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“John Kerry began his political career as an anti-war radical and moved left.”
That’s how I began the discussion of Kerry on Saturday night’s “Heartland” program on the Fox News Channel, hosted by John Kasich.

Opposite me was a fellow named Mike Malloy, who promptly went a little crazy – and then crazier still when I pointed out that his website referred to the “Bush crime family,” a characterization that offended not just me but Kasich as well. Rather than defend his idiocies, Malloy stomped off the set. Welcome to Campaign 2004, where Democrats are free to make any wild charge they want, but will refuse to defend their candidate against his own well-known record.

John Kerry is an extraordinarily weak candidate because his politics are very far to the left of the center in the U.S. Senate and the United States at large. Added to this difficulty is the fact that Kerry began his career as a radical, and radicals have to confront their own past and either embrace it or deny it – and, if the latter, with clarity as to when and why their thinking changed.

This will be a very difficult process for Kerry as there is no evidence that his thinking about Vietnam, or the larger issues the debate over the war contained, has changed much. Friendly voices in the media – and there is none more friendly to Kerry than the Los Angeles Times – seem to sense that any serious look at Kerry’s radicalism will undermine his candidacy, so expect a chorus of “that was 30 years ago” to rise in defense of Kerry’s attempt to whiteout his political opinions from the ’70s.

That was a possible strategy until Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAullffe branded President Bush as “AWOL” (Absent WithOut Leave) and the press went on its one-week frenzy. But that absurd exercise – note how it was over this last weekend with the release of a Guard record showing Bush to have been a skilled pilot and the arrival of first-person testimonies as to Bush’s service in the areas disputed by the nuts and paranoids – opened the door to the ’70s.

Now the press wants to move on. How transparent. The most risible example of the “move on” chorus is Ronald Brownstein’s “Political Battle Over Vietnam-Era Credentials Has No Winners” from Monday’s Los Angeles Times. This is a deeply dishonest column that has the feel of having been ordered up by Kerry campaign central. Brownstein has long been a Democratic coach, and that’s fine. Al Hunt, Mark Shields, Margaret Carlson, etc. need company.

What’s dishonest is Brownstein’s characterization of the debate over Kerry’s radical past: “But it’s reasonable to ask whether Republicans want to encourage a debate about whether Kerry honorably served his country during the Vietnam era.” No one has asked whether Kerry served honorable in combat. Of course he did. But his political career was launched in radicalism, and it is fair to ask which parts of that agenda remain part of Kerry’s political make-up, and which parts have been shed.

Brownstein adopts the Democratic talking point that such a look involves questioning Kerry’s war service. That is Orwellian and transparently so. Propagandists for Kerry like Brownstein can argue all day long that Kerry’s post-war politics don’t matter, but they might. And raising those politics won’t question the heroism he displayed in the war at all.

Brownstein follows his dishonest framing of the debate with a demand to move on, and does so by quoting a couple of big names from the Vietnam era: John McCain and anti-war activist Sam Brown. “But it’s a safe bet that most Americans, of all ideologies,” Brownstein writes, “will agree with McCain and Brown when they say it is long past time to end the war over the war in Vietnam.” How convenient, this declaration, coming as it does after the attack-Bush-over-Vietnam-week is over.

In case you don’t get Brownstein’s point, he repeats it one more time: “If Kerry and Bush face each other this fall, most voters are likely to care far more about the choices they offer today than the choices they made 30 years ago.” While true, this is high-school debate quality writing. So what? In a close election, what will matter are the opinions of the millions of swing voters, and the swing voters may very well care about John Kerry’s political roots, and whether Kerry has outgrown them.

Kerry’s radical days are on the table, and the collective whining of all his pals in the print media won’t take them off, any more than President Bush could get his Air National Guard service off the table until a thorough vetting was had. McAuliffe’s rashness guaranteed that Brownstein’s ruse won’t work.

Nor will the Times’ attempt to whitewash Kerry’s record as a senator hold up. In fact, this second attempt to help Kerry by the paper of no weight in the West is even more transparent than Brownstein’s. Front page on Monday: “Kerry’s Got Kennedy’s Nod, if Not His Politics.” Get it? The Los Angeles Times wants you to know that Kerry isn’t Teddy.

The story works overtime to dig up a couple of instances when Kerry and Teddy didn’t vote alike, and can find a total of three, one of which – the war resolution of Iraq – Kerry is now saying he wished he’d voted against. Most laughably and dishonestly is the paper’s graphic citing the rankings of the Americans for Democratic Action showing that, in 2002, Kennedy voted with the ADA – which the paper correctly calls a “liberal advocacy group” – 100 percent of the time, while Kerry did so only 85 percent of the time.

Of course, the paper doesn’t present Sen. John Edwards’ 70 percent rating for context, but even more glaring is the missing data on lifetime ADA rating: Kerry voted the right way, according to the ADA, 92 percent of the time throughout his long Senate career, while Teddy got it right only 90 percent of the time! And Kerry’s lead in liberal votes was even larger over Kennedy until the votes of 2002 were added into the mix. Thus the Los Angeles Times hides the central point of Kerry’s political life – that he is to the left of Teddy Kennedy – in a story about how Kerry is to the right of Teddy Kennedy. Good journalism that, eh?

Manipulation of data to fit a partisan storyline benefiting Democrats is commonplace in the Los Angeles Times – so much so that the paper is no longer credible in California or national politics, and its circulation has dropped accordingly. The paper’s disastrous, attempted manipulation of the 2003 recall campaign won’t be forgotten by the California electorate for a long time, and its reputation will remain in tatters until wholesale replacement of its political staff occurs.

But the paper is still useful for the early warning signals it send to the GOP. The Los Angeles Times, like the over-eager servant it is – always oversteps the message and telegraphs it for all to read. Monday’s paper was hilariously open about the coming Democratic themes: It is wrong to probe Kerry’s anti-war activism, and it is wrong to call him a Teddy Kennedy Massachusetts liberal.

Of course, it is right to both probe and brand. Having lackeys in the press ain’t what it used to be. Kerry’s wrapped up the nomination, and now his political past needs an exploring it didn’t receive due to the odd run-up to the primaries when Dean sucked up all the air. The Dems have made a foolish choice, and the complaints of their pals in the print business won’t keep it from becoming obviously so.

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