Politics & Policy

Slighting Substance

Kerry's statements deserve greater scrutiny.

I hate to swim against the current, but shouldn’t we pay more attention to what John Kerry actually said during Thursday night’s debate? Apparently the mainstream media doesn’t think so.

Iran: Kerry made this remarkable statement about how he would have confronted Iran’s frenzied efforts to secure nuclear weapons: “I think the United States should have offered the opportunity to provide the nuclear fuel, test them, see whether or not they were actually looking for it for peaceful purposes. If they weren’t willing to work a deal, then we could have put sanctions together.”

President Bush made the point that sanctions are already in place. But why hasn’t Kerry’s proposal received any attention, let alone the condemnation it deserves? (At the moment, only the Iranians themselves have given it the time of day, saying it would be “irrational” for them to jeopardize their country’s nuclear program by relying on foreign supplies.) In a rare declarative statement, Kerry proposed providing the most active terrorist regime–which harbors al Qaeda terrorists, is sending them into Iraq to attack our forces, and threatens to attack Israel with nuclear weapons–with material that can be used to speed up their nuclear-weapons program. He’s offering to do for Iran what Bill Clinton did for North Korea: arm it. This is stunning.

North Korea: Some have pointed out that while Kerry argues a coalition of over 30 nations in Iraq is not a coalition, he calls for bilateral negotiations with North Korea. Another obvious question is what exactly Kerry would tell Kim Jong-Il that, say, Bill Clinton didn’t already discuss with him? Moreover, what does Kerry want to offer this tyrant that is so compelling he can only discuss it in a one-on-one negotiation? Does anyone know?

“Mistake”: Kerry said, “the president made a mistake in invading Iraq.” But later, Jim Lehrer asked him, “Are Americans now dying in Iraq for mistake?” Kerry answered, “No, and they don’t have to, providing we have the leadership that we put–that I’m offering.” So, the war in Iraq is a mistake, but soldiers who die fighting the war aren’t dying for a mistake? What kind of perverse thinking is this?

Global Test: While numerous conservatives have noted Kerry’s astounding comment about a president having to pass “the global test” to “prove to the world that [he took military action] for legitimate reasons,” the mainstream media seem to have missed it. Where’s the discussion on the editorial and op-ed pages? Where’s the “news analysis?”

The post-debate discussion has been about style and impressions and the president’s missed opportunities. Okay. But to the near exclusion of substance? These are affirmatively stated positions that require further inquiry, despite the fact that the next debate is about domestic issues.

Then there were two incredible gaffes that would have splashed across the front pages of every major newspaper had they been uttered by the president.

Treblinka: Kerry said, “Well, let me just say quickly that I’ve had an extraordinary experience of watching up close and personal that transition in Russia, because I was there right after the transformation. And I was probably one of the first senators…to go down into the KGB underneath Treblinka Square and see reams of files with names in them. It sort of brought home the transition to democracy that Russia was trying to make.”

As everyone but Kerry knows, Treblinka was a Nazi death camp. He meant Lubianka. This is on a par with Gerald Ford’s mistake in his debate with Jimmy Carter when he said that Poland was not controlled by the Soviet Union. Some believe that cost Ford the presidency. But nary a word about Kerry’s error has appeared in the mainstream media.

Armistice: Kerry said, “… I want bilateral talks which put all of the issues [with North Korea], from the Armistice of 1952, the economic issues, the human rights issues, the artillery disposal issues, the DMZ issues and the nuclear issues on the table.”

A small thing, but the armistice ending the Korean War was signed on July 27, 1953, not 1952. Dwight Eisenhower was president at the time. Again, this has been completely ignored. Would it have been ignored if Bush had made the mistake?

Interestingly, as I reviewed the debate transcript, I found no such factual errors or gaffes from the president.

I’ve observed many presidential debates over the years, and I understand that more than substance is considered by commentators, analysts, and voters. But I’ve never witnessed a post-debate situation in which substance has been so minimized. (The fact that the president did not confront Kerry on these statements during the debate is no explanation.) This isn’t the swimsuit portion of the Miss America contest. We’re deciding on the next commander-in-chief in the midst of a war. You’d think substance would be more important than ever.

Mark R. Levin is president of Landmark Legal Foundation and talk-radio host on WABC 770 AM in New York.


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