Jewish World Review August 16, 2004/ 29 Menachem-Av, 5764
Peddling their own unique truth
That's such an exquisitely contemporary formulation: ''my'' truth. Once upon a time, there was only ''the'' truth. Now everyone gets his own or, as the governor put it, ''One has to look deeply into the mirror of one's soul and decide one's unique truth in the world.'' For Jim McGreevey, his truth is that he's a gay American; for others in the Garden State, the truth about McGreevey is that he's a corrupt sexual harasser who put his lover on the state payroll in a critical homeland security post, and whose I-am-what-I-am confessional is a tactical feint that distracts the media sob sisters from the fact that, as his final service to the Democratic Party, he's resigned in such a way as to deny the people an early vote on his successor.
We'll see whose truth prevails in the fullness of time.
In politics, it's helpful if whatever ''unique truth'' the consultants have run past the focus groups bears at least a passing relationship to the real, actual truth not the whole truth, but at least a grain of it. That was what was so ingenious about Bill Clinton's ''60 Minutes'' appearance in 1992. He didn't come clean he was, as usual, full of it but he set in motion his designated ''unique truth'' flawed but human. It was designed to get him past Gennifer, but it wound up also getting him past Paula, Monica, Kathleen, Juanita. . . . Whatever goods you got on him, it fit ''his truth'' as he sold it to us on CBS that day. As his attorney Cheryl Mills put it during the impeachment trial, Bill Clinton, along with Jefferson, Kennedy and Martin Luther King, ''made human errors, but they struggled to do humanity good . . .''
Which brings us to John Kerry. What is his unique truth? In 1986, on the floor of the United States Senate, he said:
''I remember Christmas of 1968, sitting on a gunboat in Cambodia. I remember what it was like to be shot at by the Vietnamese and the Khmer Rouge and Cambodians, and the president of the United States telling the American people that I was not there, the troops were not in Cambodia. I have that memory, which is seared seared in me.''
Though the seared senator peddled this searing memory for a quarter-century, it had evidently been seared into him pretty haphazardly. It turns out at Christmas 1968 he wasn't in Cambodia but was instead 55 miles away at Sa Dec, South Vietnam. So the Kerry campaign's begun riffling hurriedly through its Sears Rowback catalog for more or less watertight back-pedaling of the story: They now say that ''many times he was on or near the Cambodian border,'' which is true in the sense that 80 percent of Canadians live on or near the American border. But most folks in Vancouver don't claim to be living in the Greater Seattle area.
But this question isn't about geographical degrees of latitude so much as psychological ones. Here's the real reason Lt. Kerry wasn't spending Dec. 24, 1968, on a secret mission in Cambodia: On the previous day, Dec. 23, the U.S. government finally secured the release, after a five-month diplomatic stand-off, of 11 Americans whose U.S. Army utility landing craft had made a navigational error and strayed into Cambodian waters. Prince Sihanouk had rejected U.S. apologies and threatened to try the men under Cambodian law. It's unlikely, 24 hours after their release, anyone in Washington was thinking, ''Hey, we need to send that hotshot Kerry in there.''
So what are we to make of Sen. Kerry's self-seared 30-year-old false memory of Christmas in Cambodia with its vast accumulation of precise details? Of being shot at by the Khmer Rouge (unlikely in 1968) and of South Vietnamese troops drunkenly celebrating Christmas (as only devout Buddhists know how)?
It's not about dates and places. For Kerry, his Yuletide mission was an epiphany: the moment when he realized his government was lying to the people about what was going on. This is the turning point, the moment that set the young Kerry on the path from brave young war volunteer to fierce anti-war activist.
And it turns out it's total bunk.
Thirty-five years on, having no appealing campaign themes, the senator decides to run for president on his biography. But for the last 20 years he's been a legislative non-entity. Before that, he was accusing his brave band of brothers of mutilation, rape and torture. He spent his early life at Swiss finishing school and his later life living off his wife's inheritance from her first husband. So, biography-wise, that leaves four months in Vietnam, which he talks about non-stop. That 1986 Senate speech is typical: It was supposed to be about Reagan policy in Central America, but like so many Kerry speeches and interviews somehow it winds up with yet another self-aggrandizing trip down memory lane.
A handful of Kerry's ''band of brothers'' are traveling around with his campaign. Most of the rest, including a majority of his fellow swift boat commanders and 254 swiftees from Kerry's Coastal Squadron One, are opposed to his candidacy. That is an amazing ratio and, if snot-nosed American media grandees don't think there's a story there, maybe they ought to consider another line of work. To put it in terms they can understand, imagine if Dick Cheney campaigned for the presidency on the basis of his time at Halliburton, and a majority of the Halliburton board and 80 percent of the stockholders declared he was unfit for office. More to the point, on the swift vets' first major allegation Christmas in Cambodia the Kerry campaign has caved.
Who is John Kerry? What is his ''unique truth?'' Consider this vignette from New Hampshire primary season as retailed in a recent 8,000-word yawneroo puff piece in the New Yorker:
'' 'He'll often thrash around in the night,' the filmmaker George Butler, who is one of Kerry's oldest friends, told me. 'He smashed up a lamp in my house in New Hampshire, in the bedroom where he was staying. Most Vietnam veterans go through this.'''
''Most?'' Whether or not John Kerry ever entered Cambodia, he seems unable, psychologically, to exit it.
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JWR contributor Mark Steyn is North American Editor of The (London) Spectator and the author, most recently, of "The Face of the Tiger," a new book on the world post-Sept. 11. (Sales help fund JWR). Comment by clicking here.