The Republicans obviously think they are on to something with John Kerry’s claim to have met with foreign leaders who told him they want him to beat President Bush. Yesterday, top Republican spokesmen like Scott McClellan, Vice-President Cheney and campaign spokesman Terry Holt all jumped on the bandwagon, criticizing Kerry for his comment, pressing him to divulge the identities of the supposed foreign leaders, and suggesting that Kerry was making the whole thing up.
Kerry’s problem, apart from the impropriety of making such a claim even if it were true, is that a close examination of Kerry’s schedule over the last year shows that it is almost certainly false, since he simply hasn’t met with any foreign leaders.
Senator John Sununu added a new wrinkle yesterday when he pointed out that, as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry could have attended a number of “coffees” which are commonly held with visiting foreign leaders. “Unfortunately,” Sununu said, “to the best of my knowledge, Senator Kerry hasn’t attended any of the coffees since I’ve been a member of the United States Senate.” Ouch. The “Kerry is AWOL from the Senate” theme, once again.
The story took a bizarre twist when the Boston Globe reporter who broke the original story tried to bail Kerry out by saying that after listening repeatedly to his audio tape, he now believes Kerry said he has met with “more leaders” who want him to beat Bush, not “foreign leaders.” Unfortunately, this dodge didn’t occur to Kerry until after he had already told reporters yesterday that:
“I have heard from people, foreign leaders elsewhere in the world who don’t appreciate the Bush administration and would love to see a change in the leadership of the United States.”
Note that this statement is a significant climb-down from the original claim, which was that Kerry had “met with” foreign leaders who “look at you and say…” In other words, Kerry knows the original story was false, and can be shown to be false.
For now, this story mostly represents entertainment value. A single instance where Kerry is caught lying will not have great significance. The issue becomes significant only if a candidate is stereotyped as a person who can’t tell the truth, so that his long nose becomes a joke, as happened to Al Gore in 2000. The Republicans clearly hope the same millstone can be hung around Kerry’s neck this year. They may be right; there is certainly plenty of material to work with in the record, and for an experienced politician with a reputation for caution, Kerry comes out with a remarkable number of off-the-cuff blunders.