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Bin Laden could care less who piloted a swift boat or piloted Air National Guard


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August 19, 2004 -- Dick Cheney a "coward" because he didn't serve in Vietnam.

Referring to Cheney's criticism of Kerry's record on the war on terrorism, Harkin — who was a Naval fighter pilot — declared: "When I hear this coming from Dick Cheney, who was a coward, who would not serve during the Vietnam War, it makes my blood boil."

There was no criticism of Harkin's name-calling from the Kerry camp, which frankly is a little surprising. The name-calling aside, Dick Cheney wasn't the only American who sat out the war by using legitimate student deferments, after all.

John Edwards, in fact, did the exact same thing, albeit in a later stage of the war. But you're not likely to hear Harkin denouncing Kerry's runningmate as a coward.

Kerry, to be sure, labeled as "inappropriate" Tuesday a new commercial by his shadow campaign, the far-left folks at MoveOn.org, which accuses President Bush of having "used his father to get into the National Guard and when the chips were down went missing."

The Democratic candidate, acting at the instigation of GOP Sen. John McCain, also insisted that "this should be a campaign of issues, not insults."

Which is all well and good — except that just hours after that statement, the Kerry campaign organized a conference in which two high-profile ex-military supporters simply parroted the MoveOn commercial's line.

Bush "scrambled and used his family's influence to get out of hearing a shot fired in anger," said failed presidential candidate Wesley Clark, a former commander of NATO — who never had a problem with Bush's military record or even his policies until the ex-general decided he was destined to live in the White House.

Added Retired Adm. Stansfield Turner, Jimmy Carter's CIA director (somewhat akin to being lookout on the Titanic): "[bush] used his family influence to get into the Air National Guard and avoid going to war."

Did the Kerry camp chastise these two notables by reminding them of what the candidate had publicly said just a few tics of the clock earlier?

Not at all: "These are veterans who earned the right to their opinion," said a spokeswoman. "John Kerry speaks for John Kerry."

Except, of course, that the Kerry campaign itself organized the press conference. This wasn't "Face the Nation" the two were speaking on.

Kerry's backers, naturally, cite the Swift boat veterans' attack ad, which accuses Kerry of lying about his military record — and which seems to be scoring political benefits for the Bush campaign, which has refused to criticize it.

Certainly, Kerry essentially started the whole thing by making his Vietnam record the cornerstone of his campaign. And the Bush camp can point to the myriad media investigations into his own Vietnam-era military record — and Kerry's questioning of whether he "was present and active on duty . . . at the times he was supposed to be."

Still, it's time for everyone to call a permanent cease-fire here.

It was Kerry himself, recall, who back in 1992 — when Bill Clinton's Vietnam non-service was at issue — pleaded, "We do not have to divide America over who served and how."

True, military service (or lack of it) can be an indicator of character. But the minute details of what happened 35 or 40 years ago are hardly relevant to the real issues of today. And the answers on how to deal with the economy weren't learned on a Southeast Asia battlefield.

Besides, when you get down to it, Osama bin Laden couldn't care less who piloted a Swift boat in the Mekong Delta and who flew in the Texas Air National Guard. To him, all Americans are the same.

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