Jewish World Review April 29, 2004 / 8 Iyar, 5764

Jeff Jacoby

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The Kerry medals mystery | If John Kerry hadn't already clinched the Democratic presidential nomination, his medals meltdown on "Good Morning America" this week would have sunk his campaign. Much as Howard Dean's crazed "I Have A Scream" speech jolted voters into wondering whether someone so hotheaded should be allowed anywhere near the nuclear trigger, Kerry's abusive tirade on ABC gave millions of viewers a foretaste of how far presidential discourse will sink if Kerry becomes president.

Not one voter in 100 would vote against Kerry for trashing his Vietnam War medals when he was 27 years old. What he did with his combat decorations in 1971 has no bearing on whether he is fit to be president today. That long-ago episode is an issue today only because Kerry's versions of it have changed so many times and because it so perfectly typifies his lifelong habit of saying one thing today and something else tomorrow — and then denying having done so.

So what does Kerry say he did with those medals? As with so many of his shifts and flip-flops, it's all on the record.

Take 1:

Q. Did Kerry throw his combat decorations away in an antiwar protest 33 years ago?

A. Yes. As The Boston Globe reported on April 24, 1971, "John Kerry . . . said before he threw his medals over the fence: `I'm not doing this for any violent reasons, but for peace and justice, and to try to make this country wake up once and for all.' "

Take 2:

Q. Did Kerry throw his decorations away 33 years ago?

A. Yes. In a Nov. 6, 1971, interview with WRC-TV, he recalled that the protesters had decided to "renounce the symbols which this country gives . . . the medals themselves." When the interviewer asked, "How many did you give back, John?" he answered: "I gave back, I can't remember, six, seven, eight, nine." The interviewer noted that Kerry had won the Bronze and Silver Stars and three Purple Hearts. Kerry: "Well, and above that, I gave back my others."

Take 3:

Q. Did Kerry throw his decorations away 33 years ago?

A. No. In 1984, running for the Senate against a World War II Air Force veteran, he claimed he had refused to do so. "After showing a reporter his medals and ribbons on display in his Back Bay apartment," The Boston Globe reported on Oct. 15, 1984, Kerry "said he had disagreed with other protest leaders on throwing away medals." The medals he was seen tossing, Kerry added, were those of a "veteran from Lincoln [Mass.], at his request."

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Take 4:

Q. Did Kerry throw his decorations away 33 years ago?

A. Medals, no; ribbons, yes. During his 1996 reelection campaign, he told the Globe that he only threw the ribbons pinned to his uniform. "Asked why he didn't bring his own medals to throw since it was planned weeks in advance," the Globe reported on Oct. 6, 1996, "Kerry said it was because he didn't have time to go home [to New York] and get them." The medals he was seen tossing, he claimed, belonged to two other veterans — the one from Lincoln and one from New York. "Kerry says he can't remember their names."

The variations don't end there. For example, his explanation that he "didn't have time to go home and get" the medals — i.e., he would have trashed them if he could have — is sharply at odds with his earlier "explanation" to the Boston Herald: "They're my medals. I can do g-ddam what I want with them."

On Monday's TV show, after being shown the tape of his younger self claiming to have thrown "six, seven, eight, nine" medals onto the trash heap, Kerry heatedly insisted that he had pitched only his ribbons, not his medals. Then he insisted even more heatedly that "ribbons, medals were absolutely interchangeable. . . . there was no distinction . . . I think, to this day, there's no distinction between the two."

Well, if ribbons and medals are identical, then by his own admission he did throw away his medals. So why does he angrily maintain that he didn't?

Kerry could acknowledge that his various statements on the subject are inconsistent. He could apologize for his deception. He could even resort to the Bush Sidestep: "When I was young, I did a lot of foolish things." Instead he attacks the president over his National Guard service — an assault he has now escalated on the campaign trail — and accuses ABC of "doing the bidding of the Republican National Committee."

But the questions won't go away just because Kerry snarls at the questioners. By itself, the medals incident matters hardly at all. But as a surrogate for all the issues on which Kerry has ducked and dissembled, it matters very much.

"The candidate who starts each morning by having to explain himself is a goner," the Village Voice remarked in an editorial this week. The Village Voice! If that's what they're saying on the far left, what must be going through the minds of the mainstream?

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Jeff Jacoby is a Boston Globe columnist. Comment by clicking here.

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