Jewish World Review April 9, 2003/ 7 Nisan 5763


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Consumer Reports

Kerry goes Ballistic --- move over, Howard Dean | Here's a bulletin from the 2004 presidential campaign trail: The junior senator from Massachusetts, and anointed frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, is a Vietnam veteran.

Because of this fact, which John Forbes de Villepin Kerry hammers home in every campaign speech, the candidate and his advisers (including two of the most noxious men in politics today, Robert Shrum and Chris Lehane) are in attack mode. Kerry reasons he's earned the right to make outrageous statements about President Bush even as U.S. soldiers are dying in Iraq. Speaking in New Hampshire on April 2, Kerry told a library audience that Bush has alienated the impotent United Nations, committing a "breach of trust" since a majority of countries wanted to give Hans Blix a chance.

Kerry then delivered a soundbite that's typical of the arrogance that's marked his calculated political career. "What we need now is not just a regime change in Saddam Hussein and Iraq," he said, "but we need a regime change in the United States." The proudly aristocratic senator had made the same glib remark at a Democratic gathering in Sacramento just before the war started, so this wasn't an off-the-cuff gaffe. If Kerry wants to contend in the Democratic primaries, he needs a tutor who can explain the difference between a standard political jab and a rhetorical time bomb.

"Regime change" has a certain definition in the United States today: It means ridding Iraq of a dictator who tortures, maims and executes his own citizens at the merest hint of dissent or betrayal. Just imagine if a mass-murderer ruled this country, which is thankfully a cauldron of protest and debate. It's your turn for the firing squad, Mr. Charles Rangel, right next to Tom Daschle, Nancy Pelosi, Howell Raines, Albert Hunt, Jules Witcover and Gore Vidal. The left-of-center media has long been liquidated, Charlie, and Jesse Jackson has escaped to Cuba at the invitation of Fidel Castro.

It's an indication of Kerry's predicament that two liberal columnists from the Boston Globe and Boston Herald have sadly concluded that the senator is in danger of blowing what many concluded was a surefire opportunity to challenge Bush next year. The Globe's Thomas Oliphant, perhaps the mushiest Beltway pundit, must've shed a tear when he wrote the following words in his April 6 column: "It is always dumb to hand opponents an easy attack line. It's also misguided to use the word regime, with an antidemocratic connotation, about the United States. President Bush leads an administration, a government. Popular votes and Florida aside, his presidency is the result of constitutional process and it is legitimate.

[The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg might want to take note of Oliphant's use of the word "legitimate."] Regime implies otherwise. It is used for dictators and authoritarians, based on its Latin root that is all about ruling, not governing."

The Herald's Wayne Woodlief was more direct: "Tacky language, Long Jawn, in even appearing to put the president and the sadistic Iraqi dictator on the same footing. And terrible timing, just as our troops reached the very doorsteps of Baghdad."

Even worse for Kerry, his burst of unseemly partisanship was echoed last Saturday by Michigan's Rep. John Conyers, one of the most despicable and polarizing members of Congress. At a protest march in Detroit, the bombastic Conyers called the war, which Kerry voted to authorize, "unconstitutional and immoral." He continued, in a de facto endorsement of the senator (sorry, Al Sharpton!): "Well, George Bush, on November 2, 2004, there will be the biggest regime change you have ever seen... A big regime change. That's what we're preparing for."

Kerry, who was embarrassed by lightweight Sen. John Edwards‹who didn't serve in Vietnam‹by coming in second to the North Carolinian in raising money during the first quarter of this year, is now in a real Heinz pickle.

What's the new game plan? I suppose he can continue his hyperbolic criticism of Bush and congressional Republicans, which will earn him the probably unwanted support of fringe publications like the Nation and Salon, and battle Howard Dean for the antiwar vote. That'd be swell, since such a course is sure to irreparably damage his campaign.

On Sunday, stumping in Iowa, Kerry revealed his 2004 platform. He said: "I am running to end forever the Republican politics of wedge issues and character attack and distortions made under the guise of patriotism, which undermine the definition of true love of country." You'd think Kerry might realize that's he's running against Bush, and not Tom DeLay or Denny Hastert, but apparently the legislator is looking for a schoolboy rumble rather than running the country.

A smarter plan would be to lie low for a month, following the example of his main opponents, Rep. Dick Gephardt and Sen. Joe Lieberman. Gephardt, right now, appears to be the real frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. While he hasn't matched Edwards or Kerry in collecting New York and Hollywood checks, the bland, veteran congressman has plotted a sound strategy for the primaries next year. He's hawkish on the war, not uttering a peep of criticism once the military began its invasion, and is patiently waiting for its conclusion before attacking Bush on domestic issues.

Gephardt, unlike Kerry, knows that the 2004 election will be a referendum on Bush, and if the economy is flailing, any temperamentally balanced Democrat has a decent shot of winning.

Kerry's arrogance in blasting Bush on foreign policy might win votes in Iowa and New Hampshire, but won't be received well in the South or rustbelt states. It's true that the president was stateside during Vietnam, a generation ago, but if Kerry campaigns on the plank that he's a more experienced leader in global affairs, he's sunk.

Bush is a wartime president who's exhibited remarkable resolve in not only protecting the United States in the wake of Sept. 11, but advancing democracy in the troubled Middle East as well. That he proceeded to invade Iraq without the blessing of the United Nations, and intends to rebuild Iraq without France and Germany in a leading role, was not only bold but visionary. Bush understands that acquiescence to his detractors‹keen on collecting Saddam-sanctioned debts‹would keep Iraq's citizens in terror and ultimately bring dishonor to the United States.

Whether the president's plan is vindicated remains to be seen, but foreign policy is not a winning issue for a Democratic opponent.

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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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