If George Bush loses this election, the turning point will have been those 90 minutes of debate at the University of Miami, where camera cutaways of the president showed expressions ranging from exasperation to petulance to disgust.
Letting his face betray his feelings was a Bush blunder. But his sentiments are understandable, for he is frustrated almost to incoherence by the endless contradictions of John Kerry.
“The only thing consistent about my opponent’s position is he’s been inconsistent,” protested the president in one of his better lines.
Kerry’s inconsistencies need to be explored, for when they are all taken together, the only conclusion one can draw is that here is a man of no principles. There is no position he will not abandon. For decades, John Kerry has been a windsurfer on the waves of American politics.
Consider: Kerry voted to give Bush a blank check to go to war when the country was burning with war fever, then voted against the $87 billion to finish the job, when he was losing ground to Howard Dean.
With Dean dispatched, Kerry tacked to windward. At Miami, he spoke of victory in Iraq. Following the debate, he said: “He (Bush) keeps trying to say, ‘Well, we don’t want somebody who wants to leave (Iraq).’ He says: ‘We don’t want to wilt and waver. Well, Mr. President, nobody is talking about wilting and wavering. We’re talking about winning and getting the job done right.”
Kerry is for “winning” the war? But he has said he would send no more troops. How, when six nations have pulled out and enemy fighters and attacks have quadrupled in one year, can you be certain of “winning” the war — if you have ruled out any more U.S. troops?
Kerry calls the Bush decision to invade one of several “colossal failures of judgment” and calls Iraq the “wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Yet, when moderator Jim Lehrer asked him his own question from 1971, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” Kerry answered that Iraq was not a mistake.
How can a “colossal error in judgment” not be a mistake?
No wonder Bush seemed frustrated and peeved.
Which takes us back to Vietnam.
Nixon’s policy was to turn the war over to the Vietnamese, but not cut and run and pour down a sewer everything for which 50,000 Americans had already died. By April 1971, when Kerry was raging against him, Nixon had already reduced by half the 525,000 troops he found in Vietnam. He was on the way to bringing them all home, and did so by the end of his first term.
Thus, Kerry attacked and still attacks Nixon for too-slowly ending a war Kerry thought a mistake, but Kerry is now committed to “winning” a war he calls a “colossal error in judgment” and “the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Why does Kerry still call it “Nixon’s war”? Why does he make Nixon the villain when it was Nixon who reduced to zero in four years troop levels JFK and LBJ had built up over eight years to 525,000?
Answer: expediency. Nixon has few, if any, defenders among those to whom Kerry is appealing. JFK and LBJ still have many.
During the debate, Kerry declared again, “I defended this country as a young man, and I will defend it as president.”
Fine statement. But if Kerry was defending his country when fighting in Vietnam, why did he come home and throw his ribbons over the fence? Why did he come home and call the war a moral atrocity?
There is only one explanation for all Kerry’s inconsistencies and contradictions. It is that his first political principle is opportunism. From Vietnam to Iraq, he is hawk or dove, pro-war or antiwar, depending on the constituency he is currently courting.
When he went into the service in 1966, the establishment and Democratic Party were pro-war. When he turned antiwar radical in 1971, they had turned antiwar.
When America was hawkish on Iraq, Kerry was hawkish. When he needed antiwar votes to combat Dean, he became a fluttering dove, then born-again hawk in Boston, when he needed Middle America.
How does he get away with it?
The Big Media want him to win and will not hold him to account. George W. Bush is not a skilled debater. The nation has a short memory and even shorter attention span. And John Kerry believes, like H.L. Mencken, that no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.
During the Miami debate, however, Kerry made one mistake. He contradicted himself — in a single answer. He would never cede America’s right to act unilaterally, said Kerry, but added that any U.S. decision to act unilaterally must first pass a “global test.”
This sounds like Kerry would give a veto over U.S. unilateral action to the United Nations or the “international community.” The president is calling it the “Kerry Doctrine,” and the windsurfer is already tacking back to the right.