Collin Levey of the Seattle Times offers a sensible analysis of how Kerry’s status as a Vietnam war-hero might play out in the election. Levey finds that (1) “while military service is a nice addition to a campaign’s repertoire, it’s overrated” from a political standpoint and (2) Kerry is overdoing it. Says Levey, “voters honor the service and patriotism of military veterans. Indeed, so much so that they can be quickly turned off by use of such symbols cynically to evade scrutiny and accountability. That’s why Kerry’s best move now might be to shut up about Vietnam. He’s about two applause lines away from convincing voters that he’s trying to cash in on a war that cost thousands of his fellow volunteers and draftees their lives.”
Along the same lines, I wonder whether Kerry isn’t playing into Bush’s hands by emphasizing his service so much. As we have noted, Kerry’s actions following his return from Vietnam can be viewed as less than honorable. However, Republicans must be very careful about this. Indeed, for them to fire the first shot might well be a huge mistake. But if Kerry keeps talking about the issue (and fails to repudiate attacks on Bush’s service), the public may become receptive to hearing “the rest of the story,” namely Kerry’s actions after returning from the war. My sense, is that the voters don’t want to hear much about Vietnam in 2004. If one side is perceived as trying to use Vietnam to its advantage, and thus as responsible for sparking an acrimonious discussion of that era, it is likely to be punished.
If I am right, then Kerry can take an “ah shucks” approach to his service and get either a little benefit (if Republicans refrain from attacking him on Vietnam) or a potentially big benefit (if Republicans initiate an attack). Or he can continue his “do you know who I am” approach and risk having his war hero advantage nullified or worse.
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