Volume 74, Number 23 | Octuber 6 - 12 , 2004

Suddenly, we’ve got a presidential race, at long last

Up until the first Kerry/Bush debate, the race for president seemed to be hardly a race and becoming less and less so.

A group of Vietnam Swift boat veterans, assisted by allies of President George W. Bush, had scored heavily in their attacks on Senator John Kerry. They questioned Kerry’s heroism in action and cast aspersions on his efforts to end the war after returning from his tour of duty.

On his own end, Kerry seemed unable to get his message out.

However, all of a sudden, last week’s presidential debate made it a race again. In the debate, Kerry showed he is presidential, able to grasp complex issues and adroitly switch gears and shift between subjects. On the other hand, Bush hewed to simple themes and repeated himself frequently, sticking to safe catchphrases.

Above all, it was a relief to see Kerry at last punch a hole in the Bush administration’s persistent message of fear. Kerry argued, correctly, that Bush has failed to devote adequate resources to the hunt for Osama bin Laden, and that Al Qaeda, not Iraq, has always been the main terrorism threat.

Kerry also adeptly turned the discussion to Korea and Iran and the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the failure to secure loose Soviet nuclear material that may find its way into the wrong hands on the black market. In one hour, Kerry refuted the Bush/Cheney drumbeat of fear that launched the Iraq war in the first place, and which is keeping it going with no end in sight — while at the same time opening our eyes to the real dangers that are out there.

Facing a polished debater like Kerry, Bush’s prefabricated, one-note platform looked horribly weak. It remains to be seen if Bush tries to come out of his box a bit, or sticks with his formula. But one thing is certain, the race is on.

Also, a newly released documentary on Kerry’s Vietnam days and his activism with Vietnam veterans to help end the war puts the lie to many of the false allegations hurled by the Swift boat group.

The film, “Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry,” clearly depicts the dangers Kerry faced commanding a Swift boat on Vietnam’s rivers in Viet Cong areas. The boats were loud and sitting targets. Fatality rates were incredibly high. At least two individual acts of heroism by Kerry are detailed by his former crewmates.

The Kerry portrayed after he returns from Vietnam is an inspiring figure, not some sort of traitor, as the Swift veterans paint him. Though his critics have blasted him for throwing away his medals, the film explains this wasn’t an easy act for many veterans — to essentially say they fought for nothing. But Kerry and the others felt it was a necessary gesture to help end an unwinnable, unjust war.

In last night’s vice presidential debate, a vigorous John Edwards more than held his own against a tired Dick Cheney. We’re glad to see it’s a competition once more and look forward to hearing from Kerry and Bush as the race shifts to Friday’s debate on domestic issues. It’s good, at last, to see the race starting to focus on issues, instead of negative, spurious attacks.

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