Ive had a number

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I’ve had a number of readers ask me why I would repeat John Kerry’s ‘bring it on’ language and implicitly endorse Max Cleland’s dig at Saxby Chambliss.

There are actually several questions here. So let me try to answer each in their turn.

The first point is why I would embrace the idea that military service or lack thereof is a legitimate campaign issue. Don’t I feel that Bill Clinton was unfairly pilloried on this ground? Didn’t John Kerry say in 1992 that we shouldn’t divide the country by getting into people’s Vietnam era service and reopening those old national wounds?

So is this hypocritical?

Well, in a limited sense, of course it is. But let’s look at what those who make this argument really want.

[Thinking this over, if anything, I think I’ve overstated the matter. As I’ve said previously, if the president would simply tell the truth about his military service, it really wouldn’t be a very deal. Of course, at this point he’s made his bed.]

Republicans believe past military service counts on political and character grounds. So without a flutter of conscience they can maul Democrats who don’t match up and even many who do. But Democrats don’t think it should matter. So they should remain mum when Republicans run candidates who skated out of military service with whipped up medical ailments or political connections.

That sounds to me like unilateral disarmament, which last I heard is something Republicans don’t believe in. I can understand why Republicans would want a political rule book that permits aggressive attacks by Republicans and prescribes timidity from Democrats. But I can’t fathom why Democrats should go along with it.

Then there’s another point. Some people say some version of the following: Democrats are naive if they think Kerry’s Vietnam service will stop him from getting a Republican mauling. After all, look what good it did Max Cleland.

Good point. But this isn’t the reasoning. Or, at least, it’s not my reasoning. I think it’ll be different this time because the Democrats will go on the offensive early and not let up. The fact that Kerry is also a decorated Veteran helps a lot. But the determination to fight back is the fundamental difference. Without that, his record might well be of little consequence.

Yet another point.

Some have said explicitly and others have implied that the new attacks on Kerry’s war protestor record are either payback for the attacks on Bush or the logical consequence of the Dems hitting the president on his service record. This is, I think, a subtext to a lot of the higher-minded commentary — that, shall we say, of the supercilious center.

To this I can only say that, to paraphrase the immortal Mr. T, I pity the fool who actually believes this. All past experience and present evidence tells us these attacks were on the way regardless. As I noted a couple weeks ago in The Hill, this is simply Democrats embracing a political variant of the Bush Doctrine of preemption. The only difference being that they actually know their opponents have the weapons.

The deeper question here is whether Democrats should be campaigners and campaign critics-cum-ethicists at the same time, rather than hitting their political opponents on every point of vulnerability. And I think it’s a question most of them have already answered for themselves over the last three years. We’ll return to this and the broader issue of Democratic foreign policy in subsequent posts.

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