Charles Krauthammer

     WASHINGTON -- No bounce for Kerry. The Democrats and their pollsters will tell you this is because the electorate has already made up its mind. But if that is the case, why are they campaigning? Why have a convention in the first place? In reality, at least 10 percent of the population is undecided, and Kerry's convention appears to have gotten none of them.

     The other explanation is stylistic. Kerry rushed his speech, stepping on his applause lines. Then there was the sweat on brow and chin, not quite Nixonian lip sweat, but enough to distract.

     Hardly. The explanation that respects the intelligence of the American people is that Kerry had nothing to say. Well, one thing: Vietnam. His entire speech, the entire convention, was a celebration of his military service. The salute. The band of brothers. The Swift boat metaphors. The attribution of everything -- from religious values to foreign policy wisdom -- to Kerry's four-month stint 35 years ago.

     The problem is that the association of fitness for the presidency with military experience does not withstand five minutes of reflection. If that were the case, Lincoln would have failed as commander in chief in the Civil War, and FDR would have failed as commander in chief in World War II. By that logic, Ulysses S. Grant should have been -- as Douglas MacArthur would have been -- a great president.

     And, for that matter, Bob Dole. The most cynical moment of the four days was provided, naturally, by Bill Clinton, who reproached himself for having sat out the Vietnam War, a smug self-congratulatory way of attacking Bush and Cheney for sharing his dishonor. It was sheer Clintonian shamelessness. After all, in the 1992 campaign, he adamantly denied that he dodged the draft. And according to what Clinton says now about the centrality of military service, the 1996 election should have logically and honorably gone to Bob Dole, the Max Cleland of his time.

     The whole claim is, of course, ex post facto disingenuousness. For all his fawning imitation of John Kennedy, Kerry missed the central irony: Who was it that sent Kerry and the others into the disastrous Vietnam War if not John F. Kennedy (Navy and Marine Corps Medal), Lyndon Johnson (Silver Star) and an entire political establishment that had served in World War II and Korea?


Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.

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