Jewish World Review Feb. 25, 2004 / 3 Adar, 5764

Tony Blankley

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What makes John Kerry tick? | I disagree with those who believe that George Bush's National Guard record, or John Kerry's 1970's anti-war statements, should not be considered by the voters in 2004. In fact, the voters should know about drunk driving records, marital relations, college cheating, war records, old resume enhancements and all the other bric a brac of a life about two-thirds lived — if the man is running for president of the United States. Intelligence, judgment, character and personality — as well as political philosophy and policy positions — are all needed predictors of how a man will perform as president. American voters have a right to know — and a duty to find out — as much as they can about the man they would elect to the office, because an American president is not only the most powerful man in the world, he is potentially the most dangerous.

All people, but politicians especially, try to hide their weaknesses and shortcomings from public view. Thus, an election is not only a contest between two candidates, but a contest between each candidate and the public over a search for the full truth of the candidate's nature. Each piece of information, positive and negative, is probative (but not necessarily dispositive) of determining that true nature.

While self-consciously high-minded people condemn even honest negative campaigning, it is only through such efforts that hidden and embarrassing facts or conditions are revealed that may well be needed to properly understand the nature of the man and his fitness for the presidency.

While we will surely find out more, we already know a lot about George W. Bush. As a well-born son of a famous family, he performed adequately, but not exceptionally, in his youth and early adulthood. He fell away from his faith, came to drink and party too much and drifted from one job or venture to another. Then, his life changed completely. He sought out and refound his faith, gave up his sybaritic ways, returned to the fold and focused his energies and abilities. We know this story well — it is the parable of the prodigal son. And he ended up as president and headstrong leader of a great nation at war.

But what is John Kerry's story? It has not yet come into public focus. We need to find out what makes John Kerry tick. I have a suspicion that we will not truly know him until we understand what happened to him in the jungles of the Mekong Delta. Did the jungle, and what happened there creep permanently into his psyche?

Grass and vines quickly reclaim ground despoiled by human warfare. Slower to heal are the bodies, and sometimes the minds, of the warriors. Some men are actually strengthened and made wiser by battle. Others leave the traumas of warfare on the battlefield. Yet others hide it deep in their minds and, upon returning home, go on about a regular peacetime life — seemingly neither worse nor better for wear.

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Then there are those for whom the war becomes the great, personally defining event of their lives. It not only shapes, but also distorts, their perception of the world. Often this sort of man entered combat as an idealistic youth. Shocked by the brutality of war, they spend the rest of their lives failing to come to intellectual and psychological terms with the disparity between their youthful expectations and grim battle. These were good men, once. But they become spiritually damaged. Sometimes the more intelligent of these traumatized former soldiers turn to ideas, rather than liquor or opiates, to numb their troubled souls from their painful memories. World War I produced many such examples — from the pacifist poets like Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, to the sensitive cultural scholar and novelist Robert Graves, all the way to the demented ideologue Hitler.

Is John Kerry one of these types? Certainly he is not a Hitler. But is he one of the others? Did his experience with the horrors of war breed in him not a healthy caution before turning to military force, but an irrational obsession to never use force — even when it is necessary for our national security?

Certainly Vietnam never seems far from his lips or his mind. Of course he is not the first politician to take advantage of a good war record. Other than being a little unseemly, if his constant references to Vietnam are merely a pragmatic exploitation of a political asset, so be it.

But if his experience in Vietnam has deranged his capacity to make rational judgments about the use of military force on behalf of national security, then, while he was an excellent junior officer 30 years ago, he would be unfit to be commander and chief today. John Kerry should help us better understand his true nature by permitting the government to release his full military files. We can't afford to elect a pacifist president in a time of war.

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Tony Blankley is editorial page editor of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

02/18/04: Kerry's pre-emptive war policy
02/11/04: George W. Bush — grand strategist?
02/04/04: Elections in the age of terror
01/28/04: There's a war on?
01/21/04: It's good that we live in ignorance of the future
01/14/04: The strange case of immigration politics
01/07/04: Funding for American presidential elections is beginning to go global
12/31/03: Make us laugh
12/24/03: War prophesies
12/17/03: Analyze this!
12/10/03: Until peace is ready to be negotiated
12/03/03: AFL-CIO meets Monty Python
11/26/03: Republicans need to learn from the Romans
11/19/03: All of a sudden we have a responsible media?
11/12/03: To arms
11/05/03: Mayor Mike's appetite for self-destructive accusations
10/29/03: A bloody march to peace
10/22/03: Calls for a general 's head because his comments may have ruffled the feathers of our esteemed enemies!?
10/08/03: The leakers' agony
10/01/03: Managing a scandal
09/24/03: Will we have to balance our strong ethical and religious revulsion of cloning against the danger of being surpassed by a gene-manipulated super-race?
09/17/03: The skinny on the First Ladies
09/10/03: More than cynicism will be needed to defeat prez
09/03/03: Dead Man Politickin'
08/27/03: Patience is not America's long suit
08/13/03: George Will's trifecta of punitive aspirations
07/30/03: A question for the candidates: Whose side are you on?
07/23/03: When GOPers attack their leader
07/17/03: Spanish fest mirrors U.S. elections
07/09/03: On the horns of a dilemma
06/25/03: The continuing deaths of American and British soldiers in Iraq should not be rhetorically minimized -- but sanctified
06/18/03: No reason to feel defensive about criticism of the war on terrorism
06/11/03: The Clintons — self-proclaimed geniuses — have no defense against the charge of cunning mendacity
06/04/03: George 'Machiavelli' Bush? Nah
05/28/03: When 'progressives' become reactionaries
05/21/03: Yes, this conservative is defending the NYTimes
05/14/03: Playing the politics of deflation
05/07/03: Only the stupid could think it'll be the economy: Comparing the Bushes 04/30/03: How to squelch increasing Iraqi distrust of America
04/25/03: Winning the war, losing the peace
04/16/03: Our own domestic Senate Republican Guard better be prepared for a grinding
04/03/03: At this human moment we need to act like humans, not just calculating analysts
04/02/03: If we could only draft Jennings' eyebrow to the cause, we wouldn't need the 4th Armored Division?
03/26/03: This war is showing the world who we really are
03/19/03: Time for America to laugh at itself
03/13/03: They're coming out of the woodwork: Russert, Buchanan and Moran
03/05/03: Franc-tireur
02/26/03: World history is shifting under our feet --- even our most experienced statesmen are, effectively, inexperienced
02/19/03: The shame! We've mischaracterized the French 02/12/03: Schroeder and Chirac will be disproportionately undercutting their interests
02/05/03: We need to rise above our temporary anger and seek to preserve our bonds with our European cousins
01/29/03: Who is President Bush's stupidest opponent: Saddam Hussein or Tom Daschle?
01/22/03: We call them our European cousins --- but I demand a DNA test
01/16/03: Dems bare partisan teeth
01/02/03: Before the cheering must come the struggle
12/27/02: Long ago and far away
12/18/02: Be glad that Gore's gone?
12/11/02: What fun! A titanic, once-in-a-century partisan battle royal is in the offing
12/04/02: Kerry atwitter
11/27/02: The unThankful list
11/20/02: First the scare, then the yawn
11/13/02: It's going to be a long two years for Lefty Pelosi and the Frisco Dems
11/06/02: Technology: A pollster's worst enemy --- thank goodness!
10/31/02: Watch this election's Wheel of Fate
10/23/02: The Ari and Colin Show: Politics has never been, well, more vaudeville-like
10/09/02: Bush beats drums of realism
10/02/02: Needed: A political chromatograph to detect any true statements in the public domain
09/25/02: Buchanan's new mag
09/18/02: There are many forms of peace
09/11/02: The imperial period of our history starts
09/04/02: Memo to Powell: In periods of upheaval, the refusal to act gives aid to those bent on destruction
08/30/02: Logging old growth is a sham issue

© 2002, Creators Syndicate