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The Speech
By Ed Driscoll · July 30, 2004 11:18 AM · The Making of the President

Ed Driscoll, reporting for duty!

Sorry for the lack of commentary last night--I couldn't watch the speech last night on TV, but I did follow the real-time group commentary on InstaPundit and the Absolute-time blogging from Steve Green.

Without an obvious catchphrase from the speech--or the convention--the Kerry camp has been framed by the events that happened to it on the first and last days of the convention: the NASA clean-room bunnysuit photo-op flop and the "What the f@#k are you guys doing up there?" balloon drop gaffe.

(Indeed "What the f@#k are you guys doing up there?" could be a devastating obit to Kerry campaign if they don't get an explosive bounce from the convention.)

So here's a round-up of commentary from the Blogosphere.

James Lileks on Kerry and Vietnam:

"I defended this country as a young man, and I will defend it as President."

This really intrigues me. I agree that Vietnam was a defense of the United States, inasmuch as we were trying to blunt the advance of Communism. So: only Nixon can go to China. (Only Kirk can go to Chronos, for you Star Trek geeks.) Only Kerry can confirm that Vietnam was a just war. This completely upends conventional wisdom about the Vietnamese war, and requires a certain amount of historical amnesia. Why does this get glossed over? The illegitimacy of the Vietnam war (non-UN approved, after all) is a key doctrine of the Church of the Boomers; to say that service in Vietnam was done in defense of the United States is like announcing that Judas Ischariot was the most faithful of the disciples. Imagine if you were a preacher who attempted such a revision. Imagine your private thrill when everyone in the congregation nodded assent. The past was more malleable than you had ever expected.

JFK, you neo-conservative hawk you! So for the next three months or so, Vietnam was a just war, after 30 years of rhetoric to the contrary from the left--John Kerry's left?

But then, doesn't that mean that Kerry has just invalidated his Winter Soldier speech of 1971?

Orrin Judd writes that Vietnam traps Kerry in "in a weird political calculus":

A: The only thing he's ever done in his life, so far as we can tell, is serve honorably in Vietnam.

B: However, he thinks that war was evil and he a war criminal.

C: He thinks has to project a sufficiently powerful image that we'll hire him to fight this war.

D: However, he opposes it, almost equating it to Vietnam.

When you add all that up he's implicitly (sometimes explicitly) denigrating his own service to the cause of freedom and that of our current military, while asking to lead them (and us). No wonder he looked like Richard Nixon last night--this is one tortured dude.

Kerry's trying to portray himself as a hawk--but he glossed over his 20 years in the Senate. And I mean gloss: as Jim Geraghty writes, "In John Kerry’s speech last night, 73 of the 5343 words were about his Senate record: a total of 26 seconds."

Of course, it was in the Senate where Kerry's reputation as the definitive flip-flopper was born. Jonah Goldberg writes:

For most, a yes/no vote is like a light switch — only two possible positions. But for Kerry, everything has a dimmer knob. He rejects the notion that the bulb must be on or off. He thinks he can blend black and white into shades of gray — illuminating here, obscuring there.

This theme plays out over and over again in his biography, most famously in his record as both a decorated veteran and demagogic anti-war activist. He was for the Vietnam War before he was against it. In Kerry's world, squares can be circles, straight lines crooked, cats dogs. To borrow from the immortal Yogi Berra, when Kerry comes to a fork in the road, he takes it.

In many respects, such cognitive dissonance is a continuation of pre-9/11 political trends. The first George Bush said he had "more will than wallet." Bill Clinton promised a "third way" that "rejected the false choices" between right and left. And George W. Bush's uniting-not-dividing compassionate conservatism was more of a Republican version of Clintonian triangulation than a Republican alternative to it.

But Kerry's tactical gamble is bolder. His predecessors were all elected when the Cold War was ending or over, and a nation at peace can afford to roll the dice. Kerry is running during a war that some consider vital, some see as confusing and others dismiss as unnecessary. Kerry wants to win over all three groups by agreeing with all of them. He does this by talking in paragraphs of boring logical-loop-the-loop sentences that seem to be written in vanishing ink. But he's also trying to downplay the importance of the war. Kerry wants to "handle" the war on terrorism, not dedicate himself to it.

As Steve Green noted, Kerry's line that he won't attack until there is "A threat that is real and eminent" means:
So much for preemptive war -- a goddamn tragic necessity in the age of terror.

John Kerry isn't serious about this war. Iraq was a battle, not the war. He won't initiate any other battles; he'll only respond. He just said so.

Nobody who is serious about protecting the US today can vote for this guy.

It's one thing to hold your nose and vote for a candidate--but Kerry's election means that somebody is going to get screwed: either the leftwing anti-war types who'd rather have Dean or Nader, if they thought either guy was electable, or the people of the Middle East. If Kerry goes to war against a terrorist target--and like the speculation regarding LBJ and Vietnam, Kerry might feel very inclined to push the issue to prove he actually is a hawk, the Deaniacs and Naderites will be very, very angry with their man. But if he doesn't keep up the process of liberation that President Bush has started against the Axis of Evil, we return to the Neville Chamberlain-like Bill Clinton years, and await the next--and probably bigger--9/11.

Scott W. Johnson of Power Line concludes, "Despite its quicksilver shiftiness, Kerry's speech will come back to haunt him in the campaign".

And how.


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