By now you must have heard John Kerry say this: "I know something about aircraft carriers for real. And if George Bush wants to make this election about national security, I have three words for him he'll understand: Bring. It. On."
I love this tagline, not because I think Kerry is a smidgen as macho as he pretends to be, but because it's a sign that we can finally put to rest a grand canard of American politics.
For more than a generation the Democrats have convinced themselves that they have a brilliant foreign policy but that their message gets lost because they are unwilling to wrap themselves in patriotic, jingoistic rhetoric.
According to this theory, Michael Dukakis was a foreign policy genius, but those mean Republicans made fun of how he looked in a tank. Indeed the whole Wes Clark campaign is (about to be was) premised on the notion that you can run like a dove if you look like a hawk.
That didn't work out, so the Democrats got the next best thing in Kerry: Michael Dukakis with an impeccable war record - and an impeccable anti-war record.
The war record we know all about already. Kerry served with honor and distinction in Vietnam, earning several medals for his courage and valor. As for his anti-war record, among other things, Kerry outrageously slandered the men still fighting in Vietnam as war criminals and butchers, claiming in congressional testimony that American soldiers had participated in widespread "day-to-day" atrocities such as rape, torture and mutilation.
Regardless, that's not the John Kerry who's running for president. Candidate Kerry is the guy in uniform. In fact, according to most analysts and a recent lengthy behind-the-scenes account in The Boston Globe, John Kerry owes his campaign turnaround almost completely to his willingness to run as a war hero.
The political ad that got him moving in the polls is the one that brags about his leadership in Vietnam. In the ad, a Navy crewmate says, "He had unfailing instinct and unchallengeable leadership." Kerry follows up by saying ,"There's a sense, after Vietnam, that every other day is extra, that you have to do what's right and let the chips fall where they may." It's a very well-done ad. And the message is clear. Kerry the politician is Kerry the war hero.
But that message is largely nonsense. There's next to nothing in Kerry's legislative career that would earn him a Profiles in Courage Award (assuming the senior senator from Massachusetts doesn't pull some strings for him). He authored almost no significant legislation and voted as an utterly conventional Massachusetts liberal.