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Medalgate Madness

Medalgate Madness

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Talk about fiddling while Rome burns. Even as the military situation in Iraq was moving from difficult to dire, our national news media chose this week to focus dramatically upon a "scandal" involving Senator John Kerry and, of all things, his Vietnam war-service medals.

"Big" questions about those medals have dominated the airwaves -- particularly (are you surprised?) on the Fox network, where cackling and harrumphing about Democrats is standard fare. Did Vietnam veteran Kerry dump his medals when he became an anti-war activist in the early 1970s? Or did he throw away just the ribbons, not the medals? Or did he just say he was throwing one or the other away, being the kind of wishy-washy devil he is?

Yes, all this does sound like a bad Saturday Night Live skit, and, yes, it would all be downright hilarious were it not for the fact that this nonsense is eating up valuable news space that might be devoted to exploring real issues, such as getting the Bush administration to explain exactly who it will be "turning power" over to in Iraq in two months' time. Or in-depth reporting on the real situation on the ground in Fallujah and Najaf. Or finding those oh-so-elusive WMDs.

Then again, Karl Rove and company are way more comfortable discussing Medalgate than any of these other, more touchy subjects. By now, as the Iraqi house of cards the neo-cons jerry-built collapses around them, the 2004 White House re-election strategy is clear: When in doubt, bash Kerry.

Perhaps they think Medalgate will play well in Peoria and bring patriotic Americans rallying around the president's cause. But the Bush/Cheney campaign may well be barking up the wrong tree -- in Peoria as elsewhere -- if they really think they can continue capitalizing on the patriotism issue while Iraq unravels. The American people may be confused on some of the larger issues of the day, but we think they know good old-fashioned slander when they see it.

Whatever his faults -- and we have pointed out many of them in these pages in recent months -- Kerry is a genuine Vietnam War hero. Ask Senator John McCain, if you don't believe us. Or Bob Dole. Like many Americans of his generation, Kerry's attitude toward that war changed considerably in light of his own experience in Southeast Asia. There is no crime in that. Perhaps as much as anyone else of that era, Kerry had earned the right to change his mind.

Making the change from combat veteran to anti-war advocate was no easy process and took in its own way the same kind of courage that Lieutenant Kerry had already demonstrated on the battlefield. Events have since demonstrated that Kerry's opposition to an ill-conceived and poorly executed military campaign was sensible and responsible.

The contrast between this candidate for the presidency and the current incumbent is striking. Medals or no medals, Kerry served this nation honorably and courageously in Vietnam. Our current "war president" never got within 8,000 miles of the place.Medals or no medals, John Kerry certainly fulfilled his military obligation with his Navy unit in Vietnam; the jury is still out on whether or not George W. Bush fulfilled his obligation with an Air National Guard unit in Alabama.

And yet now it's Bush shamelessly beating the patriot drum. Last time we looked it took a whole lot more intestinal fortitude to pilot patrol boats in the Mekong Delta than it did to negotiate the country-club bars in suburban Birmingham. Voters should keep that in mind come November and not be fooled by flag-waving fools whose own past behaviors render them the ultimate hypocrites on the patriotism issue.

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