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May 8, 2004
NYT's Wilgoren Shilling For Kerry

Jodi Wilgoren attempts some heavy lifting for the John Kerry campaign in today's New York Times. In an attempt to undo the damage that Kerry has inflicted on himself, Wilgoren takes on the worst of Kerry's stumbles -- the infamous "$87 billion" vote comment:

President Bush's re-election campaign sent squadrons of researchers to scour Senator John Kerry's three decades in public life in search of material to use against him. But they turned up nothing as potent as 13 words that spilled from Mr. Kerry's mouth shortly after he effectively secured the Democratic presidential nomination.

"I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it," Mr. Kerry said on a March afternoon in Huntington, W.Va.

Mark McKinnon, Mr. Bush's media man, summed up the sound bite: "You don't get gifts like that very often."

Michael Meehan, a spokesman for Mr. Kerry, called it "an expensive lesson."

And Ken Goldstein, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin, said the quotation "just sounds ridiculous."

Unfortunately, Wilgoren uses the article to whitewash the actual flip-flop that this represented, instead presenting it as an example of John Kerry's 'nuance':

"Secondly, this is very important, I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it. Joe Biden and I thought this: we thought since a lot of mainstream, regular folks in America were sharing a big burden of this war, we thought since those families are sacrificing, that just maybe the wealthiest people in America would be willing to also contribute, and so Joe and I brought an amendment to the $87 billion, and we said, `This should be paid for now, not adding to the deficit,' and the way we should pay for it is say to the wealthiest 1 or 2 percent of Americans, instead of accepting $690 billion of tax cuts over the next 10 years, wouldn't you just be willing, in the spirit of patriotism and sacrifice, to just take $600 billion?

"And you know what? The president said no; the Republicans voted no."

David Wade, Mr. Kerry's press secretary, remembers "a standing ovation or some powerful applause" at the end. ...

Mr. Meehan, the Kerry spokesman, said the episode was a reminder of the struggle to adapt the complexity of the legislative process to a "presidential-sound-bite world." "I've been asked the question since then, and I say, `Yeah, we voted for the $87 billion if we could pay for it,' " Mr. Meehan said. "There'd be no ad, and people would be nodding their heads, `Yes!' "

It all sounds good, because this fits into our expectations -- the media jumped all over one sentence out of context, the evil opposition exploits a simple turn of phrase to embarrass the good guy, and so on. Wilgoren gives a good attempt at rehabilitation. However, she leaves out a critical element of Kerry's history on the $87 billion appropriation, one that demonstrates Kerry's hypocrisy and his Machiavellian political instincts, which in truth the bumbling nature of Kerry's quote somewhat conceals.

ABC News reported on March 19 that they had discovered an interview that Kerry had given on the CBS show Face The Nation on Sep. 14th, 2003, where Kerry and Senator Joe Biden discussed the appropriations bill for the Iraq war. At the time, Kerry was pursuing the amendment that would require a "delay" in the Bush tax cuts to pay for the funding. However, Kerry told Doyle McManus during the FTN interview that regardless of the financing method, leaving the troops without the funding wouldn't happen:

Conducting the interview on CBS, Los Angeles Times D.C. bureau chief Doyle McManus asked Kerry, if his amendment "does not pass, will you then vote against the $87 billion?"

Kerry's full response is as follows: "I don't think any United States senator is going to abandon our troops and recklessly leave Iraq to to whatever follows as a result of simply cutting and running," he says. "That's irresponsible. What is responsible is for the administration to do this properly now."

Kerry says he is "laying out the way in which the administration could unite the American people, could bring other countries to the table, and I think could give the American people a sense that they're on the right track. There's a way to do this properly."

"But I don't think anyone in the Congress is going to not give our troops ammunition, not give our troops the ability to be able to defend themselves," he says. "We're not going to cut and run and not do the job."

As ABC News notes in the same piece, shortly after this interview, Howard Dean's candidacy caught fire, fueled by the anti-war activists on the left. Traditionally, these represent the fringe of the Democratic Party, but in the latter half of 2003 they fed Dean an unprecedented amount of funding for his primary fight. By the time the appropriation came up for a final vote on October 17th without his tax-delay amendment, Kerry had faded to the rear of the primary contenders. It was at this time that Kerry began to shift his rhetoric to attract the hard-core leftists, talking about how Bush misled him into voting for the authorization to use force against Saddam Hussein, and becoming on of only 12 Senators voting against the funding for the troops, a move which Kerry himself described five weeks earlier as "reckless" and "irresponsible".

Did it work? Of course it did. When Dean imploded in Iowa by first doing his best Dan Quayle impression when Al Sharpton challenged him on his diversity record in lily-white Vermont and then going into performance art after his surprisingly bad showing in the caucus, Kerry had successfully co-opted Dean's message, transforming himself from a colorless traditional-liberal functionary to the darling of the MoveOn.org set. He took the gamble that the hard left wouldn't care about his record of waffling as long as he said all the right things now and that the Bush-hatred would easily carry him to the nomination.

In this context, the reversal on the $87 billion appropriation involves much more than strangled syntax. It reflects deeply on the character of John Kerry, who never met a principle higher than his own ambition. Wilgoren ironically attempts to shift readers' attention from Kerry the manipulator to Kerry the verbal stumbler, a role in which the press has long cast George Bush (with some justification) and one method they've used to cast aspersions on his intelligence. Apparently, the Gray Lady has decided to provide context-free reporting regarding John Kerry, and in that effort, they've selected the perfect reporter.

(cross-posted at Oh, That Liberal Media)

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 8, 2004 7:15 AM

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