Monday, April 26, 2004

Medalsgate: Is the Kerry campaign completely incompetent? 

He has denounced SUVs, and when the press figured out that he owned one, he pinned it on his family. Not the worst thing in the world -- barely a pimple -- but why didn't he lose the SUV a year ago? If Theresa's willing to let him have "his" home equity to finance the campaign, how hard can it be to talk her out of the truck for two years?

He has complained about "Benedict Arnold" CEOs who outsource jobs, and now it turns out that he owns shares in their companies. His defense? The old blind trust dodge, which anybody with two brain cells to rub together knows is a crock. You can construct a blind trust to avoid politically annoying investments, especially if you are willing to give up return. Why didn't he do it?

Now, he has apparently been nailed to the wall by ABC News on the question of whether or not he has thrown away his medals. Notwithstanding almost twenty years of outraged denials from Kerry, ABC has uncovered a videotape that shows a much younger John Kerry claiming just that:

"I gave back, I can't remember, 6, 7, 8, 9 medals," Kerry said in an interview on a Washington, D.C. news program on WRC-TV's called Viewpoints on November 6, 1971, according to a tape obtained by ABCNEWS.

I haven't seen the underlying video, but if one reads the ABCNews article closely there does appear to be a defense: Kerry still has his medals, he says, which means that he did not in fact give them away. Did he lie 30 years ago, then? Well, it depends on the meaning of "gave back." He has said in past years that he gave away his own "ribbons," but not his medals, and that he was given medals of other soldiers to give away on their behalf.

Either that, or his family gave them away.

TigerHawk has two unrelated points. First, the Kerry campaign does not seem to have prepared itself well for these inevitable disclosures. I'm no big fan of consistency as a trait, and I think that gotcha political journalism is a waste of print. But if you can't get your act together enough to lose the SUV, put your money in Treasuries, and come up with a good story on the "reverse medals ceremony," you had better not be too sanctimonious about gas guzzlers, "Benedict Arnold CEOs," or your military service.

Second, these kinds of lame legalistic defenses -- didn't inhale, meaning of "is," fine distinctions in family ownership, the investment rules constraining blind trusts, and the difference between ribbons and medals -- do not work well with the average guy. It might be surprising that these defenses come from Democrats, because the Democratic Party sets itself up as the party of the average guy. However, it is also the party of lawyers, or at least lawyer candidates (it is instructive that the last Republican lawyer candidate was Nixon, who spliced the truth pretty finelt himself). Lawyer candidates tend to think that all questioning should be dealt with as if it were a deposition, and that gets them into trouble.

All of this distraction is disappointing to me. I'm a reluctant supporter of the Bush Administration, not a fervent one, and was hoping for a campaign that would force Bush to move toward the center on various things, including the deficit (make it smaller) and a number of social issues. That won't happen if Bush doesn't feel some heat, and with his poll numbers holding up after a very bad month, he can't be feeling nervous just yet.

In any case, the Kerry campaign had better not have any more of these nettlesome nano-issues, because if it does it is going to face some of the most hilariously effective television ads ever deployed in a presidential campaign, none of which will raise the level of the political discourse in this country.


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