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Who should hold the debates?

By Bruce Walker
web posted September 20, 2004

As of this writing, the final details on the presidential debates have not been finalized. Doubtless, at some point, John Kerry will begin to say that President George W. Bush is hiding behind a double digit poll lead and that the President is afraid to face him in debates. Kerry, of course, has not held a press conference or answered a critical question since Pope Pius XXIII was Pontiff . . . wait - there is no "Pope Pius XXIII" as Kerry said a few months ago (maybe that is why Kerry stopped holding press conferences.)

Although President Bush would cream Kerry with kindness and quiet cogency in any debate, and although Vice President Cheney would demolish What's-His-Name in the Vice Presidential Debate, why should the President allow Kerry to gain any traction on the question of who is stonewalling on the debates?

President Bush can immediately put Kerry on the defensive by publicly challenging Kerry to two debates, three debates, four debates...whatever - provided that Kerry accede to a very reasonable suggestion by the President about the sponsorship of these debates.

What issue has been salient in the Kerry Campaign? Forget whether we are talking about the world today or the world thirty years ago, what issue has Kerry considered the only issue that really matters? What has been "The Issue"? Kerry has droned on incessantly about putting our boys in harm's way, today or thirty years ago.

John Kerry: If a war that happened thirty years ago is the salient issue this campaign, why not have their peers host some debates? George W. Bush: If a war that happened thirty years ago is the salient issue this campaign, why not have their peers host some debates?
If a war that happened thirty years ago is the main issue this campaign, why not have their peers host some debates?

What group of Americans has the deepest and most personal interest in this issue? Veterans. Who then should sponsor the Presidential Debates? How about having the first debate sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars? If President Bush avoided service thirty-two years ago in the Air National Guard, these men would care. If John Kerry can prevent our boys from dying in vain in some foreign land, these men would care about that too.

Of these, these same men would also care if a man made exaggerated claims about his military service and invented facts which allowed him to get out of harm's way as quickly as possible while pretending to be a hero. These men would care about men who served a quick stint in a foreign war and then came back to slime his putative "comrades in arms."

Most of all, these men would care deeply about the truth, regardless of partisan affiliation or even ideological position. If John Kerry served honorably in Vietnam, if he did not do the things which Swift Boat Veterans for Truth allege, if he did not crassly use a quick a bit of grandstanding as a bludgeon to batter millions of returning veterans, then these men will care.

If President Bush really did something bad in his Air National Guard service, then partisan hacks like Dan Rather are not fit to speak to that conduct, but veterans whose friends died in Vietnam are fit to speak to it. Likewise, if the President served honorably and well, not under fire - very few men in uniform during the Vietnam War were under fire - but serving commendably, then these men would care about that as well.

The VFW would be a logical sponsor of one debate, and how about the American Legion for another debate? Men and women who served in the military, whether in war or in peace, whether in foreign lands or in America, belong to the American Legion. It is the largest veterans organization in the world. Nearly every president of both political parties from FDR to George H. Bush belonged to the American Legion. These men and women, like the men of the VFW, would have a compelling interest in truth.

Because nearly everyone in the VFW is male and because a heavy majority of the members of the American Legion are male, Kerry may seek an "out" by preferring some smaller, more evenly balanced group. But, of course, the overwhelming majority of Americans in uniform who died and who will die in Iraq, as in Vietnam, are men.

Besides, there is a precedent for having organizations with a definite gender bias sponsor debates. Can one imagine an organization more clearly associated with one sex than the League of Women Voters? Yet the League has sponsored presidential debates and no one squawked that this was unfair to men.

While Kerry is reeling under the unanswered questions about his phony service record, while the ancient and unsubstantiated accusations about Air National Guard service are seen as comically manufactured, while Kerry is challenging President Bush to a debate per day until the election, President Bush should strike back fast and hard. Invite the American Legion and the VFW to sponsor debates beginning next week and the following week. Shift the burden of rejecting this to Kerry. Show America who our veterans really trust and support by entrusting them with the debates.

Bruce Walker is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right. He is also a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.

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