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January 25, 2004
Is Kerry's Radical Past Fair Game?

Joe at the Evangelical Outpost, via the Sophorist, pointed out that Senator John Kerry wrote a book outlining his opposition to the Vietnam War, The New Soldier. Evangelical Outpost has a B/W picture of the cover on its post; the cover is dominated by a mockery of the Iwo Jima flag-raising, complete with an upside-down American flag, held by men trying their best to win Che Guevara look-alike contests. No doubt this image will resonate negatively with most Americans, and fortunately for John Kerry the book is out of print, or else all of his opponents would be tripping over themselves to produce the juiciest quotes possible.

But this raises a troubling question: just how germane are Kerry's political views from over thirty years ago to this Presidential campaign?

Aristide Briand once remarked that anyone who wasn't a Socialist at 20 had no heart, and anyone who is a Socialist at 40 has no head. It would be ridiculous to expect that every person who participated in radical but legal demonstrations in the late 1960s and early 1970s to be politically exiled for the entirety of their lives. People grow and adapt and hopefully improve over time, or at least we believe they have that capacity, whether that belief springs from Judeo-Christian religious convictions or from personal experience, or just from a sense of hopefulness. If we didn't believe that people can change, then our efforts at blogging would be mere intellectual masturbation.

John Kerry may need to explain his journey from anti-war radical to Establishment politician, maybe even to the leftists at the base of the Democratic Party, but to expect "gotcha" moments from differences of policy over a 30-year span smacks of desperation. It would be a huge mistake to hold a 60-year-old man to statements made in his twenties. Far better for Kerry's opponents to focus on his inconsistencies while in the Senate, since there seems to be a plethora to mine. With so many of these issues coming to light, why muddy the waters with decades-old and legal protests?

If attacked in that manner, Kerry will respond by wrapping himself in the flag and First Amendment, which will resonate with some justification, making him seem more centrist than he really is. It will also allow Kerry to review his war record, serving under combat conditions and three-times wounded. (Those who call these wounds into question are playing with dynamite; they'll do far more damage to themselves than they know. Regardless of the seriousness of the wounds, he still was wounded three times under enemy fire, and so played by the rules getting a stateside assignment. His bravery isn't defined by the depth of the wounds, gentlemen.) He'll explain his journey to radicalism and back again, expressing his reborn hope for a better America, and so on, and if you don't think that will resonate with the electorate, you don't remember Reagan's "Morning in America" campaign.

My advice to Kerry's opponents is this: Concentrate on Kerry's policies as a Senator, and forget the radical politics and creative-writing assignments of Kerry's youth. It matters not who Kerry was in his twenties; it matters who Kerry is now and what Kerry has done in office. Kerry's past is a minefield, but the most fruitful path is also the least dangerous.

UPDATE: Joe Carter has a good point when he says that Kerry's choice to make his war record a part of his campaign gives his opponents a legitimate opening to question his record after the war (see his comments on this post). Zygote makes the same argument, too.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 25, 2004 10:55 AM

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» Kerry's past from Zygote-Design
The Cap'n has a piece on political opponents who would use Kerry's rather radical past against him. My advice to Kerry's opponents is this: Concentrate on Kerry's policies as a Senator, and forget the radical politics and creative-writing assignments o... [Read More]

Tracked on January 25, 2004 12:45 PM

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