WASHINGTON -- A 34-year-old flier lists speakers for an anti-Vietnam War rally at Valley Forge State Park, Pa., Sept. 7, 1970. Included were two of that era's most notorious leftist agitators, the Rev. James Bevel and Mark Lane, plus actress Jane Fonda, a symbol of extreme opposition to the war. Leading off the list was a less familiar name: John Kerry.
So much for the contention by Kerry supporters that his connection with "Hanoi Jane" (so called for her later visit to the enemy capital in time of war) was accidental juxtaposition in a photograph. In fact, Navy Lt. Kerry returned from heroic wartime service to help lead the radical Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), whose diatribes against flag and country are shocking from the distance of three decades.
Does this reflect on Kerry's qualifications for the presidency? Perhaps no more than George W. Bush's record in attending National Guard drills in 1972. When Democrats made President Bush's past part of the 2004 campaign, Sen. Kerry's past became fair game. Relentless attention to the Bush record has helped the president's political decline, while the Kerry record has been largely ignored.
Kerry now keeps his distance from Jane Fonda, expressing disapproval of her adventures in Hanoi. Rep. Charles Rangel on CNN's "Crossfire" Feb. 12 minimized a photo showing Kerry three rows away from Fonda at an anti-war rally: "There was some distance between Jane Fonda . . . and there was a guy that looked like it was Kerry that was a part of the crowd." He added to me: "I just hope that you wouldn't just identify me with your politics just because I took a picture with you."
Actually, Kerry and Fonda both were among war resisters with the most extreme positions in criticizing U.S. participation in the war. Kerry, as the New England representative, attended a VVAW executive committee meeting Sept. 11, 1970. Minutes show plans to picket the National Guard Association convention in New York, to sponsor "war crimes testimony" at the U.N. and to coordinate with Jane Fonda's speaking tour. A later VVAW staff meeting decided to bar the American flag from the organization's offices.
A VVAW flier of their period claims "American soldiers" commit atrocities "every day" against "the Vietnamese simply because they are 'Gooks.'" Kerry bought into the VVAW mantra that war crimes were not isolated in Vietnam. He told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that "in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan," U.S. troops committed unspeakable atrocities while they "ravaged the countryside."
Returning to Kerry's youthful indiscretions is valid only because of the inordinate attention on young Bush in the same period. Kerry's strategists never planned to go down this path, which inadvertently was opened when leftist moviemaker Michael Moore called Bush a "deserter" for allegedly missing National Guard drills. That triggered a feeding frenzy for Democratic politicians, helped along at first by Kerry.
In 2000, Kerry leaped on the National Guard issue, comparing the Republican candidate unfavorably with "those of us who were in the military." Four years later, Kerry was less direct, linking Bush's Guard service to people who "went to Canada" or "opposed the war." Kerry's surrogate, former Sen. Max Cleland (recently named by President Bush to the Export-Import Bank board) asserted "we need somebody who felt the sting of battle, not someone who didn't."
Kerry has since backed away from the National Guard question and ordered his surrogates to do the same, but that does not cover such irrepressible Democrats as Charlie Rangel. In 1992 when Bill Clinton's non-service was under attack, the congressman from Harlem brushed off his own heroic Korean War record as a way "to get off the street because times were rough." On NBC's "Meet the Press" last Sunday he sang a different song. "I've served in combat," he said, adding that "those who haven't shared it ought to give a lot of space to those that have been there."
Once again, Rangel suggested that Kerry did not even know Jane Fonda. Documents show they shared the same platform and the same wing of the anti-war movement. That is surely as valid as investigating how many National Guard drills Bush attended.