Jewish World Review August 2, 2004 / 15 Menachem-Av, 5764
Kerry's great asset becomes a great liability
It didn't matter that John Kerry gave an impassioned acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention Thursday night, or that it contained substance. Every moment of it was tainted by his super-sized immodesty about his four months of military service in Vietnam.
It was an exploitation that is completely within his rights as an honorably discharged veteran. But it contrasts vividly with the discomfort other war heroes such as George H. W. Bush, Bob Dole and John McCain displayed when their military service was trumpeted during their campaigns for the Presidency. In this sense, Kerry managed to turn his one forte as a candidate into a liability.
It started with Bill Clinton's opening night speech on Monday praising Kerry for doing the opposite of what he did during Vietnam (fleeing), and stretched through the Steven Spielberg protege's campaign film that used jungle footage Kerry took of himself as he lugged a video camera around on his tour of duty sometimes reenacting battle scenes for his planned future self-aggrandizement. The convention's entire thrust might have been summed up as: "Never mind what John Kerry has been doing (or not doing) for the past three decades. He served in the military when he was in his 20s."
The single-note theme emphasized the Democratic Presidential candidate's desperation to assure voters that even though he often talks like he is doing the bidding of the French and the U.N., and votes against the military, he was indeed, at one brief time, on America's side.
When Kerry appeared at the podium, a new cheesiest moment in political convention history was born. His first words and gestures were pure grist for a "Saturday Night Live" parody of him: "I'm John Kerry, and I'm reporting for duty!" he bellowed gravely, saluting the delegates in a cartoonish manner. Reporting for duty, the man who threw his medals over the White House fence in protest against the war. (Actually, he threw someone else's medals over the fence. Or his ribbons. Or something. He saved his own medals, along with the video footage he took of himself in the jungle. He knew one day there would be an entire political convention built on this warrior "legacy.")
Still, there is no belittling the three Purple Hearts John Kerry earned in Vietnam, even if two were for self-inflicted or at least very minor wounds. Max Cleland, the Georgia Democrat who lost three limbs in Vietnam, gave a rousing introduction of Kerry. The several high-ranking career military officials who stood on stage to support Kerry bolstered the comprehensive "I swear I'm not French" effort. How many times did Kerry refer to them as his "band of brothers," drawing on the popular Steven Ambrose book and HBO series? Too many to count.
But there are other brothers who Kerry didn't and couldn't call on to press his case to the American people. Brothers such as retired Rear Adm. Roy Hoffmann, commander of the fleet of swift boats Kerry served on during his tour of duty, who now heads Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
At a May press conference in Washington, Hoffman said of Kerry: "He arrived in country with a strong anti-Vietnam War bias and a self-serving determination to build a foundation for his political future. He was aggressive, but vain and prone to impulsive judgment, often with disregard to specific tactical assignments. He was a loose cannon. . . In an abbreviated tour of four months and 12 days, and with his specious medals secure, Lt. j.g. Kerry bugged out of Vietnam and began his infamous betrayal of all United States forces in the Vietnam War."
In a forthcoming book titled: "Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry," fellow swift boat commander John O'Neill promises to lay out even more damning details. Only two of the 20 men serving on Kerry's boat openly support his Presidential bid contrary to the impression Kerry carefully created at the convention.
Kerry's service to his country in Vietnam was certainly a plus in his column when the campaign began. But the more immodest he becomes about the four months he spent in Vietnam, the more we will hear from men like Hoffman and O'Neill. John Kerry will not be the first politician to be brought down by hubris.
Comment on JWR contributor Bernadette Malone's column by clicking here.
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© 2003, Bernadette Malone