John Kerry, Luke-warm Warrior

I’ve been watching John Kerry’s “swift boat” controversy with some interest for the last few weeks. At this point I’m one of those all-important uncommitted independent voters who hasn’t decided which lesser evil he wants to vote for yet.

I haven’t seen any of the infamous “Swiftie” ads attacking the circumstances surrounding Kerry’s valorous conduct in Vietnam, but I have a few news stories about them. I can’t say the claims have had much impact on my like/dislike of Kerry — the arguments about his improperly filed paperwork seem just as strained as those involving W’s own National Guard service.

What I find far more interesting is how Kerry has sought to spin his service record after the war. On the surface, he looks like the perfect Democratic war hero — he served valorously in a war against America’s enemies (and yes, I do consider communist Vietnam to be an enemy), thus earning him respectability as a guy who’s actually risked getting killed for his country. Then he came home, and protested the excesses of the war he’d been fighting, thus earning him additional chops as a peace activist. In a war surrounded by no-win scenarios, that’s about the best you can do.

And yet … he’s managed to consistently weaken what should have been his electoral trump card to the point that what remains is so dog-eared and battered that it’s hard to give any credence to his stands. First you’ve got the war crime accusations he made when he got back from Vietnam, which even he now admits were over the top. Granted, horrible things happened in Vietnam, but exaggerating the excesses for political gain is not a good way to win friends and influence people.

Then there’s the whole boondoggle with his medals. He made a big show of throwing away his medals with a couple of other vets, tossing them over the fence at the White House. That’s a powerful statement of discontent, but once again Kerry managed to muddle it by only throwing away his ribbons but keeping the medals. I can understand the sentimental value of the medals, and why he’d want to keep them, but that value is what makes the image of throwing the medals away so powerful. Keeping them dilutes what otherwise would have been a principled stand, and smells of political opportunism, as though Kerry wants to have it both ways — he wants to be against the war, and yet, still be respected among those who would be horrified by his treatment of his medals.

It’s this track record of indecisiveness that makes Kerry’s war record — or more specifically, his post-war record important. Because he’s still wants to have it both ways, voting for the war on Iraq, but then voting to deny its funding a year later. We’re supposed to believe that this indecisiveness is supposed to be a nuanced show of depth. He tries to squirm his way out of the vote by saying he’d have fought the war differently, and that his vote was a protest about the way it was being handled. I can appreciate that, but cutting off funding once a path is taken doesn’t strike me as being an effective way of getting your message across.

To my mind, Kerry wants to have his cake and eat it too, wants to be able to pander to both the pro-war and anti-war segments of the electorate. And once again, he’s muddling what could have been a decisive stand. I can respect someone who was consistently against the war, even if I don’t agree with them. But Kerry’s brand of luke-warm warrior leaves me clammy.

Is it enough to cost him my vote? Not yet, but it does not bode well.

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