McCain is Right
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,
- “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
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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