Q: So, you've been away. What was the main story while you were out of the loop?
A: Regarding the presidential election, for the past month there really has been only one story: the Swift Boat thing.
Q: You're not really saying that was an important story -
A: Devastating to the Kerry campaign. Perhaps crushing. The polls are indicating Bush is back on top on the pivotal security/terror question.
Q: But the Swiftvets is a 527 group put up to it by Bush. How can anyone believe these looney tunes?
A; They insist they are independent. Surely they and their million dollars or so of ads are as independent of the Bush campaign as the numerous leftie 527s and their $63 million of ads (says The Washington Post) are independent of the Kerry campaign.
Q: Still, Vietnam. How is a 30-year-old war relevant to this year's election? Surely Bush and Kerry should be talking about more important things.
A: Kerry brought it up. He has made his Vietnam service a central reason for voters to elect him to fight the war on terror more effectively than Bush has.
Q: Kerry's heroic, be-medaled record of Vietnam service is indisputable -
A: Then why won't he release the full file to demonstrate (a) that he didn't embellish the record by writing up his own medals and (b) how he could have received, for instance, a Silver Star with combat when such a medal is not widely known to exist?
Q: And to impugn Kerry's medals is to impugn all the medals, symbolic of heroism, won by all those who received medals in Vietnam.
A: If medals are important symbols of heroism, then why did Kerry throw them away to protest America's participation in the war? And how does questioning certain Kerry medals impugn all medal-winners more than questioning Bush's National Guard service as somehow disdainful implicitly sniffs at all such Guard and Reserve service?
Q: Kerry has his "band of brothers" who generally were in the boat with him. They back up what he says. The truth is. . .
A: That's one of the key points raised by the Swiftees: What is the truth? Where does it lie? How trustworthy is Kerry, really? Heavy majorities of Swift Boat officers and many enlisteds have profound doubts about the veracity of key Kerry claims. Even some of his Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) allies have questioned, from the left, Kerry's commitment now.
Q: How can you say that?
A: Easy. John Musgrave, former Kansas VVAW state coordinator at the time of a 1971 meeting - evidently attended by Kerry - at which the group discussed and rejected killing or kidnapping government officials and taking over the Statue of Liberty, thinks Kerry should re-embrace his 1971 Senate Foreign Relations Committee speech, wherein he recounted stories by other veterans that they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads (and) razed villages in (a) fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan. Says Musgrave: "When he gave that speech, he spoke for all of us. He should either stand up for it, or explain why he no longer agrees with it."
Q: But why? Why is that 1971 speech important? And who really remembers it?
A; I'll tell you who remembers it: the U.S. POWs held in Hanoi, a "band of brothers" if ever there was one, taking torture for the things Kerry was saying. Paul Galanti, in Hanoi for nearly seven years, remembers. When in July he learned the voice repeated over the camp PA system was Kerry's, it gave him flashbacks and made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. As he said to me yesterday, "Almost as demoralizing as solitary confinement was hearing a purported naval officer on Radio Hanoi calling me and all other Americans war criminals."
Q: Okay. But why are Kerry's 1971 anti-war statements and activities important now - in this year's election?
A: Here's why, and it flows directly from what the Swiftvets are saying.
Kerry made his Vietnam story as central to his campaign as John Kennedy made his PT-109 story to his. The Swiftvets are saying, Very well. Let's look at Kerry's story. And they say it may not be - indeed, they insist it is not - all that it seems. Seeking fuller public explication, they even have begged Kerry to allow them to reprint his now-suppressed early-1970s book, "The New Soldier." Kerry refuses to allow republication, and terms any examination of his story "scurrilous."
Yet equally as important as the character issues raised by Kerry's story are his comments and activities after leaving Vietnam. They undermined the integrity of those serving in Vietnam. And they established Kerry's abiding liberalism. Kerry cannot repudiate his early post-Vietnam comments and activities without irretrievably undermining his Democratic base. Yet to have those comments and activities raised now without repudiation goes - again - to his trustworthiness and what he genuinely believes.
Kerry's voting record is one of the Senate's most left-wing; he and his apologists say he actually is more moderate than his record indicates. Kerry famously speaks on every side of every issue, trying to mask his liberalism and appear the centrist he is not. His response to those confused by the disconnect between his voting record and his statements is the refuge of arrogant ideologues - that his highly "nuanced" positions are beyond the ability of mere commoners to comprehend.
And now, along have come the Swiftvets to pick through to the ingredients of the Kerry sausage. Or rather, to slice the baloney.