- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 28, 2004

Tired of being a punching bag for Sen. John Kerry and the rest of the Democratic Party, President Bush hit back last Monday night. In an address to Republican governors in Washington, Mr. Bush displayed quiet confidence in stark contrast to the anger and invective heaped on him. Instead of attacking Mr. Kerry, the leading Democratic presidential contender, by name, the president referred with humorous jibes to “a Massachusetts senator.”

The initial strategy, which could change if it doesn’t work in raising Mr. Bush’s sagging poll numbers and lowering Mr. Kerry’s — is to portray Mr. Kerry as a political opportunist, changing his mind when it suits his personal political agenda and standing for nothing as a matter of principle. In his speech, the president suggested the country could not afford to have a president who is double-minded about the military and the war on terrorism.

There is plenty of material from which to draw. The Republican National Committee and various pro-Bush Internet sites have posted multiple pages of information on Kerry votes in the Senate that either seemed inconsistent then or are inconsistent now with what he says he believes. He voted for the Iraq war but didn’t think the president would go so far. He served in Vietnam but opposed the war when he returned, thus giving encouragement to the enemy at a time when his fellow service men and women were still being shot at, wounded and killed. He might have gotten away with that had he not slimed all in the military as mass murderers.

During testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 22, 1971, Mr. Kerry spoke of “war crimes” (he didn’t say if he had committed any) and charged that such war crimes were “not isolated incidents.” Rather, he claimed, they were “crimes committed on a day-to-day basis, with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command.” Mr. Kerry claimed that American soldiers had “personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, [blew] up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam.”

It is one thing to criticize a war that many came to believe was poorly conceived and wrongly fought by the political leadership. It is quite another to slander your comrades who remained in peril. If Mr. Kerry had names and evidence supporting his claims of atrocities — whether on a small or large scale, as he asserted — why didn’t he turn them over to the proper authorities for investigation?

On Feb. 27, 1992, Mr. Kerry delivered a speech on the Senate floor defending Bill Clinton’s non-service and avoidance of the draft as irrelevant and lamenting that Vietnam had been “inserted into the campaign.” Another presidential candidate at that time, Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, was using his own Vietnam service as a political weapon against Mr. Clinton (history does repeat). John Kerry told his fellow senators, “What saddens me most is that Democrats, above all those who shared the agonies of that generation, should now be refighting the many conflicts of Vietnam in order to win the current political conflict of a presidential primary…. We do not need to divide America over who served and how.”

Mr. Kerry continued, “If support or opposition to the war were to become a litmus test for leadership, America would never have leaders or recover from the divisions created by that war.”

The Bush re-election team will take such statements, along with scores of what appear to be pragmatic flips on a number of issues, and assert that Mr. Kerry doesn’t know what he believes and cannot be trusted, especially at a time of grave peril to U.S. interests and security. From his understated counterpunches at Mr. Kerry, it is clear that the president is confident he won’t run out of material between now and November.

Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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