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September 7, 2004

Kerry's Defense Vote

Posted by Phil on September 7, 2004 2:16 PM

The other shoe of the Bush campaign's attack on John Kerry's fitness to defend America is his supposedly having voted against a host of weapons systems. Slate's Fred Kaplan took this on in February, but the media still let Republican liars mouth it from the convention podium as though it were honest.

Looking at the weapons that the RNC says Kerry voted to cut, a good case could be made, certainly at the time, that some of them (the B-2 bomber and President Reagan's "Star Wars" missile-defense program) should have been cut. As for the others (the M-1 tank and the F-14, F-15, and F-16 fighter planes, among others), Kerry didn't really vote to cut them.

The claim about these votes was made in the Republican National Committee "Research Briefing" of Feb. 22. The report lists 13 weapons systems that Kerry voted to cut--the ones cited above, as well as Patriot air-defense missiles, Tomahawk cruise missiles, and AH64 Apache helicopters, among others.

It is instructive, however, to look at the footnotes. Almost all of them cite Kerry's vote on Senate bill S. 3189 (CQ Vote No. 273) on Oct. 15, 1990. Do a Google search, and you will learn that S. 3189 was the Fiscal Year 1991 Defense Appropriations Act, and CQ Vote No. 273 was a vote on the entire bill. There was no vote on those weapons systems specifically.

On a couple of the weapons, the RNC report cites H.R. 5803 and H.R. 2126. Look those up. They turn out to be votes on the House-Senate conference committee reports for the defense appropriations bills in October 1990 (the same year as S. 3189) and September 1995.

In other words, Kerry was one of 16 senators (including five Republicans) to vote against a defense appropriations bill 14 years ago. He was also one of an unspecified number of senators to vote against a conference report on a defense bill nine years ago. The RNC takes these facts and extrapolates from them that he voted against a dozen weapons systems that were in those bills. The Republicans could have claimed, with equal logic, that Kerry voted to abolish the entire U.S. armed forces, but that might have raised suspicions. Claiming that he opposed a list of specific weapons systems has an air of plausibility. On close examination, though, it reeks of rank dishonesty.

The Daily Howler:

Forty years ago, the GOP did something quite smart; it began to develop a meta-narrative to explain its place in the world. That meta-narrative is Liberal bias, a pleasing tale the GOP recites to explain all unpleasant events. (You saw Bush do it last night.) Voters have heard about "liberal bias" for decades. Any time an event occurs which puts the GOP on the defensive, hacks haul out this pleasing excuse. And they've learned to use this old script quite well.

The time has come when our uncaring Democrats have to start telling the truth to the people. But what meta-narrative should the Dems tell? They need to tell an accurate narrative: Every four years, Republican hacks make a joke of our lives, inventing strange stories about the Dem candidate. They distract; they deceive; they direct us to trivia; they make a joke of our public discussion. It's perfectly clear that our Big Major Dems don't really care if this costs them elections. But will these lazy, feckless pols ever defend the rights of the public? Will they ever show that they actually care when a joke is made of our White House elections?

On Wednesday night, the Bush camp was lying in voters' faces in those speeches by Miller and Cheney. And the DNC plainly doesn't care--doesn't bother debunking the charges, doesn't bother explaining the process.

The DNC needs a meta-story--the Republicans keep making a joke of your discourse. But to tell a story, again and again, DNC honchos have to believe it--and care. We see no sign that they really do care, and that explains our quadrennial clowning. Clearly, the Washington press doesn't care. Does the DNC care? Let them prove it.