The Swift Boat Vets have obviously drawn blood, despite their laughably inadequate financing, and the buzz surrounding John Kerry’s Christmas in Cambodia fantasy may also be hurting Kerry. So this morning, speaking to a union group, Kerry struck back:
Fighting back, Kerry said if Bush wants to “have a debate about our service in Vietnam, here is my answer: ‘Bring it on.'”
“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.”
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. … 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.”
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.”
Needless to say, Kerry did not respond substantively to the Swift Boat Vets, nor did he address the Cambodian fantasy. This was as close as got to a response:
“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.”
Kerry will stay at that level of generality unless reporters force him to address more specific questions. The issue, of course, is not whether Kerry served honorably and bravely in Vietnam. I take it as a given that he did. The questions are: 1) whether he has lied, repeatedly, about his service in an effort to embellish it; 2) whether he has delibertately tried to take credit for engagements fought by other men (Lt. Ted Peck in particular); 3) whether his leadership of the anti-war movement, which was the origin of his political career, was based on a tissue of lies, including not just the Christmas in Cambodia fantasy–the stated reason for Kerry’s purported disillusionment with government–but, more fundamentally, his claims that his fellow servicemen were a group of war criminals who routinely committed atrocities.
These are serious questions that go the the heart of Kerry’s fitness to be Commander in Chief, but Kerry won’t acknowledge them (let alone answer them) unless he absolutely has to.
The AP notes further that Kerry’s campaign has released a new ad featuring Jim Rassmann:
Aides said the commercial would air in Ohio, West Virginia and Wisconsin, three battleground states where the original anti-Kerry ad ran. 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.
So the Kerry camp is clearly worried.