Debra J. Saunders

 Team Kerry wants President Bush to denounce an advertising campaign by an independent group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which has criticized Sen. John Kerry's Vietnam record.

 After months of the Democrats smiling and winking as well-funded independent groups that share their political views distorted the record on President Bush's service in the Air National Guard, they now are outraged when the same tactics are turned against them. How dare the Republicans stoop as low as they have.

 Now, Team Kerry claims that the Bushies are behind the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads attacking Kerry's military record, even though there is no proof that Bush League is behind the attacks.

 News flash (to The New York Times, which ran its story on the funding behind the anti-Kerry ad on Page One): People who support Bush have paid for the anti-Kerry ads.

 Not a news flash: People who support Kerry have bankrolled anti-Bush ads.

 For months now, readers have deluged my e-mail inbox, urging me to question Kerry's Vietnam record and to examine whether Kerry earned his three Purple Hearts. I have responded with unrestrained scorn. After all, I answer, Kerry saw more combat than Bush. Besides, the Kerry of today is running for the White House.

 The Democratic National Committee, at its convention in Boston, alas, spent more time showcasing Soldier Kerry, with scant attention to Sen. Kerry. On the one hand, it was a positive development that Democrats chose to salute military service. On the other hand, the Kerry who began his convention speech telling America he was "reporting for duty" was something of a farce.

 How low the Democrats have sunk. Now, DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe, one-time enforcer for the draft-evading Bill Clinton, crows about Kerry's military prowess while bashing Bush for being "AWOL." When party biggies are reduced to arguing that their guy is better because he served in a war to which they objected, truly they have run out of compelling issues.

 Note that Kerry's charges -- that the Bushies are behind the Swift boat ads -- come as the new Swift boat spots attack not Kerry's military record but what Kerry said in public testimony before the U.S. Senate in 1971. In that testimony, Kerry spoke of atrocities committed by American soldiers -- this is testimony for which some vets never will forgive Kerry.

 Now, Kerry is outraged that his critics are repeating what he said -- quoting the speech with which he launched his political career.

 Bob Dole, speaking for a generation for which military service has a different standard, quipped on CNN Sunday that Kerry is in the hot seat for a reason: "I mean, one day, he's saying that we were shooting civilians, cutting off their ears, cutting off their heads, throwing away his medals or his ribbons. The next day, he's standing there, 'I want to be president because I'm a Vietnam veteran.'"

 On Sunday, a Washington Post story looked at charges that Kerry did not earn all of his medals and found that "although Kerry's accusers have succeeded in raising doubts about his war record, they have failed to come up with sufficient evidence to prove him a liar."

 No surprise there. If there's one thing I've learned in life, it is to discount what is said by any group or person that claims to represent "the truth." (This means filmmaker Michael Moore.)

 Still, as Dole said, "Not every one of these people can be Republican liars." Indeed, the Washington Post story also found holes in the Kerry war-hero hagiography and reported that Kerry refused to release documents related to his military record.

 Kerry, of course, would not be expected to release this information if he had not made his military tenure the core of his campaign for president.

 It shouldn't be this personal, but it is because the race has become all about personality. It's odd: America is at war. Kerry and his fellow Democrats have disagreed with Bush on many aspects of the war. But rather than argue on the big issues, Camp Kerry has focused on nasty little digs.

 Take Kerry campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter's response to Bush spokesman Scott McClellan's statement that Kerry was "losing his cool" on the Swift boat controversy. Cutter shot back, "Mr. McClellan needs to understand that John Kerry is not the type of leader who will sit and read 'My Pet Goat' to a group of second-graders while America is under attack" -- a shot at Bush for remaining in a Florida classroom for several minutes after learning of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

 Talk about thin-skinned. I guess that's what happens when you are fed a dose of your own medicine.


Debra J. Saunders


 
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