Sen. John F. Kerry has been citing his valorous Vietnam record more often than Gen. George Patton cursed. It's a good theme for him. With Bush rounding up al-Qaida and clearing out the terrorist swamps, the greatest danger now facing the nation is that liberals could somehow return to the White House. Whenever America is threatened from outside, Republicans have a lock on the Oval Office. No matter how secure the world seems, after 9-11 you have to vote for the better man on national defense. That is always the Republican.
Moreover, as long as liberals keep loudly proclaiming that they support "the troops" – while simultaneously running sneering articles that portray the troops as coarse, semiliterate cads – a tax-and-spend Massachusetts Democrat like Kerry could finally provide them with one "troop" they really do like. (Meanwhile, for the first time ever, I find myself in favor of the war but against the troop.)
Consequently, Kerry has been aggressively brandishing his military service with the bristling connotation that if you didn't fight, you can't quarrel with him on war and peace. Kerry got into a catfight with former Vermont governor Howard Dean during the Democrats' first presidential debate in South Carolina last weekend. The high point was when Kerry snarled at Dean, "I don't need any lectures in courage from Howard Dean." If John Kerry had a dollar for every time he bragged about serving in Vietnam – oh wait, he does.
Though Kerry makes liberal ladies' bosoms heave with his self-advertisements about his Vietnam experience, the Democrats might not want to let Kerry pursue this particular line of argument. According to Thomas Ricks' book Making the Corps, the vast majority of officers currently serving in the military are conservative Republicans – "largely comfortable with the views of Rush Limbaugh."
Citing a series of studies expressing alarm at what they viewed as a disquieting trend, Ricks says that "open identification with the Republican Party is becoming the norm – even, suggests former Army Maj. Dana Isaacoff, part of the implicit definition of being a member of the officer corps." Why the officer corps would take a dim view of a party that has spent the last three decades systematically trying to emasculate the military in pursuit of every conceivable social cause is anybody's guess. Still, there it is. Assuming the country has not already realized it by then, by Kerry's own logic, in a few years only right-wing Republicans will be eligible for the presidency.
But that's the Democrats' problem. For now, there are other more urgent implications to Kerry's argument.