Jewish World Review Sept. 9, 2004 / 23 Elul, 5764

Zev Chafets

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Kerry's got troubles:
He can't shake Vietnam | Bill Clinton's absolutely correct - John Kerry needs to stop talking about Vietnam. Only he can't. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth have seen to that.

The Swifties campaign, which devastated Kerry in August, is just getting started, and Kerry has only himself to blame. Three weeks ago, President Bush offered Kerry a way out by suggesting that both parties move to stop soft-money 527 ads.

Kerry turned the President down because his side had raised vastly more 527 money than the Republicans. This was a penny-wise, pound-foolish miscalculation of epic size.

Kerry thought he could count on the networks and the elite press to silence or discredit the Swifties. And Kerry's friends in the media have tried. Major newspapers continue to refer to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth allegations as "unsubstantiated." The motives and character of the anti-Kerry vets are routinely assailed. And yet, all the blacklisting and whitewashing have not worked. "Unfit for Command" is the best-selling nonfiction book in the country. People are starting to read it. And, as they do, they are asking questions.

This is very bad news for Kerry, because "Unfit for Command" (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.) is very far from unsubstantiated. Frank Wilson, writing in the liberal Philadelphia Inquirer (one of the very few major newspapers to review the book), put it this way: "Sworn eyewitness testimony may not be conclusive evidence, but it is certainly admissible. Kerry probably should sign a Standard Form 180 authorizing the public release of all his military records."

Nat Hentoff, an iconic figure on the civil liberties left, has reached a similar conclusion. "With one stroke," he wrote in a recent column, "candidate John Kerry could do a lot to lift the fog of media war ... if he were finally to authorize the release of all his service records." Hentoff also noted that the unpublished portion of Kerry's records is about 100 pages long.

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The demand for Kerry to release his full record can only grow. On Sunday, a national rally of anti-Kerry vets is scheduled to convene in Washington. One of their key demands will be for the Democratic candidate to come clean: "Sen. Kerry, sign that form!"

Such public pressure puts Kerry in a very awkward position. If he keeps stonewalling, people (and not just Republican people) naturally will wonder what he is hiding. If he does sign Form 180, his opponents will go over it, slowly and painfully. If they find major discrepancies, Kerry's finished. Even if they don't, the long scrutiny will insure that Vietnam remains part of the campaign right up to the election.

Some anxious Democrats are urging Kerry to break out of this trap by going on the offensive. They want the candidate to attack Bush and Vice President Cheney for not serving in Vietnam. This is a terrible idea. Do the Democrats really want to insult millions of men who accepted draft deferments by implying that they are cowardly, unpatriotic and unfit for political office?

No, Kerry can't shout his way out of the controversy over his service in Vietnam, any more than his friends in the media could make it just disappear. It has gone too far now. All he can do is release his entire official record and hope that it doesn't differ significantly from the stories he has been telling about himself ever since he got back from Vietnam.

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JWR contributor Zev Chafets is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

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