Thomas Sowell

Candidates are not the only major factors in this year's elections. The media have taken a big role -- and a biased role.

The latest in a long list of examples is the way they have immediately circled the wagons around John Kerry to protect him and the Democrats from the reaction to an ill-advised remark that the Senator made at a college in California.

What was the remark? "You know, education, if you make the most of it, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. And if you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."

That's what the man said. It's on tape so there is no basis for dispute about that. What there is a dispute about is what it meant.

One plain meaning is that, if you don't get a good education, you could end up getting sent to Iraq. This would be consistent with a disdain for the military apparent not only in Senator Kerry's voting record but also that of many other Democrats in Congress. So the Republicans grabbed that ball and ran with it.

Senator Kerry now claims that it was a "botched joke," meaning that President Bush didn't get a good education and that he has gotten the country stuck in Iraq. Even if we bend over backward to believe that Kerry didn't really mean what he said, but had simply messed up the punch line, his follow-up statement later on only made matters worse.

He said he would "apologize to no one" that if anyone would believe that "a veteran, someone like me," would "somehow criticize more than 140,000 troops serving in Iraq" then "they're crazy."

Maybe Senator Kerry has a bad memory -- or maybe he is counting on the rest of us having a bad memory. He criticized more than 140,000 troops serving in Vietnam, making sweeping and unsubstantiated accusations against them of widespread atrocities back in the 1970s.

He criticized them at home and abroad, giving aid and comfort to our enemies in wartime. That is what first got the Swift Boat veterans after him, years before he ran for President in 2004.

Regardless of whether we believe Kerry's account of his service in Vietnam or the very different accounts by many who served in the same unit with him there, military service does not confer lifetime immunity from criticism for what you do afterwards.

Benedict Arnold was a military hero during the Revolutionary War. But General Arnold changed his mind on that war, just as Senator Kerry has changed his mind on the war in Iraq -- and no one has claimed that Benedict Arnold's earlier military service made him exempt from criticism.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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