Jonah Goldberg

The "argument" (quotation marks are necessary since often it's really a sputter) from Kerry's supporters and the Democratic National Committee is that his service in Vietnam proves that he's strong on defense and qualified to be commander-in-chief. (They also suggest his service proves he is patriotic, manly, cool, sexy and impregnable from criticism.)

The response from his critics (which in fairness often takes the form of a growl) is that whatever Kerry did in Vietnam is vitiated by his anti-war behavior and his long and detailed record of peacenickery in the Senate.

But if signing up for Vietnam proves Kerry's got the right judgment to be commander-in-chief, how come Kerry believes Vietnam was a huge mistake for America?

Think about it. Kerry and DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe have mocked Dick Cheney and other members of the Bush administration for not serving in Vietnam. But Kerry made his political career by saying that Vietnam was a moral and national security disaster. He claims that going to fight for "a mistake" (Kerry's words) was his defining moment. Well, if Vietnam was a mistake, how does it demonstrate Kerry's good judgment?

You might fairly respond that Kerry's decision to fight was an indication not so much of his judgment as of his patriotism. OK, though that's not always Kerry's position. Then again nothing is always Kerry's position.

Plenty of politicians in both parties want to have it both ways on Vietnam. The problem for Kerry is that he's taken such diametrically opposed and ultimately irreconcilable positions on the war.

He wants credit for fighting in what he insists was a criminal war. He even confessed that he and his comrades committed "atrocities," though he hasn't run any commercials bragging about calling his comrades war criminals.

Kerry's position is a mess. He wants credit for throwing away the symbols of his service (the ribbons) and for the service he rendered to earn those medals (which he kept, but claimed until recently he didn't). If that sounds like a contradiction, it should. Because that's what Kerry is: a walking contradiction.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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