Someday, when brain science has evolved further, specialists may be able to understand how someone like George Bush -- a man of wit and intelligence in private -- can be so unbelievably inarticulate in public. For now, it remains a mystery.
Those who dislike his policies have made a cottage industry of calling him stupid. But this reveals their own stupidity. Stupid men don't become fighter pilots, attend Harvard Business School or successfully declare and conduct a worldwide war against terrorism. They don't have the vision to understand that seeding democracy in the backwater that is the Middle East is the best long-run strategy for winning the war and ridding the world of the most dangerous threats to peace and order.
From all accounts, and even from my own very limited personal experience, it is clear that the president is quick and bright. And yet, he is also capable of an excruciating performance on "Meet the Press." Words are not this man's friend.
But this brings us to John Kerry, who has none of these problems -- but he does have others. It's a mystery to me how things have come this far -- Kerry is the all-but-certain nominee of the Democratic Party -- and yet we've heard very little about Kerry's real identity. The chat shows have featured speculation about whether Kerry's war hero status and George Bush's National Guard service will bear on the outcome in November in any way.
Now, before turning to Kerry's true identity, let me acknowledge that it would be nice if more prominent Republican leaders in this country had actually served in combat. One thinks of Sens. John McCain and Chuck Hagel, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Rep. Duke Cunningham (who was nominated for the Medal of Honor). There are others, but the pickings are slim.
Of course John Kerry deserves honor for his heroic service in Vietnam. But the credit he earned by serving is undercut by his completely dishonorable role in the antiwar movement when he returned home. It is that history -- as well as the 20-year record he amassed in the Senate as a dovish liberal -- that sheds the most illuminating light on the kind of president he would be.
As recounted in my book "Useful Idiots," (out in paperback this month, I shamelessly note), or in Mackubin Thomas Owens's piece in the Feb. 23 issue of National Review, John Kerry returned from Vietnam and leant his prestige to the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Though innocuous-sounding, VVAW was one of the more radical antiwar groups. Through several well-publicized stunts, including one in which Kerry participated by throwing his medals over the White House fence (he later acknowledged that the medals belonged to someone else), VVAW legitimized the libel that American soldiers in Vietnam routinely committed war crimes.
Kerry testified before Congress in 1971 to the effect that American soldiers had "raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam ..."
So spoke the man who now claims to be the "veterans' candidate." There were atrocities committed in Vietnam, as in every war. But Kerry's claim was grotesque. South Vietnam was full of American and international reporters who would have been only too happy to report such events if they had happened. My Lai was prosecuted. And, as Jug Burkett proved in his invaluable book "Stolen Valor," those atrocity stories had been made up by impostors, many of whom had never even been in Vietnam. But Kerry was there. Surely he knows that the vast majority of his fellow Americans conducted themselves as well as they could.
As a young man, Kerry embraced a view of his country as an outlaw nation. His close colleague at VVAW Al Hubbard spelled America with a "k." Kerry has never repudiated that stance, but has played it this way and that depending upon how the political wind is blowing. If antiwar fervor is the order of the day in Massachusetts, then he is the war protester who described Vietnam as an "obscene memory." If the tide turns and war service begins to seem politically useful, he is the hero of the Mekong Delta, proudly displaying his framed medals on the wall.
But his voting record tells the real story. Kerry took pride in trying to thwart Reagan's muscular anticommunism in Central America during the '80s. He supported the nuclear freeze. He opposed the first Gulf War.
He made a huge contribution to defaming the Vietnam War and creating the myth of the American soldier as monster. From his subsequent history, it seems that he came to believe in it.