IT IS ALMOST as if all John Kerry has to do now in New Hampshire is run out the clock. Coming into last night's debate, Howard Dean, the former front-runner, was still trying to explain his guttural growl in Iowa. Meanwhile, Kerry strode Wednesday into Daniel Webster College and said he is different from the other Democratic candidates because "I don't offer my resume. I offer my gut."
Wesley Clark came into the debate with a stubbed political toe, bruised in his arrogant attempt to suggest his military service to America was better than Kerry's by saying, "He's a lieutenant, I'm a general." Meanwhile, Kerry won applause at Daniel Webster and at the debate by reminding the audience how he fought for the right of Vietnam veterans to sleep in protest on the Washington Mall in the Nixon era. "We stood our ground," Kerry said last night.
As the new front-runner, it was time for Kerry to stand his ground again. It was much too easy. With polite, if not contrite competitors and unfocused moderators who needed a strong cup of coffee, Kerry did not have to offer his gut. He won simply by not being challenged.
That ensures that Kerry will probably win New Hampshire. It still does not answer a bedeviling question. Last night, Kerry said, "I will never conduct a war or start a war because we want to; the United States of America should only go to war because we have to." Kerry defiantly declared, "I'm not going to listen to Tom DeLay or the president or anybody else lecture the Democratic Party about patriotism."
But Kerry fell for the patriotic lecture in October of 2002 when he voted to give President Bush the authority to invade Iraq. A recent report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said the White House "systematically misrepresented" the actual threat posed by Iraq. But Kerry, either being an inattentive sucker or simply gutless, said he voted for authorization because "the administration, including the president, recognizes that war must be our last option."
After Secretary of State Colin Powell's February 2003 presentation to the United Nations, Kerry said Powell provided "convincing evidence of Saddam Hussein's possession of weapons of mass destruction . . . on its face, the evidence against Saddam Hussein appears real and compelling."
The real gut check for Kerry will be when he is really forced to make the case how he can be a stronger leader than President Bush when he fell for Bush's war. Last night's debate ensured that he will get through New Hampshire without making the case.
Kerry boasted in the debate how during the Vietnam War, he and his fellow veterans told Nixon, "Mr. President, you sent us 8,000 miles away to fight, die and sleep in the jungles of Vietnam. We've earned the right to sleep on the Mall and talk to our senators and congressmen." We will know we have a truly different Democrat when Kerry apologizes for his role in sending men and women thousands of miles away to sleep and die in another war America did not have to fight.
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