John Kerry, the junior senator from Massachusetts who would be president, wants us to know that he's a war hero and George W. Bush isn't. This week, Kerry formally announced his bid for the Democratic nomination using the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown as his backdrop. Kerry surrounded himself with some of the men he served with in Vietnam, where he earned a Silver Star, Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts. He then used the occasion to launch an all-out assault on the integrity of the present Commander-in-Chief.
"George Bush's vision does not live up to the America I enlisted in the Navy to defend," Kerry told the crowd of supporters gathered at Patriot's Point, S.C. The line was meant to remind us that Bush served in the National Guard, while Kerry was busy dodging bullets on a gunboat in Vietnam. Kerry then went on to accuse the president of lying to the American people and of misleading the U.S. Congress about the war in Iraq.
The Democrats have a problem -- Americans aren't sure whether to trust them when it comes to defending the United States, and with good reason. Since the Vietnam War, the Democratic Party has become the Peace-at-Any-Cost Party. After September 11, 2001, this position became politically untenable, so some Democrats have tried to recast themselves as willing to defend the United States against its enemies. As a bona fide war hero, Kerry looked poised to assume the role as leader of the new, more hawkish Democratic pack -- the party's only hope to challenge a successful wartime president.
Bush led the country through the horrific days after September 11 with remarkable strength and resolve. He drove the Taliban and much of al-Qaeda from Afghanistan. He organized a worldwide effort to cut off funds to terrorist organizations and capture terrorist leaders. And he won the war in Iraq -- even if he has not yet totally secured the peace there.
The only way the Democrats can beat this record is by convincing the American people that: a) it didn't happen; b) if it did happen, Bush had nothing to do with it; or c) it shouldn't have happened in the first place. The last argument seems to be Kerry's preferred explanation for the success of the war in Iraq.
Kerry is one of only 29 Democratic senators to vote for the latest war in Iraq -- though he voted with the majority of his party against the 1991 Iraq war. "I voted to threaten the use of force to make Saddam Hussein comply with the resolutions of the United Nations," Kerry told the crowd in front of the USS Yorktown. It was an odd way of putting it -- as if he voted only to threaten force, never intending to use. What's more, he claims he only voted that way because Bush deceived him. In effect, Kerry says he was duped.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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