Sunday, October 10, 2004

Character Tells

My son asked me recently why so many on the left are rabidly irrational about President Bush and my answer was a history lesson, as he probably expected. The evolution of the core values that define the modern Democrat and Republican parties can be traced to two concurrent developments in the middle of the twentieth century. During a decades-long lock on both houses of Congress, the left drifted into a sense of entitlement to political power and expanded their constituency by redistributing the spoils of power. As the beltway minority, the right gradually became the party of ideas as propounded by William F. Buckley, introduced into national politics by Barry Goldwater, and cemented as mainstream opinion by Ronald Reagan.

Bill Clinton presided over the decade in which the Democrats lost their monopoly on the federal government. His response typically was to create not an ideology of the left but a strategy to discredit the right by distortion and deception. I think that is why we see today healthy discussion among conservatives of every prefix about policy and ideology and an unhealthy obsession on the left to support almost anyone who can remove the Republicans from power.

One worthy heir to Buckley’s mantle is Hugh Hewitt, the prolific and influential voice of the center right blogosphere who is hosting a virtual think tank with a series of symposia on the 2004 presidential election. Hugh poses this question: "What do Kerry's answers to today's press inquiries tell us about Kerry's worldview and character?"

At his meeting on October 7, 2004 with a few reporters, Kerry tried to score a quick and dirty hit by analogizing Bush’s war on terror in Iraq to Lebanon of the early 1980s. Kerry did not present an argument to support his analogy, which falls apart upon examination of the facts. The circumstances in Lebanon and Iraq were, are fundamentally different.

In an era of Cold War and Middle East tensions three years after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and one year after President Anwar al-Sadat of Egypt was assassinated for making peace with Israel, a multinational coalition including France and the United States deployed troops to stabilize the government of Lebanon, where Palestinians used refugee camps as their base of operations to attack Israel. Syria, a Soviet client state at the time, sent forces to destabilize the Lebanese government while Israeli fighters chased Palestinian insurgents back into Lebanon. The terrorist attacks on our embassy and troops there may have been the first strike in the jihadist war against America, but what is clearer in hindsight certainly was not evident in 1982 and 1983.

Anyway, Kerry just wants another unquestioned talking point, not an honest discussion that might reveal how America under Bush is finally responding to more than two decades of terrorist attacks, including those in Lebanon. Like Clinton, Kerry is a "pragmatist," which means polls are more important than convictions. Kerry is all about talking and not much about doing. And some of his talking may be doing actual harm to our troops.

President Bush has said repeatedly, “Committing troops into harm's way is the most difficult decision a President can make.” John Kerry is only running for president, but some contend that he put troops in harm’s way at least once since he returned from combat in Vietnam. The Swift Boat Vets and POWs for Truth claim that Kerry’s Winter Soldier activities while they were prisoners of war and accusations of U. S. atrocities, of which many have been proven false, led to physical and mental torture by their sadistic captors. This is an argument they have a right to make. If true, Kerry did not learn or does not care that words have consequences.

In the years since Kerry appeared before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations to allege war crimes of which he had no personal knowledge, the substance of his rhetoric has changed but not the highly inflammatory style. Then he testified that U.S. soldiers "with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command" behaved "in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan." Now he declares that “a coalition of the bribed and coerced” is waging “the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time,” which could turn out to be another Lebanon.

At a minimum Kerry’s choice of language undermines our foreign policy now as it did in 1971. At worst his words could be exploited to endanger troops and civilians in harm’s way. The American right to free speech is indisputable, but a leader whose every word is scrutinized “in the globe or elsewhere” has unique responsibilities. One is to protect and defend the national interest to the detriment of his personal agenda if necessary, which John Kerry has never demonstrated he is capable of doing. This is an argument we have a right to make. Kerry’s words have consequences.

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