

Anti-Kerry ad mars presidential campaign

Headline in the Melbourne Age of Australia.

“Mars” it? Reminds me of the old war song — World War I, that is, for anyone who can remember any other wars but Vietnam — “If You Were the Only Girl In the World”:

“A garden of Eden just made for two

With nothing to mar our joy … ”

That’s what the Democrats and their media cheerleaders wanted for John Kerry: a jungle of South Asian Eden, with nothing to mar his joy. All the Massachusetts senator had to do was talk about his four months in Vietnam for two years and somehow tootle along to victory, untroubled and untouchable. Now some guy’s marred it, by declaring in this ad that “John Kerry has not been honest” about his time in Vietnam.

Oh, yeah? Sez who? Some neoconservative chickenhawk dilettante National Guardsman?

No. It’s an admiral. He also was on a Swift boat in Vietnam, as were the other fellows in the ad, and they’re all saying things like “John Kerry betrayed the men and women he served with.”

Look, I would rather talk about the war. The current one, I mean — not the one that ended three decades ago. But, insofar as I understand the rules of Campaign 2004, every time any member of the administration says anything about the present conflict, he is accused by Democrats of shamelessly “politicizing” it. Whereas every time John Kerry waxes nostalgic about those fragrant memories of the Mekong Delta, he should be allowed to take his unending stroll down memory lane unmolested. After all, as everyone from John Edwards to Max Cleland to Bill Clinton has assured us, being a Swift boat commander for four months is the indispensable qualification for being president. When Hillary runs in 2008, no doubt she’ll be leaning heavily on her four months running a Swift boat up and down the Shatt al-Arab during the Iraq war.

But hang on, most of these fellows in the anti-Kerry ad — the ones talking about how he can’t be trusted, etc — are also Swift boat commanders? If being a Swiftee is the most important thing in American life, why are all these “Swift Boat Veterans For Truth” less entitled to be heard than John Kerry?

Well, because they’re part of the “Republican smear machine”. Apparently, it’s the GOP’s fault that only one of the 22 surviving Swift boat officers who served with Mr. Kerry is willing to support him, and that a big bunch of the remaining Swiftees feel strongly enough about his conduct 35 years ago to appear in one of the most remarkable political ads ever seen.

Had enough of Vietnam yet?

Most Americans had enough of it at the time. The clever clogs at the Democratic Party should have figured that out before they decided to relaunch John Kerry and John Edwards as Bob Hope and Jill St. John on their USO tour for the presidency. They should never have signed on to this vanity candidacy, even before the multiplying barnacles began encrusting the hull of the campaign boat.

The one thing the Democratic Party owed America this campaign season was a candidate credible on the current war. The Democrats needed their own Tony Blair, a bloke who’s a big socialist pantywaist when it comes to health and education and the other nanny-state hooey but believes in robust projection of military force in the national interest.

John Kerry fails that test. If you wanted to pick a candidate on the wrong side of every major defense and foreign policy question of the last two decades, you would be hard put to find anyone with judgment as comprehensively poor as Mr. Kerry: total up his votes and statements on everything from Grenada to the Gulf war, Saddam to the Sandinistas, the Cold War to missile defense to every major weapons system of the 1980s and ‘90s. He called them all wrong.

But that’s not how the Democratic Party muscle saw John Kerry. Since the notion of a credible war president wasn’t important to them, they looked at the war on terror merely as a Bush wedge issue to be neutralized. And they figured their best shot at neutralizing it was Lt. Kerry on a Swift boat.

In certain circumstances, it might even have worked. But the Democrats let their contempt for Mr. Bush run away with them. It wasn’t enough to argue Mr. Kerry’s four months in the Mekong Delta gave him authority on national security issues. Instead, they saw an opening to diminish Mr. Bush, to reduce him from the 21st century commander in chief who had toppled two enemy regimes to the 1970s pampered frat boy with the spotty National Guard record. And so they made the strategic error of hammering on about what their man was doing vs. what the Republicans’ guy was doing during the Vietnam War. And they were having such fun at Mr. Bush’s expense and getting so high on those four months from the 1960s that they gave not a thought to the great wasteland of John Kerry’s 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s.

That’s one of the defects of living in the media-political echo chamber, where you’re so hip to the spin and counterspin and counter-counterspin you forget that back on Planet Earth folks don’t look at things that way. On the big speech night in Boston, with Mr. Kerry’s crewmates and triple-amputee Max Cleland and “I’m John Kerry and I’m reporting for duty,” the Dems and the media saw it as an ingenious way of downgrading Mr. Bush. But every normal person that night saw only a strange man with nothing to say about anything that has happened since the early 1970s.

And most Americans don’t want a Vietnam candidate. Vietnam veterans mostly loathe Mr. Kerry for riding the war-what-is-it-good-for-absolutely-nothing movement to celebrity status and, just as they thought they couldn’t despise him any more, here comes the old opportunist riding the I-was-proud-to-do-my-patriotic-duty shtick to the presidency.

Older veterans think the endless exhibitionist preening about one’s war record is cheap and vulgar. To everybody else, the Vietnam act is just a bummer, a reminder of a bad time in the national story. Doesn’t matter whether it’s John Kerry in “The Green Berets” or John Kerry in “Apocalypse Now.”

The Bush-haters outsmarted themselves: Nobody wants to hear about Vietnam. And Mr. Kerry hasn’t anything else to run on.

Or as Country Joe and the Fish would put it: And it’s one, two, three, what is he fighting for?

Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator, and a nationally syndicated columnist.

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