Insulting the Troops

Posted: November 2, 2006 in 2006 Elections

This story is completely overblown.

By now you’ve all heard the controversy over John Kerry’s widely cited comments during a campaign event with Phil Angelides earlier this week.

Kerry has said that he messed up the punchline for the joke. I have no reason to doubt that, because to think the contrary would imply that he planned those comments in advance, which no rational person would think was the case.

But between the event on Monday and Kerry’s two apologies today [the first being a half-hearted “apology” during a phone interview with Don Imus], the Republicans dusted off the Anti-Kerry Machine that worked so well for them in 2004 and turned him into a political piñata.

The only real upside effect to this for Republicans is firing up the base, which it did to great effect in 2004 every time Kerry stuck his foot in his mouth. Remember how they hammered him to great effect over “I voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it”? Other than the red meat value of energizing their base, I see no benefit to Republicans in trying to keep this story alive. However, there is no down ballot effect on the Democrats, since Kerry is not on any ballot this year.

This might have been an issue in the Tennessee Senate race, where Harold Ford was Kerry’s campaign co-chairman two years ago and Bob Corker might have tried to make an issue out of it at the last minute. Ford defused that possible scenario by criticizing Kerry and calling for him to apologize. Jon Tester also criticized him.

The only real damage to this is that it neutralized Kerry as a surrogate or campaigner during the final week. Politically, Kerry did the correct thing by removing himself from the equation and not becoming a distraction to the Democratic candidates he was going to be campaigning for. If this had happened weeks or months ago, Kerry’s absence as a fundraiser would have hurt the Democrats. You can argue over whether the apology was or was not necessary, but in giving it Kerry has taken away the Republicans’ ability to continue to push the story. By neutralizing the issue and removing himself from the races, Kerry is doing the right thing for his party.

That would have been the end of it, but along came John Boehner and the Democrats figured out very quickly that two can play at that game.

Howard Dean and Harry Reid immediately entered the fray, putting out statements calling on Boehner to apologize. I doubt this will get anywhere near the amount of traction that Kerry’s comments got, but Republicans made it fair game as an issue and Democrats are fighting back.

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