JOHN KERRY is very good at the political dodge. This consists of raising one issue to avoid talking about another. He's cleverly done this twice in recent weeks. First, he concentrated on his Vietnam war experience in his speech at the Democratic convention to avert discussion of his dovish Senate record on national security. Then this week, he blamed President Bush for attacks on his Vietnam performance to escape from addressing the Swift Boat veterans who were his actual attackers. And he may have to come up with a third dodge to keep from having to explain his 1971 testimony alleging war crimes and atrocities on a daily basis by American forces during the Vietnam war.
The dodge has worked well for Kerry. At the Democratic convention last month, he didn't bother to defend his Senate positions on defense and foreign policy. In his acceptance speech, he devoted only 73 words to his two decades in the Senate. Instead, he surrounded himself with Vietnam veterans and insisted the best window on his leadership as president was that the men who'd served with him in Vietnam were now backing his presidential campaign. The result: little discussion in the media or the political community of his Senate record at the convention and since then.
That dodge has diverted much of the press from examining the specific charges against Kerry for allegedly fabricating or exaggerating what he did as a Naval officer in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970. The charges have come from a group of Swift Boat commanders who served with Kerry. Rather than address the charges, Kerry claimed the Bush-Cheney campaign was behind two attack ads by the boat commanders. And when Kerry demanded that Bush repudiate the ads and call for them to be taken off the air, the story became what Bush would say, not what Kerry had or had not done in Vietnam.