Trail Dust: Records Under Fire

This is a partial transcript from The Beltway Boys, February 7, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.

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MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Vietnam (search) was 30 years ago, but it's a red-hot political topic today, and the subject of this week's trail dust.

You wouldn't know it from his many appearances with veterans, but John Kerry (search) wasn't always so eager to use Vietnam as a campaign issue. Back in 1992, Kerry scolded the first President Bush for mentioning Bill Clinton's Vietnam draft dodging.

But now that Kerry's running for president himself, he's singing a different tune. Here is Kerry on Tuesday.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: For months and for miles, I have depended on the same band of brothers that I depended on 35 years ago, and it is true, as I've said in New Hampshire, we are a little older, we are a little grayer, but we still know how to fight for our country.

And we're going to win...


FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: I'll have to say, every Kerry rally I've been to, the crowd loves that line. Now, there are really three Vietnam issues. One, of course, is Kerry's distinguished record as a young Naval lieutenant in Vietnam, where he was a hero.

The second one is what I think is his undistinguished record after he got back in the U.S. as an opponent of the war in Vietnam, where he associated himself with the most radical and extreme elements, and then went before the Senate and repeated these charges of day-to-day atrocities in Vietnam by American soldiers, rapes and chopping off heads and ears and hooking up genitals to electricity and all sorts of things like that, while hundreds of thousands of American troops were still honorably serving in Vietnam.

And the third issue, of course, is what George W. Bush (search) did during the Vietnam War. He was in the National Guard, and there's some questions about how much, how many meetings he went to in, in Alabama.

John Kerry says he doesn't question any people who didn't serve in Vietnam or in the regular military, but he sort of lumps Bush's National Guard service in with guys who evaded the draft completely. Listen to Kerry on, on Fox a couple days ago.


KERRY: And I would defend the president's choice with respect to going into the Guard. I've never made any judgments about any choice somebody made about avoiding the draft, about going to Canada, going to jail, being a conscientious objector, going into the National Guard. Those are choices people make.


BARNES: Going to jail ... going in the National Guard.

KONDRACKE: Look, Senator Kerry, there is a difference between ... flying fighter planes in the National Guard and ... draft dodging.

And, now, Bush does seem to have an answer to this National Guard service. I mean, he didn't show up for some meetings. He was never charged with being AWOL. He made them up, he spent 36 days continuously on active duty ... and got honorably discharged.


KONDRACKE: So, I mean, I think the charge of AWOL or desertion or something like that is not going to fly.


KONDRACKE: But, you know, I think ...

BARNES: There's always a but with you, Mort.

KONDRACKE: ... the major issue is not what Kerry's service was like in Vietnam. There's no question he was a valiant lieutenant, as you...

BARNES: Yes, indeed.

KONDRACKE: ... as you point out. But what kind of commander in chief will he make?


KONDRACKE: And, over the years, I think Kerry has made all the wrong choices. He was in favor of the nuclear freeze, he voted against the 1991 Gulf War, and in the case of Bush's war he took both sides of the position.

I, you know, that is not a distinguished record.

BARNES: That's very good, Mort, wish I'd said that.

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