Politics & Policy

All Talk

We didn't get much from Kerry's acceptance speech.

The debate has now been settled: John Kerry definitely served in Vietnam.

That was a major point of the Democratic Convention and of Kerry’s acceptance speech. This must be one of the great acts of chutzpah of all time: The party that made national politics safe for Vietnam draft avoiders in 1992 now considers Vietnam service arguably the foremost qualification for the presidency. But, hey, the Democrats are now the party of militaristic display and cultural conservatism.

The emphasis here on values, faith, and patriotism was shrewd politics. But there was also something defensive and pleading about it, as if to say: “We can have values too. Isn’t that amazing? And we can even be religious, and incredibly enough, patriotic.” The last is a response to a phantom: the nonexistent Republican effort to “question the patriotism” of Democrats.

What is legitimately in question is whether Democrats can be trusted on national security. Although Kerry’s speech will probably help him in the short-run, it really raises more questions on national security than it answers. Kerry now thinks that Iraq was “a war of choice” based on a lie. So, why did he vote to authorize this war of choice and repeat “lies” about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction?

A hallmark of garden-variety patriotism is pride in country. Kerry took up this question with a strange formulation: “I am determined now to restore that pride to all who look to America.” In other words, he is going to make people in other countries proud of us. How about our pride? That apparently can wait while we apologize to Old Europe for liberating Iraq.

Along with “liberal,” “liberation” was the other forbidden L-word at this convention. Out of dozens of speakers, only poor Joe Lieberman thanked U.S. troops for liberating Afghanistan and Iraq, and he received tepid applause. Democrats want to honor the troops only for their suffering, not for the things they accomplish. Kerry didn’t even thank the troops for Afghanistan, a war he still supports (presumably, for now).

Kerry said “strength is more than tough words.” But this is a truism he apparently doesn’t take to heart, because his foreign-policy “strength” mostly consists of repeating the word “strong” over and over again. Kerry pledged to wage a campaign against proliferation “to keep the most dangerous weapons in the world out of the most dangerous hands in the world.” Nice words, but how exactly? Wouldn’t toppling Saddam, a tyrant who refused to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors–in the process getting Libya to give up its weapons too–qualify as an important aspect of such an anti-proliferation campaign?

Kerry says he would never give a foreign country a veto over U.S. national security. Tough words, but Kerry has precisely given France and others a veto over his Iraq position–he would have been in favor of it, only if they had been in favor of it.

But these kinds of forward actions aren’t going to be a part of Kerry’s foreign policy. He said as much: “Today, our national security begins with homeland security.” Kerry thus essentially vows to play defense in the war on terror, trying to fight it with border inspectors and first responders.

The most important aspect of U.S. domestic counterterrorism has been the Patriot Act. But Kerry apparently isn’t a fan. He said, in a pointed reference to John Ashcroft, that he will “appoint an attorney general who actually upholds the Constitution.” Unless this was just a gratuitous smear, Kerry must have been referring to the Ashcroft-supported Patriot Act, and was certainly playing to paranoia about it. But he’s strong on fighting terrorism …

Kerry unleashed this zinger in a speech devoted to optimism. In Boston, Democrats mastered the art of positive negativity. They professed their deep yearning for national unity at the same time as they denounced the president as a reckless liar. But who needs coherence or internal consistency when John Kerry served in Vietnam?

Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years.

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