What Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) said earlier this week confirmed the fears that some Republicans have had about a Democratic takeover of congress: that the Democrats will try to “pull the plug” on the military–just like they did in Vietnam. Why? Because there is a long held belief among conservatives that the Democrats are anti-military. They don’t like it. They think it’s disgusting. The best of them see it as a necessary evil. The worst among them on the far left see it only as a tool of “hegemonic imperialist capitalism” (I’m not quoting anybody, but if pressed I’m sure I could find an example that comes close). Anyway, here is what Kerry said:
“You know education–If you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well, and if you don’t you get stuck in Iraq.”
The first impression I had when I read it is it didn’t make any sense to me. I thought, “Who is he talking about? No one gets ‘stuck’ anywhere even if they do badly in school. There is no draft.” I understood he was speaking to a group of students, but I didn’t know at what level. High school? Later I read that they were college students. Still, the comment made no sense. An impression began to sink in though as I tried to figure it out: “if you don’t” (you don’t study hard, etc.) “you” (students) “get stuck” (are placed) “in Iraq”. The next thought that entered my mind was that he was impugning the soldiers, that they just didn’t make the grade, and he was probably making commentary about our society, though I thought it was very simple minded. It still didn’t make much sense, but this was the closest interpretation I could make of it that made any sense at all. It was kind of unbelievable given that Kerry is a veteran himself, though he’s had a history of making statements about the military that are offensive to its members. What was striking to me is he didn’t even notice the implication of what he said. He just kept right on going with his speech.
Message from troops in Iraq to Kerry (yeah, they misspelled it on purpose. Get the joke?), photo from American Soldier on Blogspot
What he said would’ve made sense in the era John Kerry grew up in. It used to be said when U.S. involvement escalated in Vietnam that if you didn’t plan out your life, someone else would do it for you (ie. draft you into the military and ship you off to Vietnam). This is what I’ve heard from people in my parents’ generation. The implication was that you needed to go to college and study, become a valuable person in society, too important to send to war where you might get killed. There were college deferments from the draft back then.
After Kerry’s remarks, President Bush said in a campaign speech that the troops are “plenty bright”, and that Kerry should apologize. Kerry’s remarks have caused a firestorm, indeed, but he hasn’t responded well. Kerry came out the next day and said “I apologize to no one”, and that it was just a botched joke about the president. Well excuse me, but even that doesn’t make sense. The record shows that Bush scored higher at Yale than Kerry did, yet Bush is the one who didn’t “study hard”? Methinks it was possibly the other way around. Kerry “got stuck” in Vietnam, Bush didn’t. Hmmm. Maybe he’s speaking from firsthand experience, but that would make Kerry the butt of the joke, not Bush.
In any case, Kerry was just digging a hole for himself. He was being stupid and insensitive. I take him at his word that his intent was to make a joke about the president but the joke came off real badly. I mean, it would be like someone saying “I didn’t trust the guy because he was dark,” when what they meant to say was “I didn’t trust the guy because he was wearing a dark suit.” What the person said, in this example, sounds racist, even though that’s not what they meant. Yet people can still feel hurt by the words that were actually spoken. The best thing to do is to just suck it up, take responsibility for one’s mouth, and apologize, say that they understand how hurtful their remarks were, and it was not what they meant to say.
Yesterday Kerry’s staff released the script for his speech that he was supposed to deliver on Monday:
“I can’t overstress the importance of a great education. Do you know where you end up if you don’t study, if you aren’t smart, if you’re intellectually lazy? You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq. Just ask President Bush.”
Still doesn’t make sense, but I understand that the Democrats keep flip/flopping between Bush being dumb as a post and Bush being so smart he can outwit people into serving his self interests. I mean, Kerry himself said two years ago that Bush misled him and the American people into the war. Who’s the smarter one in this scenario? Whatever. If you look at this, it does sound a bit like what Kerry said, but it causes me to ask, who was being intellectually lazy here? Kerry just decided he’d skip a bunch of the words and say what was on his mind. It almost sounds as though the speech was written for him, and Kerry didn’t particularly like what it was, and so decided to ad lib it.
Kerry did eventually issue an apology, but it was from the Sen. Dick Durbin school of apologies:
“I sincerely regret that my words were misinterpreted to wrongly imply anything negative about those in uniform and I personally apologize to any service member, family member or American who was offended.”
The first part of the sentence is insulting. “I sincerely regret that my words were misinterpreted.” Uh, no we did not misinterpret your words, Kerry. You misinterpreted your own speech. You’re not going to win any friends by insulting our intelligence. We understand English just fine. I think the last part of the sentence would’ve been a good start: “I personally apologize to any service member, family member or American who was offended.” He could’ve added if he wanted that what he said came off wrong and it was not what he meant to say, and that he thinks highly of the men and women in uniform. It’s called “owning up”. He should try it sometime.