Kerry: Bush Lets Groups Do ‘Dirty Work’

Kerry: Bush Lets Groups Do ‘Dirty Work’ ( – AP)

Sen. John Kerry accused President Bush on Thursday of relying on front groups to challenge his record of valor in Vietnam, asserting, “He wants them to do his dirty work.” Defending his record, the Democratic presidential candidate said, “Thirty years ago, official Navy reports documented my service in Vietnam and awarded me the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts.” “Thirty years ago, this was the plain truth. It still is. And I still carry the shrapnel in my leg from a wound in Vietnam.”

This strikes me as a rather desperate tactic. It’s almost certainly untrue that the president is behind this group’s charges, many of which have been floating about for years. The guy who authored the book debated Kerry on the Dick Cavett show 30-odd years ago, for goodness sakes. The second part of his statement–that the awards were good enough for the Navy, etc.–is all he needs to say on that matter.

Kerry received five medals for his service in Vietnam a generation ago, but his record has come under campaign challenge in television commercials aired by “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth,” funded by supporters of the president. Bush and the White House have refused to condemn the ads, despite calls to do so from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a former Vietnam prisoner of war, as well as from Democrats.

The White House has reiterated that they honor Kerry’s service in Vietnam. They have no basis for criticizing the group, otherwise, as they are a group of veterans offering their own opinions of Kerry’s fitness as well as eyewitness accounts. To the extent that some of these accounts are untrue, that’ll come out soon enough. But that’s the job of the Kerry campaign and the press to dig up, not the Bush team to assert.

Senior Democrats, including some inside the presidential campaign, have urged Kerry to respond forcefully to the criticism, fearing that if left unanswered, it could hamper his quest for the White House. In addition to Kerry’s speech before an audience of firefighters, his campaign released a new 30-second campaign commercial that features a former Green Beret saying the young Navy lieutenant saved his life under fire. Recalling when his boat came under attack more than 30 years ago, Jim Rassmann says, “It blew me off the boat. All those Viet Cong were shooting at me. I expected I’d be shot. When he pulled me out of the river, he risked his life to save mine.”

Aides said the commercial would air in Ohio, West Virginia and Wisconsin, three battleground states. The decision to advertise even in a limited fashion marked a change in course for the campaign, which had hoped to remain off the air for August to conserve cash for the fall campaign.

This is powerful enough on its own accord. Again, I would argue that turning it into an attack on Bush diminishes the defense.

In his speech, Kerry employed a wartime metaphor. “More than 30 years ago I learned an important lesson. When you’re under attack the best thing to do is turn your boat into the attack. That’s what I intend to do today.”

But you turn your boat into the direction of the actual people shooting bullets at you rather than at people who aren’t, no?

Speaking of the organization airing the ads that challenge his war record, Kerry said, “Of course, this group isn’t interested in the truth and they’re not telling the truth. …

Fair enough so far, if they’re using “Truth” in their name and saying things you believe untrue.

“But here’s what you really need to know about them. They’re funded by hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Republican contributor out of Texas. They’re a front for the Bush campaign. And the fact that the President won’t denounce what they’re up to tells you everything you need to know. He wants them to do his dirty work.”

Again, untrue or irrelevant. They’re in no way a front for the Bush campaign. That they’re funded by a Republican contributor is hardly surprising–who else would fund them? George Soros?

Bush spokesman Steve Schmidt said, “That charge leveled by Senator Kerry is absolutely and completely false.” “The Bush campaign has never and will never question John Kerry’s service in Vietnam. The president has referred to John Kerry’s service as noble service,” the Bush spokesman said.

Kerry said, “Of course, the president keeps telling people he would never question my service to our country. Instead, he watches as a Republican-funded attack group does just that. Well, if he wants to have a debate about our service in Vietnam, here is my answer: ‘Bring it on.'”

The shrill bluster here is unbecoming. And, frankly, is simply dishonest.

Hat tip: Barry Ritholtz


Update (1449): It looks like another group is “doing Bush’s dirty work.” Beldar reports

Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, [Wednesday] filed a request with the U.S. Navy and the Defense Department for an investigation into the awards granted to Sen. John Kerry during his service with the U.S. Navy in Vietnam. Judicial Watch also requested that military authorities investigate Kerry’s anti-war activities, including his meeting with North Vietnamese and Viet Cong delegations in Paris, while a member of the Naval Reserve….

I’d say this could get ugly, but we’re already beyond that point. Let me reiterate: Unless there is overwhelming proof that Kerry somehow committed fraud in earning his medals–which seems highly unlikely to me–then this issue is irrelevant. True, he has touted his Vietnam experience ad nauseum as a qualification for office. But, unless one wants to make the rather idiotic argument (how’s that for poisoning the well?) that heroism while commanding a tiny boat crew should entitle Kerry to automatic election to the presidency, it’s unclear what the converse would show.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2004
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bithead says:

    So, we’re to ignore who Kerry is funded by?
    Does he REALLY want to open that kettle of fish?

  2. Pat says:

    When will the liberal media acknowledge that groups like MoveOn are fascist nazi communists and are paying millions of dollars to put their puppet in the White House? President Bush has never taken a single dollar from an evil doer and yet we never hear about that fact!

  3. legion says:

    That’s funny, Pat – I thought just last week I read an article about how GW has, over the last year or so, accepted $130K in gifts from the Saudi Roayl Family…

  4. Sean says:

    Here is an article referencing those gifts.

    What I noted from that article was the following:

    All of Abdullah’s gifts, and most others, sit in the National Archives. By law, federal employees must report all gifts received from foreign governments.


    The president and vice president and their families can’t keep any gifts worth more than $285, which become federal property. While in office, however, they can take the items out on indefinite loan from the Archives.

  5. Pat says:

    So Sean, you think a few gifts whose dollar value doesn’t get added to any Bush bank account invalidates the fact that MoveOn is run by fascist nazi commies? Nice red herring.

    Besides, the Houston Chronicle is clearly just another tainted liberal meme repeater.

  6. Sorry but the reason it is important that we discuss John Kerry’s Vietnam experience is that it gives the public an eye into his character. How he acted, what was thought of him by people who had to depend on him, and finally it allows us to corroborate his story with the actual events. For instance so far this has led to the Kerry camp having to admit that he was NOT in Cambodia for Christmas as he has earlier declared. These weren’t idle discussions but substantive speech’s given by a Senator pushing his agenda in congress. And yet we find out he was lying about it.

    No the Swift Boat Vets are landing some heavy blows unto someone who should have never been considered for Commander in Chief. Once again they are serving the nation.