No uniform answer for the Democrats
By Michael M. Bates
Unless you're more fortunate than I, you remember erstwhile Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. Monsieur Kerry was famous for bringing up he'd been in the military. Indeed, his service became a constant refrain of the campaign.
Beginning his acceptance speech at the 2004 convention with a salute, he announced "I'm John Kerry, and I'm reporting for duty." A few weeks later, he snapped that if George Bush "wants to have a debate about our service in Vietnam, here is my answer: Bring it on." Obviously, the fact George Bush never questioned Kerry's service couldn't get in the way of a good applause line.
The Democrat's surrogates and supporters quickly got with the program. With Kerry at his side at an August Tacoma gathering, retired Army General Wesley Clark bellowed, "Where was George Bush when young men from Arkansas and Texas and Massachusetts were called to serve their country and went to Vietnam?"
The following month in Nevada a couple of retired generals lent their support to Kerry. One spoke of how members of the Bush administration were AWOL during Vietnam: "They all ducked the opportunity to participate."
Another retired Army General, Claudia Kennedy, also campaigned for the Democratic nominee. According to a local newspaper account, in October at a South Carolina rally she "blast(ed) both Bush and Cheney for not serving in the active-duty military."
Retired Air Force General Merrill McPeak, now an Obama adviser, made the news recently when he compared Bill Clinton to the late Senator Joseph McCarthy. This was completely despicable. Joltin' Joe never took liberties with the truth like the Impeached One did. Anyway, back in 2004 McPeak, who'd previously backed Bush, switched his allegiance "on the strength of Kerry's wartime service in Vietnam."
A Kerry staffer charged that President Bush would never have rushed into a war in Iraq if he'd ever served in an armed conflict. Shortly afterwards, the candidate himself proclaimed, "I'm not going to have my commitment to defend this country questioned by those who refused to serve when they could have. . . "
Iowa Senator Tom Harkin was particularly offended by GOP assertions that John Kerry would have trouble waging the war on terror. Said Harkin: "When I hear this coming from Dick Cheney, who was a coward, who would not serve during the Vietnam War, it makes my blood boil." Not distancing himself from using the word coward, Kerry appeared content with Harkin's assessment.
The stress on Kerry's military service didn't abate. On just one day in September, the Chicago Tribune reported:
The president of the United Mine Workers declared at a Labor Day picnic that "When John Kerry was dodging bullets in Vietnam, George Bush and Dick Cheney were dodging the draft in the United States."
The mayor of Akron, Ohio said that George Bush was "hiding in the woods in Alabama" at the same time Kerry "was defending our country."
An Ohio congressman introduced Kerry, describing him as "a man who was carrying guns through the jungles of Vietnam while George Bush was neglecting his military service."
And that was just one day's worth of name calling on the Democratic campaign trail. Screamin' Howie Dean clarified the never ending theme. "The real issue is this," said Howard. "Who would you rather have in charge of the defense of the United States of America, a group of people who never served a day overseas in their life, or a guy who served his country honorably and has three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star on the battlefields of Vietnam?"
That's not an unreasonable question. At one time, having served in the military significantly helped political candidates. That changed, at least on the national scene, in the 90s when a genuine draft dodger named Clinton defeated two genuine war heroes.
So what are the Democrats going to do this year? Unless you count Hillary's harrowing Bosnian escape from snipers or Barack's performance when fighting off those pesky questions about his pastor and their 20-year friendship during which he had no idea what the minister was saying, neither Democrat has demonstrated courage under fire. Neither has worn the uniform.
John Kerry spent four months in Vietnam. Despite some who served with him challenging his account, Democrats never tired of touting those four months for all they were worth.
John McCain endured over five years in the subhuman slavery of a North Vietnamese prisoner of war camp. If an Obama speech sends a thrill up Chris Matthews' leg, what must the McCain record of courage and perseverance do for Screamin' Howie and all those other Democrats who only a few years ago fixated on the paramount importance of military service?
If they're sincere, they should now report for duty themselves. At McCain headquarters.
This Michael Bates column appeared in the April 3, 2008 Reporter Newspapers.