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Kerry’s Aspirin Factory Moment

Exactly how inept is the Kerry campaign?

By 5.18.04

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Exactly how inept is the Kerry campaign? It's a question worth pondering after Kerry's pronouncement last week that "When Bill Clinton left office, not one young American in uniform was dying in a war anywhere in this world." That remark is as meaningless as it is stupid.

It's meaningless because it is true only in the most technical sense. Yes, on the very day that Clinton left office, no American soldier died in a war. It only means that January 20, 2001, was a good day for our soldiers. Pick any calendar date at random during which George W. Bush has been president, and the odds are very high that on that day too no American soldiers died in a war.

Its deceit is that Clinton's foreign policy was so artful that our men and women were never in harm's way. But they were in harm's way, and Kerry's remark makes light of the soldiers who lost their life in Somalia, in the Khobar towers, in the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and on the U.S.S. Cole. The truth is Americans were increasingly endangered because Clinton's policy was so feckless. Clinton had a three-pronged strategy to the increasing terrorist threat during the 1990s: tuck tail and run, treat it as a law-enforcement matter, or lob a few missiles into a ten dollar tent to smack some camel in the butt (or maybe an aspirin factory).

That's one reason why the remark is so stupid. It threatens to make Clinton's foreign policy into a campaign issue. Does the Kerry campaign really want the media focusing on the foreign policy of a former Democratic president that taught our enemies Americans were soft and would not respond to terrorist atrocities? And does Kerry really want the press focusing on something that makes Bush's foreign policy seem that much better by comparison?

Worse for Kerry is he has now signaled that he wants to bring back Clinton's foreign policy. This opens a very promising line of attack for the Bush campaign. It probably won't be long before Bush's surrogates are using the remark as evidence that Kerry wants to return to a more passive attitude toward terrorism. Kerry will surely find numerous ways to explain it away, which will no doubt provide even more fodder for the Bushies.

Finally, the remark is stupid because it implies that the average American is stupid. It suggests to voters that the only reason we are at war is that Bush is a warmonger, while Clinton was a peacemaker. The war is in no way related to a little intervening event that happened about eight months into Bush's presidency. Indeed, it's as though Kerry expects Americans to say "September When?"

At one point I thought that Kerry's gaffe that "foreign leaders" wanted him to beat Bush was, tactically, one of the worst remarks made by a candidate in quite some time. But it now seems that Kerry has bested it. And there are still five and a half months to go…

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David Hogberg is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.  Follow David Hogberg on Twitter.