Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts is between a rock and a hard place.
On one side is the flinty fact he voted for war in Iraq. On the other is the adamantine stand former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean took against the war -- a stand Dean has used to separate Kerry from the liberal base of the Democratic Party.
If Kerry can't wiggle out of this spot, his presidential chances will be crushed.
Debating at Morgan State in Baltimore, Kerry tried to blame his vote for the war on a character flaw in President Bush. Either Bush misled the country into war, Kerry argued, or he allowed himself to be dragged into it by uncritically accepting bad advice.
"The reason I can't tell you to a certainty whether the president misled us is because I don't have any clue what he really knew about it, or whether he was just reading what was put in front of him," said Kerry. ". . . And there are serious suspicions about the level to which this president really was involved in asking the questions that he should have."
The sweet irony: It is precisely because Bush rejected bad advice that Kerry's in this jam.
The White House counsel's office told the president last August he didn't need a vote in Congress to launch a war. "In disclosing this week that Alberto R. Gonzales, the White House counsel, had told the president that he has the authority he needs to wage a war against Iraq," reported The New York Times, "the White House reopened a debate that has periodically vexed policymakers: Can a president launch a war without explicit congressional approval?"
But Bush brushed aside his lawyers. "At the appropriate time," the president said last Sept. 4, "this administration will go to the Congress to seek approval necessary to deal with the threat."
In October, Congress authorized war. Twenty-nine Democratic senators, including Kerry, voted for the authorization.
Had Bush not sought it, he, not Kerry, might face disaster today. America, not the Democratic Party, would be bitterly divided. Left-wing presidential candidates wouldn't be pointing at their rivals' war votes, they would be pointing with their rivals at the war Bush started without a vote.
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