Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Does John Kerry Owe the Troops an Apology?

Senator John Kerry is taking heat for the remarks he made at a campaign rally Monday at Pasadena City College. This Los Angeles Times story has the background.

Kerry said:

You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq.
Karen Tumulty, at Time Magazine,
provides some perspective on Kerry's decisionmaking:

You've got to wonder about John Kerry's eye-hand coordination. His career is falling into a pattern. Whenever Kerry is confronted with a big decision, he tries to compensate for his last mistake. He voted against the first Iraq war, which turned out to be a success. So when the second one came around, he swallowed his misgivings and voted for it. That also turned out to be a mistake. So when it came time to vote for the $87 billion to fund the war that he had voted for, he produced what must be the single most damaging sound bite in modern political history by voting for it before he voted against it.

So now, when U.S. troops are suffering their worst casualties in nearly two years, he insulted them. Could Karl Rove have dreamed up a better October surprise than having the Democrats' most recent choice for Commander in Chief suggest that the men and women are dying there because they weren't smart enough to get into law school?

His initial impulse, predictably enough, was to fight back against the criticism. He didn't want to fall again into what turned out to be the biggest trap of 2004, when he failed to understand that a relatively small ad buy from a group that no one had ever heard of could be more damaging than he imagined. He was determined not to be "swift-boated" again. So he declared: "If anyone owes our troops in the fields an apology, it is the President and his failed team and a Republican majority in the Congress that has been willing to stamp — rubber-stamp policies that have done injury to our troops and to their families." But even Rand Beers, his national security adviser in the 2004 campaign, said: "It's unfortunate that Senator Kerry misspoke. No one who has ever been in combat would intentionally impugn our brave troops."

In other words, Kerry has managed on the eve of what could be a watershed election to remind pretty much everyone what it was they didn't like about the Democrats, and especially what they didn't like about him. It might have made more sense just to say he was sorry — for once to get ahead of a mistake, instead of trying to compensate for it the next time.
Kerry so far has resisted making an apology. Jonah Goldberg, at the Salt Lake Tribune, explains why:

Kerry insists he was making a joke about President Bush, not a joke about students who aren't smart enough to do better than the military. While there's virtually nothing in the text or video of his remarks to lend support for this, save for a wan smile he offered to the mute audience, it's possible that was his intent. After all, Kerry is an awful politician, a human toothache with the charisma of a 19th-century Oxford Latin tutor. One can't rule out the possibility that he simply botched a joke.
Actually, Kerry meant to say that if students didn't get a good education, they'd end up like President Bush, making big mistakes like the Iraq War (or at least what Kerry thinks was a big mistake).

The truth is Kerry can't get right with the Iraq War no matter what he says -- for it, against it, who knows? Now he's staked out this tough position where he won't apologize for remarks -- which he claims are attacks on administration policies -- though a cursury glance at the text of his words shows how badly he stumbled.

Tumulty's right: Kerry should apologize early and move on. We all make mistakes. By apologizing he could show some class -- and he still might be able to preserve some political future for himself. He'll feel a whole lot better, in any case.

Update: Senator Kerry has now apologized.

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