In this Los Angeles Times editorial (registration required), well-known defense and foreign affairs writer Joshua Muravchik gets to the heart of the presidential campaign and why Kerry must emphasize his military record. Key excerpts:
All in all, in his 20 years in the Senate, Kerry ranks as one of the five
most dovish or liberal members on foreign policy if you tally up the key votes
selected by the liberal advocacy group, Americans for Democratic Action. Is it
any wonder that Kerry is seeking to focus voters' attention on his courage as a
Navy officer rather than his judgment as a political leader?
Since 1972, when McGovern jettisoned the tradition of Harry Truman, John
Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson and made the Democrats the party of dovishness, only two Democrats have won the White House. Both of them, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, presented themselves as more hawkish than their Republican opponents.
In 1976, Carter targeted the detente policies of Gerald Ford. In 1992, Clinton
lambasted George H.W. Bush's refusal to defend Bosnia or criticize Beijing. Once
in office, each pursued softer foreign policies than the Republican he had
That Kerry comes from Massachusetts — the only state that opted for
McGovern in 1972 — makes his projection of hawkishness a harder sell. The
military veterans with whom he surrounded himself at the convention, and the
reminders of the honor with which he himself served, make the claim more
plausible. Until you look at the political record.
I would rather see more attention focused on Kerry's Senate record than on disputed stories about what he did in Vietnam 30+ years ago. By focusing on whether or not he was a real hero, whether he is exaggerating his wartime exploits, etc., his opponents (of which I am one) may be playing into his hand. Kerry's record as a senator tells us much more about what he would do as president, and the picture that record paints is deeply disturbing. That is the message Bush must get out to the electorate. Let's hope he does that; as Muravchik's piece shows, there's an awful lot of material to work with here.