The Vietnam card, &c.

Chuck Hagel and John McCain while Hagel was still serving in the Senate


Like you, probably, I have read a lot about the nomination of Chuck Hagel in the last few days. He is Obama’s choice for secretary of defense. And I’ve thought of the 2004 presidential campaign. Let me take you back . . .

Democrats laid great stress on John Kerry’s service in Vietnam. “Kerry went to Vietnam; Bush did not.” (He had merely served in the Air National Guard.) They acted like Vietnam was an absolutely trumping credential.

Four years later, John McCain was the Republican nominee. Funnily enough, you did not hear much about Vietnam as a credential — not from Democrats.

At the moment, many Democrats are essentially saying, “Hagel served in Vietnam. He is a war hero. Shut up. No criticism allowed.”

Well, McCain is a hero too, from the same war. He has certain views of defense policy and foreign policy. Hagel has other views. Both are entitled to their views, and the rest of us are entitled too, to our own views.

People play the Vietnam card in dirty ways, I find.

Here is a specific memory. I was on television with a Democratic strategist. This was August 2004. I’ve just Googled the transcript. The strategist said, “. . . what John Kerry needs to do is to hit Bush as hard as Bush has hit him. And the way you do that is, you remind people that Bush betrayed this country about why we went to war in Iraq, just like he betrayed them when he didn’t fight in Vietnam.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I couldn’t believe that someone was saying Bush had “betrayed” his country in the Vietnam era.

But in that campaign, 2004, Democrats sounded like Curtis LeMay — only LeMay was a great deal brighter, more sensitive, and more decent than they.

Who is responsible for Hagel’s nomination? The American people, really. They chose Obama over Mitt Romney on November 6. Elections have consequences. Hagel reflects Obama’s thinking, particularly on the Middle East. Romney would have named a much, much different secretary of defense.

In a democracy, people get what they deserve (I never tire of saying). At least the majority does. Hagel is the kind of defense secretary the American people asked for, when they reelected Obama.

They could block him, if they wanted — by flooding their senators with letters and phone calls, crying out against Hagel. But they won’t.

Maybe they’ll choose more wisely, next time they have a chance . . .

You can see the appeal of Hagel to Obama, and not just when it comes to the Middle East: Who better to preside over the gutting of American defenses than a Republican war hero?

Ed Koch is one of my favorite people in public life. He is almost certainly my favorite Democrat. I criticized him when he endorsed Obama over McCain in 2008. I did so in sorrow and puzzlement, not in anger.

I said something like this: “Mayor, you favored Bush over Kerry in 2004 — on the issue of security. You said you disagreed with Bush on every single domestic issue, but security was too important to allow a Kerry presidency. Well, the same thing applies now: Obama versus McCain.”

Koch disagreed, obviously.

In 2012, he endorsed Obama again! Over the superb Mitt Romney — who would have made the kind of foreign-policy president Koch wants (and I want).

Now he’s sorry, given the Hagel nomination. And guess who’s going to be secretary of state? Kerry — the very man, the very fellow Democrat, the mayor could not trust with power in 2004.

Election Day 2012 was a big, big deal. It’s going to “impact” us, as modern Americans say, for a long time to come.

I don’t know if you’ve followed the Andrew Mitchell case in Britain. Mitchell was a member of David Cameron’s cabinet, forced out over a scandal. It was alleged that he cursed out police — as the nastiest aristo might.

“F***ing plebs,” he was supposed to have called them. “You don’t run this f***ing country,” he was supposed to have said. “You should know your f***ing place,” he was supposed to have said.

Class in Britain is like race in America. An American who has been branded with the scarlet R is done for. They do some branding in Britain too. Mitchell was made a symbol of Tory arrogance, condescension, and disdain.

It was all a lie, of course. Mitchell never said those things. He was set up, lied about, slandered, libeled — hounded out of office, unjustly.

You can read an article and watch a video here. For a column by the great Charles Moore, go here. Let me quote a little of it:

. . . the words attributed to Mr Mitchell . . . were not words that real people, even nasty real people, actually employ. They were the inventions of those who wanted Mr Mitchell to have said those words — a parody of a type they didn’t like.


Is there any greater joy than when a lie doesn’t succeed? Mitchell has been exonerated, so far as I can tell. He has not had his position restored, but he should. One reason he was exonerated is that video exists — video of what actually happened between him and the police.

I love justice so much, I could weep. I love it too much, actually — it can be a little like loving unicorns.

Did you see this story, from here in the good ol’ USA? A woman was claiming disability. She couldn’t walk, she was on crutches. She needed to be paid by the taxpayers. One day, she threw away her crutches and ran on high heels into a park, to fellate a man. And it was caught on video. (The running, that is. I don’t know about the other.)

Oh, sweet justice, dear justice — I love thee too much.