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Sunday, February 15, 2004

Mark Steyn: A Tale of Two Tales

I missed this column from Mark Steyn last night, but fortunately The Big Trunk at Power Line didn't. Steyn notes the hypocrisy and blatant bias in American media in how they responded to two poorly-sourced scandal stories, and how only one of them actually pans out -- and that's the one they're not covering:

Now let's consider the Kerry scandal: If you read the British newspapers, you'll know all about it. It's not about whether he was Absent Without Leave, but the more familiar political failing of being Absent Without Pants. It concerns a 24-year old woman - ie, 41 years younger than Mrs Kerry - and, with their usual efficiency, the Fleet Street lads have already interviewed her dad, who's called Kerry a "sleazeball". But if you read the US newspapers or watch the news shows there's not a word about the Senator's scandal. Though it seems to have a somewhat sounder factual basis, and at least one witness more relevant to this situation than the loose-lipped Gen Turniphead was to Mr Bush's, it's the media that's gone Awol. In this case, it seems it would hurt to ask. So Mr Bush has been unable to do the John Kerry routine, declining to comment but adding that "it's not my marital record that's at issue". We have two flimsy "scandals" tangentially related to character, but only one of them's all over the networks.

I'm not going to make a case for covering the John Kerry adultery scandal, although I may be in a minority on the right (see comments) in my belief that marital infidelity doesn't disqualify one for political office. However, that story has better sourcing and more verification than does anything about Bush's National Guard service and file-shredding accusations. People can certainly argue about relevance, but truth is an absolute defense anyway, and the truth is that Bush was honorably discharged in 1973, which means that the Defense Department concluded that Bush's service was both honorable and complete.

Nor does Steyn argue for more bimbo eruptions in American politics; he, like myself, wants journalists to practice the same thresholds for publication whether the target of allegations is Democrat or Republican. And in the case of John Kerry, it's the media that's gone AWOL, as Steyn says, and he continues:

By contrast, the Kerry narrative is almost impenetrable. If Vietnam bitterly divided a nation, split communities, tore apart families, etc, etc, Sen Kerry somehow managed to wind up on both sides of the fence: in the 1960s, he was John Wayne taking out the gooks in 'Nam; in the 1970s, he was Hanoi Jane Fonda, leading the protest movement; now, after two decades in Congress opposing every new weapons system for America's military, he's campaigning like Bob Hope on a USO tour flanked by wall-to-wall veterans. What story accounts for Senator Flip-Flop these past 40 years?

If character is the issue, Bush can relax. And, if doing your bit for national security is the issue, then John Kerry's been AWOL for two decades.

Read the entire article; as always, Steyn is a delight to read.

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Washington Post Hits The Nail On The Head

In the midst of running up big primary wins, John Kerry has managed to finesse his past policy contradictions and focus almost primarily on attacking George Bush. Today's Washington Post lead editorial pulls the string on Kerry and demands some explanations from the new front-runner:

The most important confusion surrounds Mr. Kerry's position on Iraq. In 1991 he voted against the first Persian Gulf War, saying more support was needed from Americans for a war that he believed would prove costly. In 1998, when President Clinton was considering military steps against Iraq, he strenuously argued for action, with or without allies. Four years later he voted for a resolution authorizing invasion but criticized Mr. Bush for not recruiting allies. Last fall he voted against funding for Iraqi reconstruction, but argued that the United States must support the establishment of a democratic government.

Mr. Kerry's attempts to weave a thread connecting and justifying all these positions are unconvincing. He would do better to offer a more honest accounting. His estimation of the cost of expelling Iraq from Kuwait in 1991 was simply wrong; and if President Bush was mistaken to think in 2003 that there was an urgent need to stop Saddam Hussein from stockpiling weapons of mass destruction, Mr. Kerry made the same error in 1998.

Kerry has yet to explain these glaring contradictions in his record, and for good reason: his positions are not generated by an overall political philosophy but by sheer political expediency. In that way, Kerry and Clinton are cut from the same cloth. The Post argues that these myriad contradictions -- they mention several more in the article -- indicate nothing about how Kerry would lead if elected president. Well, almost nothing; I suspect it indicates that Kerry, like Clinton, would lead by market research and focus-group testing, meaning simply if it feels good, do it. In fact, that may well be Kerry's lifelong political philosophy after all.

Addendum: George Will, in his WaPo column today, helps Kerry focus on his own platform for America by reminding the Senator of his many (28, in fact) policy misstatements and political contradictions over the years. He asks Kerry for answers to questions such as:

When you denounce "lobbyists" do you include those for Planned Parenthood and the Sierra Club? Is "liberal lobbyist" an oxymoron?

You say the rich do not pay enough taxes. In 1979 the top 1 percent of earners paid 19.75 percent of income taxes. Today they pay 36.3 percent. How much is enough?

In January 1991, after Iraq extinguished Kuwait's sovereignty, you opposed responding with force rather than economic sanctions. Have such sanctions ever undone such aggression?

You strongly praise former Treasury secretary Bob Rubin, who strongly supports NAFTA and free trade. Have you changed your mind about him or about free trade (as you have changed your mind about the No Child Left Behind Act, the 2002 war resolution, the Patriot Act, etc.)?

The answers will be forthcoming, I am sure ...

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Friday, February 13, 2004

Collapse, Continued

The Bush-AWOL story continues its collapse today, as more ex-Guardsmen come forward to not only acknowledge Bush's service with them, but also to note his volunteering for combat service:

A retired officer with the Alabama Air National Guard says he witnessed President Bush serving his weekend duty in 1972 -- an account that could be significant given Democratic questions on whether Bush fulfilled his service obligations during the Vietnam War.

Speaking on the phone Friday from Daytona Beach, Florida, John B. "Bill" Calhoun said he commanded Bush and that Bush attended four to six weekend drills at Dannelly Field in Montgomery. He said Bush was with the 187th Tactical Reconnaissance Group in Alabama in 1972. ...

Joe LeFevers, a member of the 187th in 1972, said he remembers seeing Bush in unit offices and being told that Bush was in Montgomery to work on Blount's campaign. "I was going in the orderly room over there one day, and they said, 'This is Lt. Bush,'" LeFevers said Tuesday. "They pointed him out to me ... the reason I remember it is because I associate him with Red Blount."

Red Blount's son, Winton Blount III, said Bush was the campaign's deputy manager and spent a lot of time in Birmingham and north Alabama. "He was a very active part of that campaign," said Blount. "And as my aunt said, she hoped people would act as nice in other people's homes as he did."

Not only did Bush serve in Alabama for his required drill time, but we also have confirmation that he volunteered to fly combat missions in Vietnam, but was refused, in a letter first noted by Hugh Hewitt:

According to Campenni, Bush inquired about participating in a volunteer program called Palace Alert that used Air National Guard pilots flying in the F-102 Delta Dagger interceptor jet in Vietnam.

The Air Guard advised Bush he did not have the desired 500 hours of flight time as a pilot to qualify for Palace Alert duty, and, in any event, the program was winding down and not accepting more volunteers.

Now we have the President's DD214, his honorable discharge, his pay records, his points awards records, and people who saw him at drills in Alabama. Despite not having a shred of credible evidence of any wrongdoing, Bush has provided all of the evidence demanded of him by the people on the left who were and are as virulently anti-military as any group in the US. And now that he has produced all that -- and has ordered the entirety of his military records released for public review -- I want to get an explanation for the following:

1. Why is Terry McAuliffe still the DNC chairman after engaging in slander?
2. Why hasn't John Kerry apologized for equating National Guard service with draft dodging?
3. Why haven't the media apologized for running with a story with a single source, no confirmation, and no proper investigation other than to ask obviously ignorant questions that anyone with any reference to military standards could have explained to them? Failing that, explain the difference between the Bush AWOL allegations and the Kerry infidelity allegations in a way that demonstrates a clear reason why a single unverified source was good enough for publication in one but not the other.

Until we get these issues cleared up, it is obvious to anyone who's followed these stories that the national media has two standards for publishing allegations, and that the Democrats -- whose last successful Presidential candidate admitted to gaming the draft system to avoid service altogether -- will repeat any lie and make up any story to get themselves elected and to destroy anyone's reputation along the way. They've done that repeatedly during the judicial confirmation process, abetted again by the national media, and they're doing it again in the presidential election.

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The Presidential Dating Game

No, I'm not talking about John Kerry's supposed dalliance. Last night, Dennis Kucinich appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and played a celebrity version of The Dating Game:

The Ohio congressman asked questions of a trio of unseen women in a "The Dating Game" takeoff Thursday on NBC's "Tonight Show with Jay Leno." Responses by Jennifer Tilly, actress Cybill Shepherd and Los Angeles radio talk show host Kim Serafin blended sexual innuendo with politics and references to Kucinich's environmental concerns.

I don't recall this much attention being paid to Jerry Brown's bachelor status when he ran for President in the 80s, but due to his dating history (Linda Ronstadt, for one) and his good looks, people may have assumed he could get his own girlfriends. Kucinich has no such pedigree, but he does seem to have a good sense of humor about himself and has played along with these publicity draws in the spirit of fun. And what middle-aged bachelor could refuse a panel that included Jennifer Tilly and Cybill Shepherd? (I'm not familiar with Serafin.) He wound up winning a date with Tilly, and if you've ever listened to Shepherd talk, you know he made the right decision.

While I consider Kucinich a ludicrous candidate for President as I've mentioned before, I have to admit I'm getting more respect for him as a person as he hangs tough and displays his self-deprecating humor. I'm sorry I missed the show; I guess I stopped TiVoing Leno too early in this election cycle!

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Globe: Bush AWOL Accusers Lied

The Boston Globe reports today that key witnesses contradict allegations made by a central source for the Bush AWOL-coverup story:

Retired Lieutenant Colonel Bill Burkett, who has been pressing his charges in the national news media this week, says he even heard one high-ranking officer issue a 1997 order to sanitize the Bush file, and later saw another officer poring over the records and discovered that some had been discarded.

But a key witness to some of the events described by Burkett has told the Globe that the central elements of his story are false. George O. Conn, a former chief warrant officer with the Guard and a friend of Burkett's, is the person whom Burkett says led him to the room where the Bush records were being vetted. But Conn says he never saw anyone combing through the Bush file or discarding records.

"I have no recall of that," Conn said. "I have no recall of that whatsoever. None. Zip. Nada."

Conn's recollection also undercuts another of Burkett's central allegations: that he overheard Bush's onetime chief of staff, Joe M. Allbaugh, telling a Texas Guard general to make sure there were no embarrassments in the Bush record. Burkett says he told Conn, over dinner that same night, what he had overheard. But Conn says that, although Burkett told him he worried that the Bush record would be sanitized, he never mentioned overhearing the conversation between Allbaugh and General Daniel James III.

The Globe, which has been at the forefront of the media pushing this story, now reveals that the entire series of accusations had no basis in reality and in fact should never have been legitimized by the press in the first place. The author of an upcoming book that purports to detail the AWOL charges and their cover-up now admits he never even attempted to interview the two people Burkett accuses of "sanitizing" Bush's files:

But the book's author, James Moore, a former Houston TV news correspondent, concedes he never interviewed some of the key players who could have verified Burkett's charges, including Conn and retired National Guard Colonel John Scribner -- the officer Burkett says he saw removing items from the Bush file.

Moore, told yesterday that Conn contradicts Burkett's story, said he believes Burkett's allegations are true. "I think we're into a classic he-said, she-said," Moore said.

Listening to Hugh Hewitt's show yesterday, Peter Beinhart of The New Republic vehemently accused Hugh of irresponsible journalism by mentioning the Drudge Report story about Kerry's alleged infidelity without having done any responsible verification of the sources, in effect making Kerry publicly prove his innocence without having any evidence of his guilt. However, TNR and every other media outlet has done the exact same thing to George Bush despite the normal presumption of innocence and the extraordinary presumption of satisfactory and complete service that an Honorary Discharge presents. Instead, for at least the file-shredding accusations, every media outlet in the country relied on a single source that its investigator never felt the need to verify with the people he accused of participating in the cover-up!

Not only that, but the Globe story finally shows prior motivation for Burkett's accusations:

Burkett has, in the past, raised his allegations about the Bush records as part of his personal struggle with the Guard over medical benefits. For instance, in a 1998 letter to Texas state Senator Gonzalo Barrientos, Burkett complained that he had not received adequate medical care when he became seriously ill after returning from a mission to Panama.

Now that the Globe has demonstrated the journalistic bankruptcy of this story, I await the apologies of the national media in disavowing this libelous and shameful story. I shan't hold my breath.

UPDATE: A big welcome to Prof. Reynolds' readers from Instapundit, as well as from other links. One link was back to this forum, in a thread that had a response with a subject heading that called either Captain's Quarters or Instapundit the "biggest Bush a@@-kissing blog". I couldn't get to it from behind the firewall here, but I hope it refers to me. I've always wanted to be #1 at something ...

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Get-Tough Policy on Spending Starts With Roads

President Bush, stung by attacks on his spending from his base, drew a line in the sand yesterday when he threatened a veto for a highway-funding package that increased by half over the previous funding bill:

States would get an additional $100 billion over the next six years to build roads, repair bridges and improve public transit under a Senate-passed bill that the White House says is extravagant in an age of record deficits. The Senate voted 76-21 Thursday to approve the $318 billion surface transportation bill, a winning margin that would be enough to override a presidential veto threatened by the administration.

The current six-year highway spending bill, which expires at the end of this month, provided $218 billion.

Bush wants no more than $258 billion spent, which is still a 20% increase from the previous version; spread over six years, that averages close to the rate of inflation. With his base extremely unhappy with spending levels in the past three years, Bush needs to reign in Congress this year to demonstrate some fiscal discipline. But the margin of victory in the Senate is more than enough to override a presidential veto, making this an odd choice for Bush's first-ever veto, if it comes to that. A veto override would make Bush look weak at a time when he most needs to look presidential. He will probably conclude that in a year when he should pick his battles, a tactical retreat on highways may be his best course if he can't negotiate a compromise on the cost.

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Thursday, February 12, 2004

Clark to Endorse Kerry

Wesley Clark will endorse John Kerry for the Democratic nomination, according to unnamed Democratic party officials:

Wesley Clark will endorse presidential contender John Kerry, a high-profile boost for the front-runner as he looks to wrap up the party's nomination, according to Democratic officials. With next week's Wisconsin primary looming, Clark plans to join Kerry at a campaign stop in Madison, Wis., Friday to make a formal endorsement, said officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.

If it seems a little early for Clark to give an endorsement -- after all, he just withdrew from the race yesterday morning -- it makes sense if he's looking for consideration as Kerry's running mate. Given that the bimbo eruption just occurred, if Clark stands by Kerry and winds up being the bridge Kerry needs to get past whatever scandal results from the Drudge story, he'll have earned Kerry's gratitude. Oddly enough, Clark himself figured into Drudge's story as having made an off-the-record comment to reporters predicting an infidelity scandal. If Clark withdrew with the knowledge of this story's imminence, it can only mean that he wanted to be in the best position to gather IOUs from Kerry and the Democratic Party.

Clark may be attractive as a VP nominee due to his Southern heritage and his military service, as I wrote yesterday, but his campaign went from one ineptitude to the next, and I know that Dick Cheney will shred Clark in any debate. I think a Kerry-Clark ticket is likely, and the Republicans have to like what they see.

UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers, and I hope you enjoy your visit.

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Not This Again!

Matt Drudge reports this morning that a new bimbo eruption is coming, and that John Kerry is the target. I'm not bothering to excerpt this story; if you're interested, click the link. Unless this story involves harassment, I'm not interested at all.

I feel that John Kerry is a terrible choice for President. I think that marital infidelity shows a lack of moral fiber. But I don't feel that the two are related, nor should they be. It's faux-scandals like this that make it difficult to find people to serve in the public arena. Marital infidelity without illegal behavior is an issue between the Senator, his wife, and God. If being without sin will be a minimum requirement for President, I'd like to see that slate of candidates.

What, then, is the difference between John Kerry and Bill Clinton? Plenty. For one thing, Clinton and his supporters turned businesses into witch hunts with poorly-defined sexual harassment laws and policies, making his trysting with an intern in the White House extremely hypocritical. For another, the transparent attempt to buy her silence with a Revlon job arranged by Clinton's close adviser Vernon Jordan paralleled the Webster Hubbell case, and was pursued as a pattern of obstructing justice. Finally, regardless of the advisability of forcing Clinton to testify on this issue, he committed perjury. Had Clinton had the sense to cheat with someone outside of his office and avoid paying her off to keep quiet, none of the impeachment business would have occurred.

I've seen just enough of the details to see that none of this applies to Kerry, and anyone who pursues this as an election strategy will find themselves covered in the muck almost as much as Kerry, including Drudge and any other news sources. It's silly, it's pointless, and it will only serve to generate sympathy for Kerry in the long run. (See Bill Clinton and Gary Hart.) Let's bury this garbage and focus on the issues.

UPDATE: Going around the Northern Alliance as much as I can, I see that Saint Paul at Fraters Libertas agrees with my assessment, but Hindrocket at Power Line thinks that it will have some effect on the race, at least initially, perhaps boosting John Edwards. I think it would be more likely to boost Howard Dean, who has a better national organization and has performed better than Edwards in the past few primaries. More later as I get to their blogs ...

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Powell: "You Don't Know What You're Talking About"

The normally even-tempered Secretary of State, Colin Powell, became angry at a Congressional hearing and scolded a Congressman and a staffer:

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, a retired four-star general known for his even temperament, paused yesterday during a congressional hearing to berate a Hill staffer for shaking his head as Powell offered a defense of his prewar statements on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

The public scolding came after Powell had already endured a number of attacks by Democrats on the administration's Iraq policy during an appearance before the House International Relations Committee. He had just snapped at a member of Congress who had casually declared President Bush "AWOL" from the Vietnam War.

The staffer, who sat behind the panel members, was shaking his head at Powell's testimony, a rude gesture by any stretch of the imagination, and after grinding his teeth throughout the angry and accusatory interrogation from the panel's Democrats, Powell wasn't about to sit there and have some staffer mocking him from behind the skirts of the Congressment at the hearing.

Powell was recalling for the panel his review of the prewar intelligence. "I went and lived at the CIA for about four days to make sure that nothing was," he began, when he paused and glared at a staffer seated behind the members of Congress.

"Are you shaking your head for something, young man, back there?" Powell asked. "Are you part of these proceedings?"

Earlier, when Rep. Sherrod Brown contended that President Bush had been AWOL during the Vietnam War -- apparently, Brown drinks Terry McAuliffe's Kool-Aid on a regular basis -- Powell snapped and berated the Congressman:

First of all, Mr. Brown, I won't dignify your comments about the president because you don't know what you are talking about," Powell snapped.

"I'm sorry, I don't know what you mean, Mr. Secretary," Brown replied.

"You made reference to the president," Powell said.

"I say he may have been AWOL," Brown repeated.

"Mr. Brown, let's not go there," Powell retorted. "Let's not go there in this hearing. If you want to have a political fight on this matter, that is very controversial, and I think is being dealt with by the White House, fine. But let's not go there."

Good for Powell, and shame on Sherrod Brown for dragging this vile trope into a hearing on international relations, for crying out loud. If the Democrats want to make all Congressional hearings into International ANSWER and forums, they'd better start getting used to being brought up short by the adults in the administration.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Kerry Senate Testimony Discovered

Hugh Hewitt dedicated tonight's program to the transcripts of John Kerry's Senate testimony on the Vietnam War in 1970. The document is fascinating as a historical snapshot of the times in which it occurred, but also a very disturbing insight into what drives John Kerry in politics. Hugh has covered some of the more ridiculous items, and Power Line goes over quite a few more, which I'll touch on in a moment. I'm more interested in Kerry's philosophy, not so much how wrong his analysis of the situation wound up being, although that's important, too.

For instance, there's this nugget on page 195:

I think that politically, historically, the one thing that people try to do, that society is structured on as a whole, is an attempt to satify their felt needs, and you can satisfy those felt needs with any kind of political structure, giving it one name or another. [emph mine] In this name it is democratic; in others it is communism; in others it is benevolent dictatorship. As long as those needs are satisfied, that structure will exist.

Think about what Kerry said in his testimony in the Senate, in the halls of the greatest experiment in self-government in human history. In a few phrases, Kerry breezily equated the oppression of communism and "benevolent" dictatorship (any examples, Senator?) with democracy, and asserted that the differences were a mere matter of semantics. This is emblematic of the leftist moral relativism that instructs people that the West is not special, that a system of freedom and liberty is no better than systems that consciously and deliberately starved millions to death for political purposes. It's not hard to see from this quote why Kerry couldn't be bothered about the results of our pullout from South Vietnam; in fact, during his entire testimony, he argues for an immediate and unilateral withdrawal, joking with the panel that the North Vietnamese would be more likely to carry our bags to the airport than our allies in the South. I wonder if he still finds that funny.

Later, when Kerry is asked about his statement that Congress didn't really represent the people, Kerry replies with the arrogance of the ignorant (page 201):

CHAIR: ... all these people get here because of support back home, as you know. They are simply representative of their constituents. You do accept that, I believe.

KERRY: Partially, not totally ... As someone who ran for office for 3 1/2 weeks, I am aware of the many problems involved, and in many places, you can take certain districts of New York, the structure is such that people can't really run and represent necessarily the people. People don't care. The apathy is so great that they believe they are being represented when in fact they are not.

Typically, Kerry assumes that he has a complete perspective after a whopping 25 days on the campaign trail, and also assumes that support for politics he opposes springs from apathy rather than agreement. If only the poor benighted masses would just wake up, they'd all be Kerry supporters.

And then there is this, at page 190, an echo of the type of argument that was given to oppose action in 1991 and 2003, and really every single effort we've made since Vietnam:

KERRY: ... I think at this point the United States is not really in a position to consider the happiness of those people as it pertains to the army in our withdrawal. We have to consider the happiness of the people as pertains to the life which they will be able to lead in the next few years....

The war will continue. So what I'm saying is that, yes, there will be some recrimination but far, far less than the 200,000 a year who are murdered by the United States of America, and we can't go around -- President Kennedy said this, many times. He said that the United States simply can't right every wrong, that we can't solve the problems of the other 94 percent of mankind. We didn't go into East Pakistan; we didn't go into Czechoslovakia. Why then should we feel that we now have the power to solve the internal political struggles of this country?

Once again, we're given the defeatist argument that since we can't solve every problem everywhere simultaneously, we should do nothing instead and only "help other people in an altruistic fashion commensurate with our capacity," whatever that meant. But at least at the start of the conflict, it was no more an internal power struggle than was the Korean War. In both wars, the Russians and Chinese were involved in trying to drive all other forms of government except Stalinist/Maoist communism from the Asian continent. South Vietnam was a separate nation as recognized by the UN at the time and an ally of the US. Distinctions such as these didn't move the young Kerry at the time despite his self-description as an "internationalist". It points out a tremendous question as to whether a President Kerry would honor mutual-defense agreements when circumstances invoke them, even if they fit into his international model, as did the original Gulf War in 1990/91 -- and Kerry voted to oppose action to repair the international order, even with UN support.

Hugh and Power Line do a great job in pointing out Kerry's fatally mistaken understanding of global politics, and their analyses are spot-on, especially Big Trunk's series of examples where the left's identical approach resulted in well-meaning but fatal disaster. What Kerry's record demonstrates to me is that Kerry's philosophical approach hasn't changed at all, and that means that if elected, he will lead us on another string of foreign-policy appeasements and retreats, making the world a much more dangerous place.

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