A STAPLE OF DEMOCRATIC RHETORIC these days is the charge that a "Republican attack machine" is smearing John Kerry. Is it really true that Republicans are impugning Kerry's military service in Vietnam and questioning his patriotism? Seeking an answer, my colleague at Fox News, Morton Kondracke, asked the Democratic National Committee to supply evidence of Republican mudslinging. Send me the worst of the smears by the Republican National Committee or President Bush's reelection campaign, Kondracke said.
What the DNC produced didn't come close to substantiating the charge of smears about Kerry's military record or patriotism. The Democratic committee couldn't cite anyone from the RNC or the Bush campaign--or the White House for that matter--who had criticized Kerry for his service in Vietnam or raised doubts about his patriotism. For the most part, what the DNC called smears were attacks on Kerry's antiwar activity after he left the Navy.
The DNC document bore this headline: "As Bush's Approval Rating Drops . . . the Rove-Gillespie Smear Machine Moves Into Full Gear." Karl Rove is a White House official and political adviser to Bush. Ed Gillespie is chairman of the RNC. No quotes from Rove were cited. Gillespie was blamed for allegedly spreading lies about Kerry's protest on the Mall in Washington as a member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Gillespie was reported to have said that Kerry claimed to have spent the night on the Mall with other veterans when he really stayed in a friend's apartment. Whether true or not, this doesn't touch on Kerry's military service or patriotism.
Karen Hughes, a Bush adviser and former communications chief at the White House, was cited in the DNC document for questioning Kerry's throwing away medals at an antiwar event in Washington. Again, this was after Kerry left active duty in the Navy. And Kerry has given different accounts over the years of exactly what he threw away, causing the incident to be a subject of Boston newspaper stories for years.
So who are the main perpetrators of smears, according to the DNC? It's "Bush's surrogates" and "Republican pundits" and Vietnam veterans. The DNC says this statement by Joe Repya, co-chairman of Veterans for Bush is a smear: "Nobody says [Kerry] wasn't brave when he was in Vietnam. But once he came home, he disavowed his oath as an officer and he gave aid and comfort to our enemy by his antiwar stance." Republicans treat Kerry's antiwar activity as fair game in the presidential race. Now the DNC is suggesting it isn't.
Another smear was attributed to a writer on an obscure conservative website who said Kerry had killed 21 innocent Vietnamese. The writer later said he made a mistake, the DNC said. Columnist Robert Novak was accused of a smear by saying on CNN that Kerry's antiwar efforts were "over the line." And the document cited a newspaper story that said Rush Limbaugh had called Kerry an "incompetent leader" in Vietnam. Whatever the case, Limbaugh isn't Rove or Gillespie, nor is he a member of a Republican machine. He's a conservative radio talk show host whose commentaries aren't the responsibility of either the Bush campaign or the RNC.
Even when Bush campaign leaders insist they have never questioned Kerry's military service, they get attacked for doing just that. On Fox News Sunday, Bush campaign chairman Marc Racicot said neither he nor other campaign officials had ever criticized Kerry for his Vietnam service, nor would they. The response of Jean Shaheen, a chair for the Kerry campaign, was that Republicans have questioned Kerry's "courage" and that this was unconscionable. She cited no examples.
Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.