TCS Daily

Patriot Games

By Pejman Yousefzadeh - September 10, 2004 12:00 AM

Contrary to John Kerry's claims, critiques of his policies and platform do not necessarily constitute an attack on his patriotism.

Early this year, as the Democratic primary season kicked into high gear, and it became clearer and clearer that John Kerry would be the Democratic Presidential nominee, the Kerry campaign decided to embark on a kind of electoral preemption tactic. Anytime anyone criticized any portion of Kerry's record as a public official, Kerry portrayed the critique as an attack on his patriotism.

It was -- and is -- a brazen plan. When one considers the critiques against which Kerry raises the patriotism card -- critiques mostly having to do with specific Kerry votes on defense and intelligence issues -- it is unreasonable to assume that those critiques in any way implicate Kerry's patriotism. Indeed, he should be aware that as a Senator, with nearly twenty years experience in Congress, his voting record would be a key issue during the campaign, and the among the best ways to measure what kind of President he would be. But Kerry apparently wants to take his voting record off the table as a legitimate topic of discussion. Not only does he not talk about it much (go through Kerry's own convention acceptance speech, and you will find that his Senate career just barely merits a single mention), but now he proposes that any Republican who talks about Kerry's Senate record should be attacked for supposedly questioning Kerry's patriotism.

The latest attack in this vein came on the night that President Bush accepted the Republican nomination for a second term. Holding a midnight rally in Ohio, Kerry said the following in response to Vice President Dick Cheney's specific critiques of Kerry's voting record and positions the night before:

"They have attacked my patriotism and my fitness to serve as commander in chief. I'm not going to have my commitment to defend this country questioned by those who refused to serve when they could have and by those who have misled the nation into Iraq."

The assertion is nonsensical. Go through Cheney's speech, and you will not find a single instance where Kerry's patriotism is in any way maligned. On the contrary, the Vice President went out of his way to make clear that his critique was not based on any claim that Kerry was insufficiently patriotic:

"The President's opponent is an experienced senator. He speaks often of his service in Vietnam, and we honor him for it. But there is also a record of more than three decades since. And on the question of America's role in the world, the differences between Senator Kerry and President Bush are the sharpest, and the stakes for the country are the highest. History has shown that a strong and purposeful America is vital to preserving freedom and keeping us safe -- yet time and again Senator Kerry has made the wrong call on national security. Senator Kerry began his political career by saying he would like to see our troops deployed "only at the directive of the United Nations." During the 1980s, Senator Kerry opposed Ronald Reagan's major defense initiatives that brought victory in the Cold War. In 1991, when Saddam Hussein occupied Kuwait and stood poised to dominate the Persian Gulf, Senator Kerry voted against Operation Desert Storm." (Emphasis mine.)

To be sure, Cheney's critique of Kerry is a tough one, and there may be instances where his critique of Kerry's record can be disputed. But at no time did the Vice President say that John Kerry was not a patriot. And merely questioning Kerry's platform and votes does not qualify as an accusation that someone is insufficiently patriotic. In fact, we wouldn't have much of a Presidential campaign if discussions about a candidate's platform and any votes that candidate may have cast as a legislator were somehow made verboten.

In addition to accusations that Cheney had questioned Kerry's patriotism, Kerry also accused Cheney of saying that Kerry was "unfit" to serve as Commander-in-Chief. But as this Washington Post article points out, Cheney said no such thing. It appears that John Kerry simply made up a whole new version of Dick Cheney's speech to the Republican National Convention, and then chose to attack that new version, instead of responding to the speech that Cheney actually gave.

This is not to say, of course, that there weren't partisan attacks on patriotism that were going on last week. On the contrary, there was a rather rancid attack on patriotism that was issued from a wholly partisan perspective during the week of the Republican National Convention. Here are the offending lines:

"But the vitriol also reflects the fact that many of the people at that convention, for all their flag-waving, hate America. They want a controlled, monolithic society; they fear and loathe our nation's freedom, diversity and complexity."

The writer of those offending lines was Paul Krugman. The people whose patriotism he was attacking were Republicans. You don't suppose John Kerry might muster a bit of outrage over that, do you?


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