“I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.”–John Kerry, March 16, 2004
Perhaps this is one of John Kerry’s “nuanced” positions. Perhaps it sounds better in the original French. However, the English translation of the above is, “It depends upon what the meaning of ‘voted for’ is.”
In October 2003, when the vote to fund our troops came up in the Senate, John Kerry’s presidential fortunes were sinking. He started out his run for president as the Democratic frontrunner, but he was trailing third in fundraising to Howard Dean and John Edwards. Dean had raised $14 million to Kerry’s measly $4 million in the most recent quarter. Dean was surging in New Hampshire with a double-digit lead over Kerry. Kerry’s campaign staff was imploding in what would end up being an exodus of key top staff just a few weeks later, in early November.
As the war-funding vote loomed, the antiwar Deaniacs were driving the campaign dynamics. Kerry was on the defensive for his vote in support of the war. This vote was extremely unpopular with the New Hampshire Democratic primary voters, who opposed it by a margin of 3 to 2. The prospects of fellow candidates, Joe Lieberman and Dick Gephardt, were also suffering due to their support of the president.
But for those who voted for the war on principle, the facts were simple. The Iraq/Afghanistan Supplemental Funding bill provided approximately $65.6 billion for military operations and maintenance and $1.3 billion for veterans’ medical care. The bill provided $10.3 billion as a grant to rebuild Iraq, including $5.1 billion for security and $5.2 billion for reconstruction costs. The bill also provided extra money for body armor for soldiers. Even the Washington Post editorialized in favor of the bill.
So how did the Democratic presidential candidates vote? Lieberman and Gephardt supported the troops along with liberal-Democratic colleagues such as Tom Daschle, Dianne Feinstein, Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer, and even Hillary Clinton. In the Senate, the vote was 87 to 12. Only eleven Democrats and independent Senator Jim Jeffords voted against the $87 billion.
So, what did Senator Kerry do? He did what he has done for two decades in his Senate career: He stuck his finger in the wind. Then he voted in the way he thought would best help his chance for the Democratic nomination. Senator Lieberman didn’t buy Kerry’s explanation that he really “voted for” the troops. He scolded Kerry for his primary-voter-poll-driven vote: “If everyone had voted the way [Massachusetts Sen.] John Kerry did, the money would not have been there to support our troops…” On October 15, 2003, a Washington Post editorial called Senator Kerry’s position an “irresponsible course” and said it was “imperative that this spending should be approved.” Dick Gephardt called the vote for the $87 billion “the only responsible course of action,” and added, “We’ve got to send the right signal to our troops in the field, and we’ve got to send the right signal to people in Iraq.”
John Kerry was more interested in sending the “right signal” to the extremists in his party, whom he was trying to peel away from the soon-to-be unhinged Howard Dean. Or perhaps he was trying to send the “right signal” to all of those “foreign leaders” (or “more leaders”) around the world who, he claims, want to see him as president. But what John Kerry really did with that vote was to send the “right signal” to the American people that he is not prepared for the tough and principled decisions that a commander-in-chief must make when a nation is at war.
–Barbara Comstock is a former Department of Justice spokeswoman and currently a principal with Blank Rome Government Relations.