Politics & Policy

Lead, Man!

John Kerry can't even commit to a medal story.

The John Kerry medals story is a weird one. It does not, in the end, demonstrate beyond question that Kerry is untruthful, as some have suggested, but in a sense it is worse–it shows once again that Kerry tries to have it both ways, and thus lacks an essential element of leadership that is necessary to qualify him for the presidency.

The basic story is relatively simple. In 1971, Kerry and a group of veterans–in a demonstration against the Vietnam War–said they threw their medals over a fence around the Capitol. Later, in a recently discovered television interview that day, Kerry said that he had thrown his medals over the fence as a protest against the war.

It turns out that Kerry still has his medals, and the story has been circulating that Kerry actually threw away someone else’s medals. This is literally true, according to Kerry. That day in 1971, he did throw away the medals of two other veterans (one from World War II) who could not attend the ceremony and protest sponsored by Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

But the question the media have been following is whether Kerry lied when he said he threw away his own medals. Kerry first denied that he had ever said that he had thrown away his medals, contending instead that he had only thrown away the ribbons–which, he said, are the same as the medals, just another symbol of his Vietnam service that he was returning to the government as a protest against the war. So, by keeping his medals and throwing away his ribbons, Kerry accounts for the fact that news reports have said he threw away his medals, but he still has them.

If we give Kerry the benefit of the doubt, he could have been speaking loosely about throwing away his medals. If, in his mind, as he now suggests, medals and ribbons are the same thing, then it is a legitimate defense that he threw away his ribbons but responded to media questions by saying that he threw away his medals. After all, it was a symbolic act, and he was speaking in terms of symbols.

However, in 1984, according to ABC News, during Kerry’s first campaign for the Senate, he took a labor leader to his home to show him the medals, because labor was uneasy backing a Democrat who had seemed to demean the service of those who had fought in Vietnam. This was the first time, according to ABC, that Kerry admitted that he still had the actual medals that he had implied he had thrown away in 1971. Apparently, the existence of the medals satisfied the labor groups in Massachusetts, and he received their endorsement.

But what do we have at the end? Once again, Kerry is trying to have it both ways. In 1971, he threw away his ribbons to protest the war in Vietnam, implying that he had actually thrown away the medals. But in 1984, he uses the medals to demonstrate to labor that he did not really do the symbolic act that he performed in 1971. In other words, that throwing away his ribbons was not the same thing as throwing away his medals. If this sounds a lot like “I voted for it before I voted against it,” you’re getting warm.

Peter J. Wallison was White House Counsel for President Reagan and is the author of Ronald Reagan: The Power of Conviction and the Success of His Presidency.

Peter J. Wallison is a senior fellow emeritus at the American Enterprise Institute. His most recent book is Judicial Fortitude: The Last Chance to Rein in the Administrative State.


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