A Man of (one) principle

Vincent Carroll, editor of the editorial page of the Rocky Mountain News, wonders why John Kerry was unable to repudiate his 1971 statements about alleged American atrocities in Vietnam when given the opportunity to do so on Meet the Press. Why, Carroll asks, “would [Kerry] want to maintain a thesis that slanders tens of thousands of potential voters who served in Vietnam,” especially when the thesis has largely been discredited? And “why would Kerry want voters to believe he spent his time in Vietnam committing awful acts against innocent people?”
The answer, I think, is probably that Kerry’s interpretation of what happened in Vietnam, further developed and reinforced by what happened when he returned, dwells at the core of his being. It certainly has been the source of his positions on foreign policy and security issues ever since. Recently, as the result of ambition, Kerry has been willing to trim when it comes to subsidiary issues, such as Iraq. But waffling on the central issue of Vietnam is far more difficult. The best he has been able to do so far is to say that his 1971 statements, while true, should have been phrased more artfully.
If John Kerry were to answer honestly the question of what it is he really has to offer the American people as president, he probably would respond (as nealy all candidates would) “himself.” If asked what this “self” consists of, his honest answer probably would focus not just on his superior intellect and refined sensibilities (which are shared, after all, by others), but on what he did and what he learned in Vietnam. No wonder Kerry has resisted repudiating his contemporaneous efforts to express himself on these matters.


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