I haven’t read any of the John Kerry biographies, mostly because I haven’t had a chance but also because someone said that if I jabbed a spoon into my eye I wouldn’t have to.
So, here’s how I see John Kerry through my one good eye. He went to Vietnam out of a mix of ambition and patriotism — hardly an uncommon mix. He idolized JFK and he was a good liberal off to fight what was, until then, a liberal war. He was disillusioned by what he saw, but eager to get his credentials while there (hence the rather rapid accumulation of Purple Hearts of dubious merit). When Richard Nixon was elected, he suddenly saw that that the war was a loser for aspiring liberal politicians. I base this point almost entirely on the fact that not once have I heard Kerry refer to Vietnam as LBJ’s or JFK’s war but I’ve heard him denounce Nixon ad nauseum. Indeed, the “I was in Cambodia” line usually seems framed as a slap against Nixon, even though he wasn’t even sworn in yet.
Kerry comes home and, partly because he’s from Mass. partly because he has horrendous political instincts and partly because all of his liberal friends back home have turned anti-war, he assumes that being anti-war is a great career move. So he switches and switches hard. Obviously, real conviction is part of the story too. But since he seems to have wanted to be president from the womb, his conviction is always shaped through the prism of his ambition. So for the better part of two decades, Kerry runs on his anti-war, anti-military credentials.It slowly dawns on him that anti-Vietnam credentials may have played well to get him elected in the most liberal state, they don’t win that many points in the states necessary to become president. Indeed, neither does the 20 year Senate record he amassed. So, suddenly, he’s running for president as if his entire career is nothing but a parentheses and his qualifications are based almost entirely on the fact he “reported for duty” thirty years ago. Now that that duty is being scrutinized, he’s getting the flop-sweats because he has absolutely nothing else in his record or his personality that would help him get elected president in 2004.