WASHINGTON – Former Sen. Bob Dole (search) isn't making much of the controversy over whether decorated Vietnam veteran John Kerry (search) threw away his medals or ribbons during a 1971 anti-war protest.
When it comes to choosing a president, "I don't think it matters," Dole, the Republican candidate for president in 1996 and a veteran whose arm was badly injured in World War II, told Fox New Sunday.
Kerry returned from Vietnam an outspoken critic of the war. For years, he has said he threw away his ribbons, not his three Purple Hearts (search), Bronze Star and Silver Star during a protest at the U.S. Capitol. But a tape surfaced last week of a television interview he gave shortly after the protest in which he suggested that he tossed more than just the ribbons.
"I think some of the things he said were probably not very good judgment," Dole said of the Democrat, "but he was a much younger man then without much experience in public life."
Kerry maintains that he used the terms ribbons and medals interchangeably.
Still, Dole said Kerry might have trouble explaining his anti-war activities, particularly to veterans. "He made his point, and he's going to have to live with it," said Dole.
Asked why Vietnam is a hot-button issue these days, Dole said, "I'm not certain it's that red hot of a button."
Other Republicans, namely Bush adviser Karen Hughes, have chastised Kerry for "pretending" to throw away the medals.
Kerry responded to the criticism by lashing out at President Bush for failing to put to rest questions about his National Guard service during the Vietnam era. His comments came a day after Vice President Dick Cheney (search) went on the offensive, questioning whether Kerry was weak on national security.
To Dole, the 2004 campaign is "getting pretty hot pretty early" and has "gotten very personal."
"It ought to slow down, cool off a while," he observed. "The American people aren't going to listen if that's all they hear every day is criticism and name-calling by the Bush team or by the Kerry team."