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John Kerry never thought it completely through when he decided at the Democratic National Convention to run for president as a hero of the Vietnam War.
He miscalculated the number of his fellow swiftboat veterans who were even today unwilling to give him a pass. He underestimated how many of us had studied then – and remembered today – the degree to which he supported the enemy when he decided to work with Madame Binh, the Viet Cong’s top representative to the Paris Peace Talks.
He did not fully appreciate that running for commander in chief demanded a level of scrutiny several orders of magnitude more intense than that required for a liberal senator from Massachusetts. Yet all these pale in relation to the senator’s most fundamental miscalculation – that in running for the presidency he could lie to the American people and get away with it.
Yes, John Kerry as war protester in the early 1970s ran fully into the disdain of what President Nixon so aptly termed “the silent majority.” No one should forget that President Nixon defeated George McGovern in a landslide in the 1972 presidential election, with McGovern ironically winning only the state of Massachusetts. John Kerry himself, running as an anti-war congressional candidate in Lowell, Mass., went down to defeat at the same time, unable to overcome the intense conservative criticism leveled upon him by Lowell’s hometown newspaper.
This lesson was not lost on those of us – Kerry critics for over 32 years – who had resolved even then to oppose him if ever he should chance to contend seriously for the nation’s highest office. A silent majority of Americans, just as much alive today in the electorate as it was during the Vietnam War, could be awakened once again to the reality of John Kerry’s extreme radical protest.
Once awakened, that silent majority could be counted upon to rise up and reject John Kerry – as it had rejected McGovern in 1972, as it had rejected Kerry himself in the same year. John O’Neill and I wrote “Unfit for Command,” confident in the belief that we could appeal one more time to fundamental Americanism of the still vibrant silent majority among us to defeat John Kerry.
Still, John Kerry did not learn an even more important lesson which Nixon’s experience made even more apparent. Nixon’s greatest fault was not running an unpopular war, nor was it being responsible for a second-rate burglary into the office of the chairman of the Democratic National Party. Nixon’s unforgivable sin was to lie and cover-up.
This Americans would never forgive or forget. We eat cherry pie to celebrate Washington’s Birthday. Why? Because of the apocryphal story that when George Washington as a child chopped down the cherry tree, he admitted the fault. “I cannot tell a lie,” is the concluding line we are all taught as school children.
What was Kerry’s lie? To exaggerate his four short months of service in Vietnam and his minor wounds into a self-advanced glory of mythic proportions. To claim his statement that the American military who served in Vietnam were the army of Ghengis Kahn, a calumny that disgraced the service of over 2 million Americans who served there with honor – including some 58,000 whose names are on that solemn black stone memorial in Washington, D.C., American heroes who did not come home, American heroes who deserved a better fate than John Kerry’s slander.
Then John Kerry refused to release his military records, even when the Navy said there were some 31 pages of his file the public had never seen, even when serious questions had been raised that he had received a less-than-honorable discharge for collaborating with the enemy in time of war. All of this the American public might well have accepted and forgiven, if only John Kerry had told the truth and asked for forgiveness.
We Americans hold dear certain fundamental values among which are a belief in God, a love of country, a devotion to our children, and a conviction that truth has an eternal and lasting meaning. A person may not be devout in their faith, a candidate for public office may have gone through family separations and divorce – these are not fatal defects preventing election.
But to violate the trust to country by lying while holding or in pursuit of the nation’s highest land is an offense beyond comprehension or forgiveness. This, the silent majority could never accept. This President Nixon learned painfully, being our first president to resign from office, in disgrace. So, too, on Nov. 2, 2004, John Kerry was forced to face the truth that the barrier standing between him and the office he had coveted all his life was nothing other than the lie he himself had become.