With the economy improving, hurricane winds blowing, and discussions about national health care on sick leave, it is fair to suggest that the coming debates between President Bush and Senator Kerry will focus on leadership. Bush can run on his record, but what do we know about John Kerry? So far, two things. Wait a minute: there’s that goofy wife of his. Okay, so make it three things. First, we know that Kerry was denied a deferment and as a result went to Viet Nam. Second, since his service in the United States Senate makes a blank slate look like a paisley tie, there’s no sense trying to find evidence of leadership there. What about that third thing, his wife? We know this: she can tell someone to “shove it” in a half dozen languages, which is a skill that could come in handy in dealing with the Europeans. However, since it’s doubtful that John Kerry would resort to such a brutal tactic, we’re forced to return to the first point.
Clearly, leadership is a serious matter, which is why it is especially worth revisiting Kerry’s Viet Nam record, something he relished talking about until “Unfit For Command” burst into the national conversation. Aside from hurling accusations of slander against the authors and disgraceful attempts to have the book banned, the Kerryites have had little to say.
It’s not hard to understand why. For instance, according to authors O’Neill and Corsi, when Swift Boat Veterans who served with Kerry first heard about his rendition of events that resulted in his third purple heart, they could not believe their ears. Kerry’s Alice-in-Wonderland version had him wounded and bleeding heavily while repelling enemy fire long enough to lift Lieutenant Rassmann out of the water after an underwater mine had blown him off his boat. In fact, what happened was that after an underwater mine had exploded, Kerry actually fled the area; that is, he ran away. He returned only after it was clear there was no enemy fire, and just in time to lift an understandably grateful Rassmann out of the water. Kerry’s account also had him towing the disabled boat out of harm’s way; in fact, it was another officer who largely accomplished that feat, although Kerry’s boat was involved.
None of this is new information, of course; readers of “Unfit For Command” have known it for months. But those who rely on book reviews for summaries of a work’s main points have found nothing, because none of the old media possessed the courage to review the Swift Boat Vets’ astounding history. If they did, they would also learn that this event typified Kerry’s behavior. From the moment he arrived, he established a reputation as a whiner and one who avoided danger while lusting for medals and concocting fantastic tales about his exploits. Indeed, his fellow officers developed a standard operating procedure for dealing with him, which was to get him transferred out of their units. This is how he ended up concluding a year tour of duty after only four months; another commander suggested that Kerry take advantage of the three Purple Heart rule to go home, which is exactly what all parties involved wanted. Kerry was gone in a flash, only to impart a final indignity to the exasperated veterans he left behind: his mendacious and dishonorable testimony before Congress—his blather about “Jenjhis” Kahn and all that.
In short, one looks in vain for evidence of Kerry’s leadership abilities. In Viet Nam he was neither steadfast nor heroic, his Senate work has been unremarkable, and so far, his presidential campaign has succeeded primarily in giving the word waffle a bad name. Mostly his career has been defined by ambition and self-promotion, but the reward for such behavior is not a medal.
Swift Boat veterans and millions of other Americans hope that neither is the Presidency.