Better late than never was our reaction to Joan Vennochi’s Boston Globe column on Tuesday. More than 100 days after he promised to do so, Sen. John Kerry has signed the form authorizing the Defense Department to release his military records. Somewhere, John O’Neill and his fellow Swift Boat veterans are doubtless smiling.
Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Jan. 30, Mr. Kerry told host Tim Russert that he would sign form SF 180. Conveniently, he didn’t say when. After a few weeks went by, conservative Web pundits jokingly began tracking the days since the senator’s promise. The “clock” had reached 114 days before the Boston Globe confirmed that Mr. Kerry had actually signed the form on May 20. So, make it 110 days.
What the records will show remains to be seen. According to a Kerry spokesman, the form is currently in the hands of the Navy, where it will be processed before being passed to the National Personnel Records Center. Presumably, then, in the next couple months the public will have a better understanding of whether the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were a bunch of liars, as Mr. Kerry claims, or not.
Despite the political points to be gained, it’s a question that will serve historians well. Many on the left have derided the Swift vets as mere political operatives who shamelessly vilified a presidential candidate’s war record. The vets argue that Mr. Kerry’s real Vietnam service was so contrary to what he had for years used to advance his public career that it disqualified him for the presidency.
Reasonable people can disagree on this, but fundamental questions about presidential politics were raised. Is it appropriate to question a candidate’s service? How far should a candidate trumpet his service to get elected? During an election in a time of war these are questions a republic must grapple with.
As we now know, Mr. Kerry’s decision to ignore the Swift vets proved a major miscalculation. He was caught in a series of misrepresentations that dogged him on the campaign trail. Would releasing his complete records have helped? At this point, it’s hard to make the case that it would have. After all, if the records corroborated Mr. Kerry’s version of events, why not discredit them and win a huge political victory?
Instead, Mr. Kerry chose to rely on media organs like the New York Times to string together connections between the Swift Boat veterans and Republican donors. To this day he maintains that what Mr. O’Neill and his group said was untrue and insists that “the truth in its entirety will come out.” Especially if Mr. Kerry is expecting to run again in 2008, we hope it does.
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