John Kerry (search) said Tuesday that President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney (search) have no standing in criticizing his military service and anti-war effort, considering questions about one's National Guard (search) attendance and the other's deferments from Vietnam.
Kerry, who volunteered for service in Vietnam, said he doesn't begrudge anyone who did not fight in the war. But with critics questioning his war record, the Massachusetts senator said that it's "accountability time."
Earlier in the day, Kerry told the Dayton Daily News: "I think a lot of veterans are going to be very angry at a president who can't account for his own service in the National Guard, and a vice president who got every deferment in the world and decided he had better things to do, criticizing somebody who fought for their country and served."
For the second day, disputes over what Kerry and Bush did during the Vietnam War-era and the campaigns' exchange of charges have overshadowed the Democratic presidential candidate's bus tour of industrial states that have lost manufacturing jobs. Kerry told Ohio voters Tuesday that Bush's record on job creation should be described as "mission not accomplished."
That complaint came four days before the May 1 anniversary of Bush's declaration of an end to major combat in Iraq. The president made the announcement aboard an aircraft carrier bearing a banner that read "Mission Accomplished." Critics derided the banner and the declaration after U.S. casualties mounted.
Democrats have questioned whether Bush always reported for service as a member of the Texas Air National Guard in the late 1960s. But until Monday Kerry, a decorated Navy veteran, usually avoided commenting on the issue.
Facing criticism of his own anti-war activities after returning from Vietnam, Kerry said Bush should prove he reported for duty. On Tuesday, Kerry's campaign pushed the issue with a four-page document asking whether Bush used connections to get into the Texas Air National Guard during the war, why Bush requested not to be sent overseas and why the Pentagon is under orders not to discuss Bush's record with reporters.
Cheney received five student and marriage deferments of service during the war.
Bush campaign spokeswoman Nicolle Devenish said Kerry is "doing exactly what he said he would never do, 'divide America over who served and how.'" She was referring to Kerry's defense of Bill Clinton in 1992 when critics said the future president was a draft dodger who avoided service in Vietnam.
"John Kerry has not detailed a credible alternative to President Bush's decisive leadership in the war on terror and his record on defense and security measures raises serious questions about his judgment," Devenish said. "Instead of explaining his record, John Kerry has turned to political attacks on the president."
Kerry said he's now speaking out because his own activities are under question.
Bush and Cheney personally have not commented on Kerry's military service or his anti-war protests, and White House spokesman Scott McClellan sought to keep Bush above the fray Tuesday.
McClellan said no one is questioning Kerry's "commendable record of service in the military," but refused to condemn criticism by Bush adviser Karen Hughes, who said Kerry misled Americans by "pretending" to throw his medals away after returning from Vietnam.
Asked whether Bush stood by that line of criticism, McClellan said, "The president is focusing on the issues and the policy differences, not what happened 30, 40 years ago." He refused to say whether Kerry's role in the anti-war movement is relevant to the election.
The Bush campaign is spending $10 million on a television ad campaign that accuses Kerry of opposing vital weapons. Kerry's campaign solicited donations in response.
"It is a malicious insult to a man who has spent his entire life - from the battlefield to the Senate — fighting to make America strong and safe," campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill wrote in a fund-raising e-mail to supporters.