The two years since his loss in the presidential election has done nothing to dull John Kerry’s gift for political tone deafness. Surely the man would have learned by now.
His passivity in the face of unsubstantiated charges about his Vietnam war record gave the lexicon of political attacks a new verb, “to swift boat.” And one of the more entertaining episodes of the campaign was his tap-dancing explanation of this Delphic pronouncement, “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.” And he never could shed the appearance of being a little too comfortable with wealth and privilege.
Preaching the virtues of education, Kerry told a group of California college students “if you make the most of it, you study hard and do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. And if you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”
Oh, dear. Only the dumb ones join the military and serve in Iraq?
Where to start? The plain language was elitist and patronizing and demeaning to the troops. It was — we’re starting to sputter here — just plain stupid. And just like in 2004, the Republicans hopped all over it, demanding that Kerry apologize.
Indeed, Bush spokesman Tony Snow said at the White House briefing that Kerry “not only owes an apology to those who are serving, but also to the families of those who’ve given their lives in this.”
Kerry lashed back fast and hard, “I’m sick and tired of these despicable
Republican attacks that always seem to come from those who never can be found to serve in war, but love to attack those who did. I’m not going to be lectured by a stuffed suit White House mouthpiece standing behind a podium.”
Ultimately, Kerry says the incident was a “botched joke” — his aides said the line was written to say “you end up getting us stuck in Iraq — just ask President Bush.” Kerry issued a tepid apology, which he infused with another jab at Republicans: “They’re trying to change the subject. It’s their campaign of smear and fear.”
Kentucky Democrat Rep. Harold Ford Jr. summed up the situation well: “Whatever the intent, Sen. Kerry was wrong to say what he said.”
As for the soldiers serving in Iraq, they should take their GI Bill money when they return, go to the college they couldn’t afford before serving, study hard, do their homework, make an effort to be smart and then move to Massachusetts and run for the senator’s seat.