Kerry’s Self-Indictment

During his acceptance speech Thursday night at the Democratic National Convention, John Kerry did something unprecedented for any presidential candidate: he indicted himself. In addition to outlining a dangerously weak foreign policy, Kerry at times appeared to be playing straight man for the Republican Party attack machine. Practically writing the ads the GOP will use against him in the fall, Kerry droned, “You don’t value families if you force them to take up a collection to buy body armor for a son or daughter in the service.” But part of the $87 billion package he and running mate John Edwards voted against provided body armor to America’s fighting men and women in Iraq. If Karl Rove can’t make a 30-second spot out of this, he deserves to lose.

Perhaps hoping for a fourth Purple Heart, Kerry then wounded himself again. Slighting the president’s foreign policy, Kerry averred, “We need to lead a global effort against nuclear proliferation – to keep the most dangerous weapons in the world out of the most dangerous hands in the world.” Yet that is precisely what George W. Bush was doing in the conflict Kerry and his party’s base now criticize so harshly. The famously partisan 9/11 Commission concluded that – contrary to the shrill gainsaying of Kerry advisor Joe Wilson – Saddam Hussein had attempted to purchase yellowcake uranium from Niger. In fact, according to the report, this is one of the few claims about Saddam’s WMD programs still considered beyond question.

How would Kerry have handled this situation? Ted Kennedy let the cat out of the bag last week on the Democrats’ new favorite network, al-Jazeera. Last Sunday, he told the terrorist-friendly network: “I am personally convinced that if John Kerry was president of the United States during that time we never would have had an Iraq war. We never would have gone to war.” Make that one vote for a nuclear Saddam.

Having twice repudiated his own actions, Kerry pledged himself to the most modest security policy conceivable in a post-9/11 world. He did not vow to track down the terrorists where they are and kill them, as even John Edwards did, but made the exceedingly humble promise: “Let there be no mistake: I will never hesitate to use force when it is required. Any attack will be met with a swift and certain response.” Lest there be any confusion, Kerry vowed only to “protect the American people…from a threat that was real and imminent…this is the only justification for going to war.” (Emphasis added.)

This perfectly comports with his view of the War on Terror as “primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation” – waiting for the terrorists to strike, appointing them legal counsel (undoubtedly provided by the ACLU pro bono), sentencing them to American prisons often more luxurious than their homes, and occasionally launching blind retaliatory raids against aspirin factories and empty tents. On the contrary, President Bush forcefully argued terrorists cannot be allowed to gestate into an “imminent” threat, that they must be eradicated before they are in a position to cost a single American civilian’s life – a daunting goal he has thus far been able to realize. Kerry’s retreat was a virtual invitation for terrorists to make America a “free-fire zone” (an entity with which Kerry is intimately familiar).

Kerry remained unscathed for the night, surrounded by fellow liberals who would not hold him accountable – both among his delegates and in the mainstream media. Capitalizing on this, Kerry indulged leftist fantasies, to the delight of the well-behaved throngs of left-wingers pining for an opportunity to vent their pent-up hatred like a junkie in need of a fix. “I will immediately reform the intelligence system,” Kerry told them, “so policy is guided by facts, and facts are never distorted by politics.” Yet the 9/11 Commission concluded President Bush had not distorted the facts for political reasons; whatever mistakes were made happened long before the intelligence reached the president’s desk. It is precisely this kind of hysterical rhetoric that has tarnished President Bush’s credibility and seriously wounded his ability to stop nuclear proliferation in the world’s most dangerous hot spots: Iran and North Korea.

Kerry continued that he would add 40,000 new troops to the military – but not in Iraq. He promised to “end the backdoor draft of National Guard and reservists,” which is otherwise known as calling upon reservists to do the job they signed up for. And he promised to grovel on the world stage in order to get back into the good graces of the nations on Saddam’s payroll.

The junior senator from Massachusetts then attacked the strawman of “those who question the patriotism” of their political opponents. One wonders if he meant wife Teresa Heinz Kerry, who earlier in the week called Republicans “un-American,” then tenaciously lied about it. Or Ted Kennedy, who railed against “false patriots” in his convention speech. Or Howard Dean, who derided Republicans’s “false patriotism” in his speech earlier the same evening.

However, Kerry and the delegates treated the first half of his speech as largely a distraction from their real passion: domestic issues. Kerry used the phrase “middle class” eight times, while referring to “terror” or “terrorism” only five. He promised another shot at nationalized health care, protectionism, and environmentalism. He vowed to increase funding for the failure known as Head Start, shrink class sizes (another failure), and increase social spending (ditto). The man whose running mate has made “two Americas” ubiquitous now warns against “narrow appeals that divide us.” But this is the ground on which Kerry hopes to campaign. His selection of John Edwards – an affable, attractive family man clearly out of his depth on the central issue of our time, the War on Terror – proved this. Kerry will discuss national security when forced, but he, like the rest of his party, believes redistributing America’s wealth is the nation’s top priority. He is a September 10th candidate in an election when the American people can afford no such luxury.

The rest of John Kerry’s performance was merely peculiar. He devoted two sentences to the enterprise that has consumed the past two decades of his life: his career in the Senate – which is apparently two sentences more than it warranted. From his biographical film, we learned such minutiae about his life as the fact that he was once in a garage band called “The Electras” but nothing of what he’s been doing in the nation’s capital since the Reagan administration.

Kerry thanked Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton by name “for teaching me and testing me – but mostly, we say thank you for standing up for our country and giving us the unity to move America forward.” It is unnerving to ponder what John Kerry might have learned from Dennis Kucinich, who claims U.S. troops are deliberately slaughtering Iraqi civilians, and jarring to think that he considers Al Sharpton as a uniter, not a divider. In another close election, if either gadfly’s constituency delivers John Kerry the margin of victory, what political cost would they extort for their services?

Then there are his purely commercial/asthetic idiosyncrasies. In an attempt to capture the admiration Ronald Reagan inspired by his boundless optimism, Kerry and Edwards continually dubbed themselves “optimists.” Reagan did not appropriate this appellation for himself; it was bestowed upon him because of his abiding faith in the basic goodness and decency of the United States. This quality, so elusive to those on the Left, is simply political conviction informed by patriotism. Lacking this, Kerry and Edwards repeat the term like a mantra, hoping it will stick. This clumsy and heavy-handed technique recalls the other George Bush’s famous quotation, “Message: I care.”

Even stylistically, Kerry’s delivery was odd. His opening line (“I’m John Kerry, and I’m reporting for duty!”) curiously resembled Howard Dean’s promise, “I’m Howard Dean, and I’m voting for John Kerry!” Both pronouncements, in wording and delivery, perfectly echoed Richard Dreyfuss’ character in Rob Reiner’s left-wing propaganda flick The American President: “I’m Bob Rumsfeld, and I’m running for president!” A case of life imitating bad art. (Coincidentally, both Reiner and Dreyfuss were on the floor that night.)

From his limp-wristed salute (or was he sheltering his delicate eyes from the glare of the cameras?), to his call for Bob Shrum-style economic warfare, John Kerry has proven he is running a domestic issues campaign during a time of warfare. In order to advance his economic agenda and personal ambitions, he is willing to malign the president of the United States with allegations Bob Kerrey would repudiate. And he has vowed to leave America vulnerable to attack rather than place the dignity of innocent American lives above the objections of French haut monde. His contrast with the present commander-in-chief could not be more stark.

This article originally appeared as the weekend lead on Friday, July 30, 2004, on FrontPage Magazine.