Ted offensive

Posted: Apr 12, 2004 12:00 AM

Last September, Sen. Edward Kennedy attributed the decision to go to war in Iraq to "a fraud" that "was made up in Texas." In January, Kennedy pegged the decision to go to war in Iraq to a "gross abuse of intelligence" -- intelligence that convinced the world Saddam Hussein was in breach of 17 United Nations' Security Council resolutions -- and an "arrogant disrespect for the United Nations" -- before whom the administration made the case for enforcing those resolutions for more than a year.

The senator has recklessly and variously impugned President Bush's morality for using the war as a political scheme to pick up congressional seats, his honesty for clandestinely "bribing (other countries) to send in troops," and his judgment for undertaking "a war of choice, not necessity."

But nothing works. That is, no matter how much Massachusetts mud Kennedy hurls at the White House, George W. Bush gets up every morning and goes to work. And so do our troops. Which must be the reason for the recent escalation of senatorial hot air.

"Iraq," said Kennedy this week, "is George Bush's Vietnam." And George Bush, he said, has "created the largest credibility gap since Richard Nixon."

Evoking Vietnam, Richard Nixon, and the historic implications of defeat, shame and waste -- that ought to fix Bush. So what if Colin Powell was stirred by these comments to remark that he hoped Kennedy would be "a little more restrained and careful in his comments because we are at war."

Such rules don't apply to Kennedys. Remember Kennedy's father, Joseph Kennedy Sr., who, as ambassador to London on the eve of America's entry into World War II, became notorious for his defeatist sentiments and efforts to appease Nazi Germany (and later for his own anti-Semitism). And that was just on the eve of war. Meanwhile, for the record, it was Kennedy's brother John F. Kennedy who actually kicked off the Vietnam War that bedeviled his successors. But no matter.

In fact, is he really concerned about the war? What counts is this year's presidential campaign. Edward Kennedy "talks with (John) Kerry daily by phone when the candidate is on the road," reports USA Today. "Friends of both senators say Kennedy rises early to read the morning newspapers and often calls Kerry's cell phone by 7 a.m. with advice." Not, of course, that there was any coordination between the Kerry campaign and Kennedy's latest verbal assault on the president, according to Kerry spokeswoman (and former Kennedy press secretary) Stephanie Cutter. Still, the media don't call Kennedy "a leading cheerleader and warm-up act" for the Kerry campaign for nothing.

That's not all they call him. Despite the wild swings of Kennedy's rhetorical hatchet that savage civil debate, the man is glowingly depicted in the media as a halo-ready statesman of the noblest order -- "the Senate's liberal lion," "the elder statesmen with the star power" and "the leading liberal voice of the Democratic Party." He's "an asset in the critical task of turning out the Democratic vote," and even "the Dick Cheney of the Kerry presidential campaign." (This last remark may not work as an applause line at Democratic rallies, but it appears to have been meant as a compliment.) Quotations attesting to Kennedy's "respectability" and "credibility" abound. He's all Camelot and no dark side.

But how respectable is it to label the war in Iraq "George Bush's Vietnam" even as American soldiers are engaged in combat? Vietnam was a 12-year conflict costing 58,000 American lives -- and even more Vietnamese lives, not to mention genocide in Cambodia -- that ended in failure; it bears no military or strategic resemblance to the war in Iraq.

And how credible is it to make the grotesque and baseless charge that an American president sent troops into harm's way as a political gimmick "made up in Texas" to get votes? Never mind that sending troops into harm's way is a lousy way to get votes.

But there's something else to stick in the craw, something that mars Kennedy's strangely immaculate reputation with the media. That something is the stain of Chappaquiddick, the 1969 scandal in which Kennedy, already a second-term U.S. Senator, left the scene of a fatal accident -- Mary Jo Kopechne's drowning death -- and failed to report it for at least 8 hours. Although this still-murky incident overshadowed Kennedy's failed presidential bid in 1980, it hasn't disqualified him from carrying the flag for the John Kerry campaign. Should it? That's Kerry's call. But when it comes to questions of morality, honesty and judgment, this liberal lion has nothing to roar about.