Matt Yglesias writes about the Kerry Medal flap: “The real mystery in all this, if you ask me, is why Republicans persist in raising an issue that can’t help but make their man look bad when the Bush and Kerry military records are contrasted.”
First, I don’t buy the desperate line that solely “Republicans” are raising this issue. The LA Times, Charlie Gibson and Tim Russert do not a vast right wing conspiracy make. Second, I’m mystified as to why he’s mystified. Here are few plausible theories why some Republicans might think this is a good story for Bush:
1. Candidates only get one theme ascribed to them. For Gore it was “he exaggerates and lies to make himself look good” or something like that. It wasn’t always fair, but it was no more unfair than the “Bush is stupid and ignorant” theme. For Kerry it’s increasingly looking like his one theme is “can’t take a stand on anything” or “can’t be straightforward.” This “I threw the medals away if by medals you mean the ribbons because I would never throw away the medals because they are too important to me even though I never saw a difference between the medals and the ribbons and I would have thrown away the medals if I had the medals with me even though that’s not what I used to say or what I will be saying tomorrow” thing only reinforces this negative identification.
2. People already have made up their minds about Bush and his National Guard service. Indeed, he’s a known quality in general. So while rage may still burn bright at the American Prospect over Bush’ National Guard stint, most Americans stopped caring a while ago. However, people are only now being introduced to Kerry and what they’re seeing is a caricature of stiff, pompous Senator.
3. As I try to point out in my column today (not up yet), Kerry has a particular problem with Vietnam. Unlike say John McCain, Kerry has two completely contradictory Vietnam narratives and he wants to brag about both and not be criticized on either. Lots of politicians have tried to have it both ways on Vietnam. But wants to get credit for fighting in a war which he says was criminal and a mistake and he wants credit for denouncing that war as criminal too. Meanwhile, lots of Vietnam vets and other pro-military types think the real Kerry is the one who came home from war, not the one who went to war. I think, given Kerry’s record as a politician, that is the only logical position and the more people who realize that, the worse it is for Kerry.
4. Kerry looks like an arrogant shmuck when he’s defensive. Any time the GOP or anybody else can get under his skin, the better it is for Bush. Particularly if it involves any kind of contradiction or inconsistency on Kerry’s part because the guy looks like such an idiot when he insists that A and Not A are both simultaneously true.
5. During a war the Americans still support, it’s always good (for the GOP) to have footage of the Democratic nominee calling American troops — of any era — war criminals.
6. And this one’s a bit of a stretch. There are still people in this country who think the anti-war Kerry was right and the pro-war Kerry was telling the truth when he called Americans war-criminals. To see Kerry back-pedal on that doesn’t only reinforce the image that he wants to have it every which-way, it might actually turn off the pugnacious doves in the Democratic electorate. I like to call these people “Nader voters.”