“If you’re watching this film, then I’m dead and John Kerry is running for president again.”
At 8:00 p.m. EST, on Nov. 2, John Kerry was writing his acceptance speech. The thought that he actually lost the election had not yet occurred to him. Now, John Kerry announces that he intends to run for president again, in 2008. This electoral defeat, evidently, to John Kerry was only a temporary setback – round one, as it were.
The Swift Boat and POWs for the Truth had been considering standing down, stating as accomplished their mission to defeat John Kerry in the presidential election of 2004. But now what? If John Kerry is going to start acting like Freddy Krueger, what should the Swift Vets and POWs do?
Every day since the election, I have been getting e-mails, mostly from veterans, who are drafting legal documents and formulating procedural plans to press John Kerry on various charges. The key sticking point for many is the unanswered questions regarding John Kerry’s discharge from the military.
Did John Kerry’s meeting with Madame Binh in Paris, his collaboration with the enemy in time of war, disqualify him from an honorable discharge from the Navy? Is the 1978 discharge document listed on his website really a product of a Carter pardon, reversing a prior “other than honorable” determination?
John Kerry’s approach to the Swift Boat attacks throughout the campaign were first to ignore the charges, second to unleash the “band of lawyers” to see if he could suppress First Amendment rights in his favor, and third, to claim without proof that “Unfit for Command” and the Swift Boat ads were discredited because they were “a pack of lies.” The one strategy John Kerry never utilized was to respond systematically to the charges.
On the question of his discharge from the Navy, Kerry was characteristically silent. This was perhaps a fatal mistake as the Swift Boat charges reframed John Kerry from the image he wished to portray, that of a “war hero,” to the image the Swift Boat vets wanted to portray, a rhinestone cowboy war hero whose anti-war protest flirted with treason. Still, the charges stand unanswered.
Kerry’s response to defeat has been equally dismissive. He now insists he will use the Senate seat as a bully pulpit for continued challenges to President Bush and the Republican Party. He asserts himself as the presumptive leader of the Democratic Party, their candidate in waiting, ready to act out another Adlai Stevenson drama in 2008.
Fundamentally, John Kerry doesn’t get it. Is it really meaningful that he received the second highest number of popular votes for president ever? More people voted this year than ever and John Kerry still lost, even though he got more votes than George Bush in 2000. Who cares? The American people did not embrace his message … whatever it was.
The veterans did not rise up to support one of their own. His arrival at the Democratic National Convention, crossing Boston Harbor like Washington crossing the Delaware and his salute “reporting for duty,” are impressions muted substantially by the pages of a No. 1 New York Times best-seller, a barrage of Swift Boat TV commercials, and a powerful POW documentary aptly titled, “Stolen Honor.”
So what are the Swift Boat and POWs for the Truth to do? One of the more interesting suggestions calls for the creation of a video archive containing taped statements from key participants, recording their final conclusions for posterity. The documentaries could be archived, available for viewing only if John Kerry were to emerge in the future as a viable presidential candidate. In other words, “If you are watching this film, then John Kerry is running for president again and I am dead.”
Perhaps the Swift Vets and POWs need to assemble one last time. The opportunity could also be used to record on film their final impressions and deliver their concluding statements for posterity. But the real goal would be to implant a pre-emptive strike, reserving a set of statements for release only in the exceptional circumstances contemplated should Kerry run for president a second time. That such statements existed might just serve as a powerful deterrent positioned against a future Kerry candidacy.
John Kerry might well calculate that in a few years hence he might yet be vital enough to run for president, while his Swift Vet and POW opponents had been weakened by the passage of time. A sealed archive of never-before-seen first-hand statements from his veteran opponents will give John Kerry and the Democratic Party second thoughts. Even if John Kerry wants to run again, is he or the Democratic Party really enthusiastic about putting the nation through the Vietnam War debate yet one more time?
In the presidential campaign of 2004, as long as the focus was on the Vietnam War, John Kerry was losing. Not since Richard Nixon in 1972 has any presidential candidate ever made headway talking about Vietnam.
Today, many vets of that war feel vindicated by the opportunity to tell their story of honor even at this late date. No one could have imagined the circumstances that would have placed the issue of Vietnam War honor so powerfully before the American public some 34 years after the Vietnamese Communists took over. For this, we have John Kerry to thank.
The problem is John Kerry, himself – a defeated candidate who does not accept defeat as final. He cannot be counted upon to go quietly into the night, with what remaining dignity he has left.