John Kerry Boosts Obama Campaign and Helps Debunk Clinton Attacks

While individual endorsements probably have minimal impact on primary races, the cumulative effect of several high profile endorsements might help Obama overcome one of the disadvantages typically faced by insurgent candidates going up against an establishment candidate who has an advantage in party support. Recently Obama has received endorsements from Gary Hart, Ned Lamont, Tim Johnson, George Miller, Janet Napolitano and Senators Ben Nelson and Claire McCaskill. Obama has even received the support of the woman who asked Hillary Clinton the question in New Hampshire which might have led to her comeback in the state. The New York Times reports that Congressman James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the highest-ranking African-American in Congress, is considering an endorsement of Obama. Last week Obama had John Kerry come to South Carolina to appear at a campaign event after his endorsement. Kerry also appeared today on This Week to support Obama (video here).

Kerry’s endorsement is helping some voters overcome reservations about Obama’s youth and experience. The Washington Post noted this, including a comment from one voter:

“I’ve been on the fence between Hillary and Obama, but I just went over to him” she said. “I had this idea that he had to be more experienced, but what hit me is if you can bring people together like this, and inspire people, then you can make change from a fresh perspective. You just don’t see this in South Carolina.”

Kerry also discussed Obama’s experience on This Week, noting that Obama has more legislative experience than Clinton. Obama’s experience as a professor of Constitutional law and a community organizer are also of significance. Other topics discussed in posts this weekend came up during the interview, including the ability of candidates to respond to attacks and their pre-war positions on Iraq.

One reason I respect Kerry is that he is generally right, and when he is wrong he admits it learns from his mistakes. Nobody knows better than Kerry the dangers of inadequately responding to attacks, and he will certain advise any Democratic nominee to handle things differently than he did against the Swift Boat Liars. In Kerry’s defense it should be noted that many myths have been spread regarding the attacks, even among liberal bloggers who should know better. While Kerry didn’t respond as forcibly as he should have in retrospect, his campaign did rapidly respond to the attacks with the facts. Unfortunately, in this case, the facts were not enough.

Looking back we must remember that things looked different at the time from how they do in retrospect. The Swift Boat Liars made their claims both in the spring of 2004 and again in August. The spring attacks did no harm, perhaps leading Kerry’s campaign to underestimate their harm when they returned in August.

The old conventional wisdom, before the days of the internet and twenty-four hour cable news, was that responding to an attack often backfires by giving more coverage to the attack. Voters hearing the responses often wind up remembering the attack but not the defense. The Swift Boat Liars began with small ads which gradually increased in significance as they were picked up first by Fox, and then by legitimate news outlets. There was no single moment when it was clear at the time that the attacks were anything which would have a serious effect, making it more difficult to decide upon a response.

As Kerry noted today, his response was also limited by the campaign finance laws which left him with little money to spend in the period between the Democratic and Republican conventions. During this period Kerry was on a national tour to concentrate on his domestic policy proposals, and the campaign also felt that concentrating too much on responding to the attacks would have distracted from this. Obviously, in retrospect, they were wrong but their decisions were not totally absurd at the time.

Kerry also discussed how Clinton has taken Obama’s comments before the 2004 convention out of context to question his opposition to the war. Obama understandably toned down his criticism of voting for the Iraq War Resolution to avoid sounding critical of Kerry and Edwards. This might have been less necessary if people better understood Kerry’s actual position on the war and his reasons for voting for the IWR. While some didn’t say this until more recently, Kerry made it clear at the time of the vote that he was only voting yes based upon Bush’s claims that he would only go to war as a last resort. Kerry made his position clear in his Senate floor statement, and in articles published at the time in The New York Times and Foreign Affairs.

As it became increasingly clear that Bush had not proven that we were threatened by WMD, and that he planned to go to war regardless of the facts, Kerry increasingly spoke out against going to war. Speaking at Georgetown University on January 23, 2003, Kerry urged, “Mr. President, do not rush to war.” Following the onset of the war Kerry protested by saying, “What we need now is not just a regime change in Saddam Hussein and Iraq, but we need a regime change in the United States.” His comments on the IWR vote at the Grand Canyon were also misunderstood by those who fail to understand that, while at the time he said he would have voted for the resolution, he also repeatedly explained how he would have used the authorization differently, including to seek a diplomatic as opposed to a military solution. Kerry has even been falsely accused of not opposing the war during his 2004 campaign by people who have forgotten how often he repeated, “Wrong War. Wrong Place. Wrong Time.” Kerry did ultimately agree that a yes vote on the IWR was a mistake due to the manner in which George Bush misused the authority granted to him.

Reviewing Kerry’s pre-war statements also provides a standard by which to judge Hillary Clinton. Bill and Hillary Clinton have repeatedly attempted to rewrite history and downplay Clinton’s significant difference in position on the war with Obama. What matters in choosing a president is neither their view or votes after the war has started but who has shown the best judgment in making the ultimate decision as to whether to go to war in the first place. As Obama has said, “The authorization vote is relevant only because it gives an insight into how people think about these problems and suggests the sort of judgment they apply in evaluating a policy decision.” Clinton has tried to downplay this by essentially repeating Kerry’s justification for voting yes. The difference is that while Kerry spoke out against going to war before it started, Clinton, like Edwards, did not speak out against the war until it was clear the war was a fiasco and this became the politically safe position to take.

(Cross posted at The Carpetbagger Report)


  1. 1
    Dale says:

    Thanks for the excellent clarification of the whole Swift Boats sequence. So many times, Dems take up the Republicans’ derision toward their own candidates when doing a post-campaign analyses. Kerry has gotten as much disrepect from his fellow Dems as he did from Republicans. I read speeches he had made saying all the right things during the campaign and the speeches didn’t gain any coverage. He was not an incompetent candidate. He just wasn’t a warrior any more. And I worry that Obama won’t be a warrior although the Clintons have left a bad taste in my mouth since Iowa.

  2. 2
    rawdawgbuffalo says:

    wonder how much bill and hill paid mr. johnson, it will work agains her, he real issues remain the econonmy and iraq…..the new efforts and focus on surge and money will not work . sunni or latter

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