Here is a feeble attempt at humor: A Bush supporter says, "Kerry's education and health-care plans are terrible." To which a Kerry supporter replies, "You're attacking his Vietnam service again!"
Yes, feeble, but it illustrates a point. We are going to hear about John Kerry's Vietnam service over and over again this campaign season because Democrats think it is an effective strategy for winning back the White House.
Last week Senators Frank Lautenberg and Tom Harkin were in high dudgeon over remarks Vice President Dick Cheney made in a speech at Westminster College critical of Kerry. Lautenberg denounced Cheney as a "chickenhawk" and stated that "He was in Missouri this week claiming that Sen. Kerry was not up to the job of protecting this nation. What nerve. Where was Dick Cheney when that war [Vietnam] was going on?" Harkin was particularly piqued: "I don't want someone like Mr. Cheney coming back and trying to wave the flag and call someone like John Kerry who risked his life in Vietnam, who is a genuine war hero, and come back and cast aspersions on his character. To me that is really galling, for someone like a chickenhawk like Dick Cheney who was afraid to go serve."
The problem is that nowhere in the speech did Dick Cheney cast any aspersions on Kerry's character (indeed, the word "Vietnam" isn't even in the speech). Rather, Cheney questioned Kerry's national security record, a legitimate topic in a presidential election. But the senators defending Kerry did not defend his voting record in the Senate. Rather, they went straight for the Vietnam-service defense, as though having served in Southeast Asia answers all questions about a politician's national security credentials.
But Kerry keeps giving us reason to question his ability to lead this nation. Kerry's own speech last Friday at Westminster College was devoid of any new ideas on Iraq. He repeated the worn-out liberal tripe about the need to "bring in more countries," to "go to the U.N." for another resolution, and "to bring NATO members and others in." Why will countries that didn't support us before now join in? According to Kerry, "For one simple reason: it's in their self-interest. For the Europeans, Iraq's failure could endanger the security of their oil supplies, further radicalize their large Muslim populations, threaten destabilizing refugee flows, and seed a huge new source of terrorism." Yet, if it is so obviously in the self-interest of these other countries to join us in Iraq, why haven't they done so already?
This week the Kerry campaign has launched two new television ads purported to introduce the Massachusetts senator to the voters. Guess which theme dominates the ads? Indeed, it seems odd to introduce a candidate by highlighting something that most people already know about him. If you ask the average citizen to quickly name three things about Kerry, Vietnam vet is surely one of the first things he will mention.
Yet that's not the point. The ads themselves are very light on policy ideas. They mention his fighting for children's health-care, and cleverly -- if deceptively --tout his 1993 vote for the largest tax increase in history as casting "a deciding vote that created 20 million new jobs." Given how Kerry's policy initiatives have thus far fallen flat, it is little wonder that the ads avoid mentioning them. The ads suggest that the Kerry campaign hopes that the emphasis on Vietnam service will substitute for any meaningful discussion of policy.
Yet that is a dicey strategy in a time like ours. As November nears, voters will want to know what Kerry's plans are for the future, especially his plans on Iraq and the War on Terrorism. Kerry had better come up with some good ideas between now and then. Otherwise, Kerry and the Democrats will discover that Vietnam service is not by itself a qualification for high office.