WASHINGTON -- High-level Democrats, including some inside the Kerry campaign, were appalled by this week's political sideshow. Just as John Kerry began finding his voice on Iraq, he was in danger of being drowned out by Democratic operatives Joe Lockhart and Terry McAuliffe. But the Democratic presidential candidate had only himself to blame.
Democratic critics can hardly comprehend that Lockhart, President Bill Clinton's spokesman who was recently taken aboard the campaign by Sen. Kerry, telephoned a notorious Bush-bashing eccentric who was CBS's source of the discredited documents. They also are unhappy that McAuliffe, the Clinton-selected Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman who supposedly was eclipsed when Kerry clinched the nomination, has launched an advertising campaign attacking President Bush's National Guard record.
The complaints are not limited to specific cases. One party activist with a nationally familiar name calls Lockhart and McAuliffe "attack dogs" who go beyond the facts and get Sen. Kerry off message. But the nominee brought Lockhart into the campaign and could, with a single telephone call, suppress McAuliffe's Bush-bashing. This is Kerry's campaign, and he is responsible for these distractions from his new focus on Iraq.
It is hard to believe that so experienced a political operative as Lockhart followed a CBS producer's suggestion to telephone retired National Guardsman Bill Burkett, whose claims of evidence to destroy Bush were rejected by Al Gore's campaign in 2000. (Both Lockhart and Burkett say the documents were not even discussed during their brief conversation.) Lockhart was added to the Kerry campaign team because he is renowned as a smart political insider who knows everything. Anyone vaguely familiar with politicians was aware of Burkett's unstable background, but Lockhart told CNN interviewer Bill Hemmer Tuesday: "I didn't know who the guy was."
When Hemmer pressed Lockhart about the propriety of calling Burkett, the Kerry spokesman tried to change the subject. He contended that Bush White House spokesman Scott McClellan "has held two White House briefings in the last two months" -- an accusation he elaborated and repeated. However many briefings actually were held within the confines of the White House, Bush's staff has conducted 37 question-and-answer sessions with White House reporters since the beginning of August.