April 27, 2004
Posted by Jon Henke
It strikes me that, while Kerry hasn't exactly been a military hawk over the years, the Bush campaigns criticisms of his record on defense are quite a bit less than accurate. Factcheck.org seems to agree...
Here, we have the same problem as we see in Kerry's recent $87b "no" vote. He has a choice, and it's not a terribly good one: vote for a flawed bill he doesn't wholly support, or vote against a flawed bill whose aims he generally supports.
On April 26 the Bush campaign released a total of 10 ads, all repeating claims that Kerry opposed a list of mainstream military hardware "vital to winning the war on terror."
The claims are misleading, as we've pointed out before in articles we posted on Feb. 26 and March 16. The Bush campaign bases its claim mainly on Kerry's votes against overall Pentagon money bills in 1990, 1995 and 1996, but these were not votes against specific weapons. And in fact, Kerry voted for Pentagon authorization bills in 16 of the 19 years he's been in the Senate. So even by the Bush campaign's twisted logic, Kerry should -- on balance -- be called a supporter of the "vital" weapons, more so than an opponent.
The problem - if he votes for it, his criticism will be dismissed with "but you voted for it". Reference: Kerry's "Yes" vote on the Congressional Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq. He voted for a bill, though he was not altogether in agreement with the language and implications.....and ever since, his criticisms have been dismissed and derided as "flip-flopping". After all, if he's not completely for it, he should have voted against it, right?
Well, apparently not. If he stands on principle and votes against a bill - for any reason - he will be accused of being against (the troops, national security, health care for veterans, etc). Bit of a difficult choice, isn't it?
It's one thing to complain about obfuscatory rhetoric, but you know what? Sometimes a bit of nuance is absolutely necessary. And the Bush campaign's attempt to define complex issues downward is insulting.
Plus, they're not exactly immune to that criticism...
It is true that when Kerry first ran for the Senate in 1984 he did call specifically for canceling the AH-64 Apache helicopter. What the ad lacks is the historic context: the Cold War was ending and the Apache was designed principally as a weapon to be used against Soviet tanks. And in fact, even Richard Cheney himself, who is now Vice President but who then was Secretary of Defense, also proposed canceling the Apache helicopter program five years after Kerry did.It's a complicated world, and it's hard to convey that fact in campaign ads. Still, the Bush campaign could stand an infusion of that dreaded "nuance" now and then.
Two years later Cheney's Pentagon budget also proposed elimination of further production of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle as well. It was among 81 Pentagon programs targeted for termination, including the F-14 and F-16 aircraft. "Cheney decided the military already has enough of these weapons," the Boston Globe reported at the time.
UPDATE: Captain Ed and mnkurmudge weigh in on this, as well. Both assert that there is a material difference between a budget reduction/elimination in 1985 and 1990-92. (due to the end of the Cold War) While they have a debatable and interesting point there - even the Bradley, F-14 and F-16? - I maintain that MnKurmudge goes awry when he claims the Kerry "No" vote on the $87b appropriation was genuinely a vote against the body armor. Clearly, the body armor WOULD have been approved just in a different bill, had Kerry had his way. One can agree with one part of a bill, but not another.
It's exactly this sort of nonsense that gets candidates accused of wanting to "starve children" or similar nonsense, when the candidate votes against a bloated appropriations bill that does contain a legitimate funding measure.
Look, I'll concede that John Kerry voted against the $87b appropriation bill, if you'll concede that he was still in favor of approving the $87b to fund the troops. And since he was in favor of funding the troops, I think that makes my point very nicely.
Their point about the 1985/90-92 disparity is worth considering, though.