Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
August 22, 2004
POLITICS: Bob Dole Goes Postal
Bob Dole became the first major Republican to directly attack John Kerry's war record on Wolf Blitzer's show today, lighting into Kerry with startling ferocity:
DOLE: I think this can hurt Kerry more than all the medal controversy. I mean, one day he's saying that we were shooting civilians, cutting off their ears, cutting off their heads, throwing away his medals or his ribbons. The next day he's standing there, "I want to be president because I'm a Vietnam veteran."
And I think he's -- I said months ago, "John, don't go too far." And I think he's got himself into this wicket now where he can't extricate himself because not every one of these people can be Republican liars. There's got to be some truth to the charges. But this is on tape. This is on television. This is before the Senate committee.
BLITZER: Just to remind our viewers, this is when he came back from Vietnam. He testified in 1971...
DOLE: Ran for Congress.
BLITZER: Right. And he was quoting a whole bunch of other Vietnam veterans who opposed the war and making these allegations of atrocities, if you will, war crimes committed by U.S. troops. And a lot of people have always suggested that what's really angered these Vietnam veterans, the other side, is, not so much what he did or didn't do when he served in Vietnam, but what he did when he came back.
DOLE: I think that's true. And I think this ad's going to take -- it's going to be tough on Kerry because -- and he says, "Well, this is all hearsay," what he picked up from other veterans. But he said it. He said it before a Senate committee. It had worldwide attention.
BLITZER: The fact that he said on Tim Russert's "Meet the Press" a few months ago he probably went too far. He was a young man just back from Vietnam, and he probably shouldn't have said some of those things during those statements when he came home from Vietnam. Does that ease the responsibility that he has?
DOLE: Maybe he should apologize to all the other 2.5 million veterans who served. He wasn't the only one in Vietnam. And here's, you know, a good guy, good friend. I respect his record. But three Purple Hearts and never bled that I know of. I mean, they're all superficial wounds. Three Purple Hearts and you're out. I think Senator Kerry needs to talk about his Senate record, which is pretty thin. That's probably why he's talking about his war record, which is pretty confused.
BLITZER: You know, the American public seems to be paying attention to these Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads. There's a CBS poll that came out. I think this is the right poll. Here it is. Presidential choice among veterans, 37 percent support Kerry-Edwards, 55 percent Bush-Cheney. But after the convention it was at 46 percent. He seems to be losing support among veterans, which is an influential bloc of voters out there.
DOLE: You know, I think it's too early to tell what -- nobody maybe in six -- how many days left? Not many. There are eight weeks. Maybe this will be forgotten. Maybe there will be something else. But I think this has certainly damaged Senator Kerry. And I think it's partly his own doing. He can't lay out -- I remember in '96, I was the veteran in the race. Bill Clinton avoided the draft. And we didn't have all this trouble over my service versus his non-service. There wasn't much written about it. People accepted the fact that I had a record. Now there's all the talk about Bush's National Guard service. Has he told the truth? Has he released the records? And one way, I think, for John Kerry, who I consider to be a friend, is to maybe apologize to all these people for something he may have said at a very early age, and let us have those records he's given to the author...
BLITZER: Douglas Brinkley.
DOLE: Douglas Brinkley, the records and the journals...
BLITZER: Who wrote a book about his experience.
DOLE: Yes. But somebody ought to find out the facts. I think this is going to be -- could be the sleeper issue.
So it seems to me they've initiated it, and now they've got into some rather murky area. But I don't -- I wish they'd forget it. It's not about whether or not you're...
BLITZER: And speaking about people getting shot up in Vietnam, the Democrats, at least some Democrats, are now going after the president and the vice president for avoiding service in Vietnam. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, Democrat...
DOLE: He's not a very good one to complain because he was hiding out in Japan, claiming he was a Vietnam veteran.
(via SpinSwimming). Some of this smacks of bitterness, of course, but Dole is plainly disgusted with Kerry's overuse of his Vietnam record, and it's not hard to see why the stress on the three Purple Hearts are particularly galling to Dole, given Kerry's obvious robust health compared to the severity of Dole's wounds. You can also hear the former infantry officer in Dole when he's asked about John McCain's comments and he remarks, "Yes, but, John wasn't there. He was up in the air."
I await the usual suspects calling Dole a "chickenhawk" because he didn't serve in Vietnam. At any rate, we're getting another object lesson in the ugliness of campaigns based on my-war-record-can-beat-up-your-war-record.
UPDATE: Captain Ed suggests that Dole may have been provoked into this outburst by a Boston Globe editorial that denigrated one of Dole's own Purple Hearts. Idiots.