Jewish World Review August 11, 2004 / 24 Menachem-Av, 5764

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez
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Pollsters ignore the Bush secret weapon — the ‘faith factor’ | "I'm John Kerry, and I'm reporting for duty." It was the most memorable line from John Kerry's acceptance speech last week at the Democratic National Convention. But Kerry's insistence on making his four-month tour of duty in Vietnam the centerpiece of his campaign could backfire as Americans learn more about what he did in that country and, more importantly, what he did when he returned home.

To hear the Kerry campaign tell it, the men who served with Kerry universally consider him a genuine war hero who would make a fine commander in chief. The campaign trumpets testimonials from a group of fellow officers and sailors who served in Vietnam when Kerry was there and, most memorably, an emotional endorsement from Jim Rassman, the man Kerry saved when he went back to rescue the wounded Green Beret, taking enemy fire as he jumped into the water.

But most of the officers who served with Kerry have not endorsed him and resent their images being used to tout the candidate. In one famous photo, which Kerry has used on his Website and campaign literature, the young Kerry is pictured with 19 other Swift boat officers in charge of Coastal Division 11. But only one of the 23 officers who served with Kerry in Coastal Division 11 has actually endorsed Kerry. Indeed the overwhelming majority of other officers who served in his unit at the time have opposed his candidacy for U.S. president, including every single officer under whom Kerry served in Vietnam. Some of Kerry's fellow officers have formed an organization called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

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During the convention, controversy swirled among some veterans over footage used in Kerry's biographical film introducing him to the convention and the nation. Some of it was amateur footage supplied by the candidate himself. The Kerry campaign admits that the candidate lugged an 8mm camera around Vietnam, shooting footage of areas along the Mekong Delta where his boat encountered various attacks, but claims it was common for sailors to do so.

I own a late '60s vintage 8mm camera, which is nothing like today's tiny video cams. It weighs several pounds and is cumbersome to operate. I can't imagine carrying it aboard a boat in dangerous territory in order to shoot travelogues, but apparently Kerry thought the films would come in handy someday. Indeed, he may have planned to use the footage in his run for Congress when he returned from the Vietnam War — before he decided that playing the war hero wouldn't sell as well as playing the war protester in the liberal Massachusetts district in which he chose to run.

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But what Kerry did in Vietnam is not the real issue. It's what he did when he came back to the safety of U.S. shores that rankles so many who served this country. John Kerry lied about what he had seen in Vietnam and impugned the integrity of everyone who had served with him. Kerry testified before Congress on April 22, 1971, that his fellow sailors and soldiers had "raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of Vietnam. ... " A few days later, Kerry went on "Meet the Press" saying that he, personally, had "committed atrocities" in Vietnam, as well as accusing other American servicemen — the men he now refers to as his "band of brothers" — of doing the same.

Kerry doesn't like to talk about these gross fabrications now, hoping that people will remember only the stories of his own heroism, not his attacks on the honor of the men who served with him in Vietnam. But for many of those who remember Kerry's bitter and false statements, he will never be fit to become commander-in-chief. The Gallup Organization poses it as a conundrum: Churchgoers are much more likely to support George W. Bush, while those who don't attend church regularly are more likely to favor John F. Kerry. Men are also more likely to favor Bush, while women back Kerry. Yet, more women than men can be found in the pews any Sunday morning. So how is it that Bush does better than Kerry among both church attendees and men?

The answer, according to Jeffrey M. Jones and Joseph Carroll, who analyzed the Gallup data, is that white men who attend services weekly so overwhelmingly support Bush that they tip the scales. Religiously inclined women also are more likely to support Bush, but less so than their devout male counterparts. Among white men who attend church on a weekly basis, Bush gets a whopping 70 percent of the registered voters in the Gallup sample to Kerry's 27 percent. Women in this group of once-a-week attendees give Bush the nod, but by a smaller margin, 52 percent to Kerry's 42 percent.

Kerry, meanwhile, has the advantage among registered voters who never — or rarely — attend services, especially among women who shun the church door. A majority of men who don't attend church or other religious services support Kerry, 53-45 percent. But an even higher proportion of women in this category are much more likely to favor Kerry: 61-36 percent.

So what about voters who go to church, but not as regularly as the most devout? Among both men and women who attend religious services monthly, Bush and Kerry are in a dead heat, with men in this group slightly favoring Bush, 49-47 percent, and women splitting their vote 48-48. Nonetheless, according to Jones and Carroll, "the data suggest, however, that whites at this level of religious commitment show a noticeable preference for Bush over Kerry."

The Democrats have been trying to overcome their reputation as the less God-fearing party, making sure that speakers at their recent convention invoked spiritual and religious themes. Barack Obama, the Illinois state representative now running for U.S. Senate, told a cheering audience, "We worship an awesome God in the 'Blue States.'" But Kerry gave the most spirited defense of faith in his speech: "in this campaign, we welcome people of faith," he said. "America is not us and them. I think of what Ron Reagan said of his father a few weeks ago, and I want to say this to you tonight: I don't wear my own faith on my sleeve. But faith has given me values and hope to live by, from Vietnam to this day, from Sunday to Sunday."

So why aren't his words resonating with the people of faith Kerry talked about? Although Kerry attends mass regularly, and carries a rosary and prayer book with him on the campaign trail, he is at odds with his Church on abortion and gay marriage. But perhaps more importantly, Kerry's positions on these issues seem motivated more by political expediency than principle.

He says he opposes gay marriage, but voted against the Defense of Marriage Act, one of only a handful of senators to do so. He has said that he believes that life begins at conception and that he is personally opposed to abortion but then votes consistently counter to these professed moral principles. Kerry has voted against legislation to outlaw the gruesome practice of late-term, partial-birth abortion each time it has come up. And just weeks ago, he abandoned campaigning to return to the Senate floor to vote against the "unborn victims of crime bill," which would allow federal prosecutors to treat violence against a pregnant woman as a crime against two victims.

It would be one thing if he said he disagreed with the Catholic Church on these matters, but he doesn't. Instead, he tries to have it both ways, making him appear weak and unprincipled. And that may be why religious voters — especially men — seem less comfortable with John Kerry.

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JWR contributor Linda Chavez is President of the Center for Equal Opportunity. Her latest book is "Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics". (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.)

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