Christmas in Cambodia

Let me see if I have this straight.

The issue of the day is not about lying to the American people to justify an illegal, unnecessary, wasteful, destabilizing, murderous war.

It's not about the use of American power. Not the abrogation of civil liberties by the Justice Department. Not the assault by the administration on health, safety and environmental protections it took generations of political struggle to put in place. Not the multi-billion dollar faith-based antiballistic missile program. Not Senator Kerry's lackluster legislative career. Not big business dominance of both parties. Not national health. Not jobs.

Even limiting the debate to the candidates' military records, it's not about Bush's reliance on family juice to score a cushy spot in the National Guard and avoid going to 'Nam nor that he couldn't be bothered to show up as required for his already minimal service obligation.


The most important issue of this political campaign is whether John Kerry exaggerated or mis-remembered exact details of his sojourn in Vietnam 35 years ago.

Even granting that Kerry invited this brouhaha by making his short stay in Vietnam the centerpiece of his campaign, a responsible, self-respecting, professional media would never allow a minor story of little import to mushroom into a central focus of a presidential race.

Be thankful the sideshow is showing signs of running down (if anyone is interested in the facts, they can be found in a long investigatory piece in the New York Times (Friendly Fire: The Birth of an Anti-Kerry Ad, 2004-08-22) and on the Annenberg Public Policy Center's FactCheck.Org <>), although now, having raised doubts with whomever they can about Kerry's heroism, the president's minions can proceed to the next phase where the senator's antiwar activism will be used to attack his patriotism. The first blast came Sunday from former Senator Bob Dole (Et tu, Bob?) who, while complaining that Kerry's exit pass home from southeast Asia was undeserved because his wounds were "superficial," added that it was past time for Kerry to apologize for telling Congress about alleged atrocities in Vietnam (CNN).

It remains to be seen whether this folderol will fool enough of the people enough of the time to affect the outcome of the election, but for now the Republicans are unchallenged at controlling the parameters of the political debate.

Both sides are spending all their time looking backwards, Kerry to Vietnam, the White House to 9/11 and the tiffany tax cuts. The Democrats' bid to be the war party isn't playing very well and there isn't much time to redirect the campaign to the future -- to health care and jobs and safeguarding the environment -- before election day. Hope may well be on the way, but it's looking like it may arrive too late to help Kerry.

The progressives, meanwhile, are in their usual prone position, demanding nothing in exchange for their energies on Kerry's behalf, and pretty much assured of getting nothing if he is elected.

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