2004-04-02 / Columnists

The Rockaway Irregular by Stuart W. Mirsky

Deconstructing Kerry
The Rockaway Irregular by Stuart W. Mirsky Deconstructing Kerry

So, what do we know so far about the Democrats’ presumptive nominee for president, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry? Well, he’s beenA0in the public spotlight for a long time now, beginning with hisA0very public anti-war activities, undertaken after his return from a brief stint of combat in the coastal waters of Vietnam. He went on toA0get a law degreeA0and thenA0to make a career for himself in politics. From public prosecutor he became Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts under Michael Dukakis and then, in the mid-eighties, he won a seat in the United States Senate. There he quickly established himself on the left side of the political aisle, opposing the policies of Ronald Reagan andA0the first President Bush,A0favoring cuts in defense spending and increases in social spending.A0Fair enough . . . that’s the Democratic position after all.

Of course, Senator Kerry is also a shrewd and, as his supporters like to say, nuanced politician. And so he managed to take many sides of issues, to find ways to avoidA0offending critical constituencies or risking his political capital, during his senate years. He voted against the first Gulf War though, famously, he wrote two contradictory letters to the same constituent, sayingA0he both opposed and supported it! Of course that may just have been a staffer’s blunder since office holders rarely write their own constituent correspondence. On the other hand, you have to wonder how his staffers could have been so wrong re: Kerry’s actual position because, surely, at least one of them would have had to be wrong . . . right?

This is the same John Kerry who flaunted his Irish sounding name in front of a Boston Irish audience, saying he was proud to be one of them, but who hasn’t any Irish in his ancestry to speak of. In fact, John ForbesA0Kerry can trace his ancestry back to English colonists who came over on the Mayflower (he’s a real Boston Brahmin) though one of his grandfathers does appear to have beenA0Jewish, from eastern Europe. And he has cousins in France. Nothing wrong with any of that . . . unless you’re trying to convey to people that you’re Irish when you’re not. Well, maybe he was speaking metaphorically?

What about his heroic war record? No one wants to challengeA0that and, in truth, it does seem kind ofA0an unlikely place to go, given his military decorations and the testimony of his "band of brothers." But a little history is in order here, too. It seems that Kerry in his college days was actually anti-war. So why enlist? Well, like many of us, he was in danger of being drafted. Here’s a young guy with political ambitions facing a stint in the military, fighting a war he opposed. Well you can’t simply refuse to go. That won’t look very good in a future political campaign. And you can’tA0run off somewhere, like to Canada, and figure everyone will some day forget.A0Ever theA0nuanced strategist, John Kerry chose, instead, to enlist in the Navy where the risks were presumably more limited since Vietnam was manifestly a land war.

He got himself a lieutenancy on a coastalA0boat and for four months led patrols and demonstratedA0his valor in the face of the enemy. Repeatedly he raced his boat onto the shore and led aggressive landing operations against the VC. He was decorated at least four times for his boldness and wounded three times. Then what? Well he invoked a military rule that, if a combatant were wounded three times, he had to be taken out of the fight. And so Lieutenant John Forbes Kerry demanded from his superiors, and after some negotiation, got,A0reassignment from the combat zone, leaving his men after only four months in action.

What did his superiors have to say about his service? Apparently, Lieutenant Kerry was dressed down for recklessness in beaching his boat and unnecessarily risking his men, at least once. And there are some stories of his chasing wounded VC behind hooches and killing them out of sight of his crewmen. But he got his decorations and his reassignment stateside and, as soon as he could, he joined the anti-war movement as a disgruntled anti-war veteran . . . never mind that he’d been against the war before enlisting!A0At subsequent hearings, he told stories of war crimes by American troops based on hearsay, claiming these were commonplace, notA0exceptions, angering many of his fellow Vietnam vets at the time. Now his staff tell us he was young and eager to end the war back then and so we shouldn’t hold him accountable forA0past hyperbole.

So John Kerry presents himselfA0as a genuine war hero who just happens to oppose war, including the one we fought in Vietnam and the 1991 Gulf War, which he subsequently told at least one constituent he really supported.A0He’s also the guy who threw his Vietnam era medals away in protest . . . except heA0really didn’t, since it turnsA0out he still had them years later. Apparently he threw someone else’s away!

Kerry, of course,A0did vote for the Congressional resolutionA0authorizing President George W. Bush to take military action against Saddam Hussein. But then, when he saw the traction Howard Dean’s anti-war stance was getting, he reversed course and told Democratic primary voters he didn’t really mean what the resolution he voted for said! AndA0when it came time to vote funds to support the military action he had initially endorsed with his vote, he dutifully demurred. (Imagine how a vote "for" would have gone over by then with the vituperative Democratic baseA0baying for Bush’s political blood that he was trying to woo?)

Of course, Senator Kerry and his supporters would have us believe all this is somehow "off-limits" in debate. While it’s fine on their view to call George W. Bush a liar, a deserter, a betrayer of his country, etc.,A0and to suggest that Bush knew about 9/11 in advance but let it happen, or that he cooked up the removal of Saddam to gain political points (THAT’SA0rich since it’s clearly Bush’s political albatross and any half-savvy politician, especially John Kerry, must know the risks American politicians run in supporting wars), still they want to tell us Kerry’s own history is out of bounds. Indeed, "theA0Republi can attack squad," Kerry recently toldA0us, is already gearing up to get him, shortly after he’d muttered, off camera, about Republicans being "crooks" and "liars" without any evidence for such a claim.A0For Bush to make his case via a muted television commercialA0with fleeting images of theA0remains of the World Trade Center is somehow an affront to decency, the Kerryites tell us. ButA0Kerry’s own never-ending invocation of his "heroic" history in Vietnam is just fine. Kerry’s the "patriot," but BushA0"betrayed his country."

Of course, thisA0is typical of the tenor of the opposition to Bush since he first became president. It’s always been about demeaning and negatively characterizing the current occupant of the White House. So Kerry is just following his own historic practice and grabbing the main chance, jumping onto the Bush-bashing bandwagon first driven out of the station by Howard Dean et al and amply supported by the likes of Michael Moore, Maureen Dowd, Molly Ivins and nearly every other left-leaning liberal pundit and HollywoodA0policy "expert"A0you can imagine.

Maybe Kerry’sA0latest potshots are reallyA0just about preemption? Maybe Kerry is just hoping to keep the Republicans so off-balance and on the defensive that his own history will never emerge as a real campaign issue, not even his numerous votes against defense spending butA0for higher domestic spending with increased taxes to support that. Still, you have to wonder about a guy who had political ambitions from his earliest days and somehow figured to get his ticket punched in Vietnam quickly, to get in and get out, with his resumeA0suitably enhanced, while limiting the risks to himself by getting it over with, so to speak. Sure heA0chose a bold course and demonstrated bravery over there, even whileA0recklessly charging ashore with his men against standing orders from his superiors. But what else wasA0going on in Kerry’s mind, even back then? John Fitzgerald Kennedy famously benefited from his war-hero status on a P.T. Boat in World War II. Why shouldn’t John Forbes Kerry do so as well?

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