Topic: Government & Politics

McCain is Right
(8/6/2004)

Senator John McCain has called for the Bush White House to condemn attacks on John Kerry's war record, as epitomized by a recent 60 second TV spot sponsored by an independent group. Piling on later this month will be a "sensational" new book calling into question many of Senator Kerry's combat exploits.

McCain is 100% right. Kerry's war record is in the books: he was a legitimate hero, like thousands of other American soldiers, living and dead. Smearing that record or calling it into question based on the uncorroborated testimony of other veterans is indefensible and wrong. Might the Bush campaign benefit from some of these ads? Naturally…and if it does, it is benefiting from unethical tactics. The fair and honorable thing is for the President to go on record as opposing such ads, and to profess his acceptance and admiration of Senator Kerry's service to his country.

Now, it is true that there are an unusual number of tempting but invalid rationalizations to be raised in defense of those indefensible attacks, such as:

  • "Kerry asked for it." Sure: by making virtually the entire Democratic National Convention a celebration of Kerry's military service as his primary qualification to be Commander-in-Chief, Kerry emphasized the supposed relevance of his Viet Nam military service, even after his party had spent eight years denying that Bill Clinton's lack of similar service had any relevance at all. But the ethical way for Bush supporters to respond is to challenge the premise, not the service. The use of military service as a qualification for the presidency is a hoary one, going back to "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too!", an era in which the Whig party would nominate just about any general who hadn't run screaming from battle as the "heir to George Washington." It was nonsense then, and is nonsense now. America's three biggest wars were led by Presidents Lincoln, Wilson and FDR, who had virtually no military experience at all. They did all right.

  • "The Democrats started it." Yup, they did: the continuing innuendos relating to Bush's National Guard service is a favorite of Bush-hating Democrats like a certain documentary-maker, and Kerry has not lifted a finger to squelch them. It's no excuse. Those attacks are unfair and irrelevant, and so are these.

  • "How dare Kerry?" You mean, how dare someone construct a political career on denigrating his military service as complicity in "war crimes" and then use the same military service as a qualification for office? It's a neat trick, to be sure, but Kerry's been walking that tight-rope for decades. Voters have bought it so far. Make your case, Republicans. Stooping to slander creates the impression that there may not be much of a case to make.

  • "Kerry has to be stopped." This logic, perhaps even more prevalent on the Democratic side, should just chill everyone's bones. Yes, the election is important; all elections are important. But both candidates are Americans and public servants of good will, and neither is out to destroy the country. The "total war" mentality is not only unethical; it's completely unjustified. Republicans need to show why George Bush's policies are preferable to John Kerry's and the Democrats have the opposite argument to make. If the choice is so momentous, then it should be easy to argue about facts, goals, and achievements. The behavior of two young men almost 40 years ago could not be more irrelevant to the decision at hand.

The American people deserve to have an election based on policies, not smear campaigns. President Bush has not only the opportunity to help us have one, but the obligation. America needs heroes, and admitting John Kerry was one does not mean that he deserves to be president. It is simply being fair to a distinguished American. Another distinguished American, Senator John McCain, has it exactly right.

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