Miniter's revisionist history: Cleland "was voted out of office for being too soft on the war on terror"; Kerry lost after "allegedly inflating his service on a Navy swift boat"

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

In his latest column, The Wall Street Journal's Brendan Miniter claimed that former Sen. Max Cleland "was voted out of office for being too soft on the war on terror" and that Sen. John Kerry lost his 2004 presidential bid "after being savaged for calling for a 'global test' in the use of American military power, waffling on the war in Iraq, and allegedly inflating his service on a Navy swift boat."

In his August 15 column, Wall Street Journal OpinionJournal.com assistant editor Brendan Miniter wrote that "the American voting public" has "tended to side with the War Party," and presented as evidence the claim that former Sen. Max Cleland (D-GA), "a Democrat with an honorable military record and who lost three limbs in Vietnam, was voted out of office for being too soft on the war on terror." Miniter also claimed that Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), "another softy," lost his 2004 presidential bid "after being savaged for calling for a 'global test' in the use of American military power, waffling on the war in Iraq, and allegedly inflating his service on a Navy swift boat." In fact, the reasons Miniter offered for Cleland's and Kerry's electoral defeats were actually the byproducts of the Republican smear campaigns aimed at both men.

Miniter claimed that Cleland lost his Senate seat in 2002 because he was "too soft on the war on terror." No mention was made of the attack ads put out by Cleland's opponent, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), linking the Vietnam veteran to Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. As The New Republic's "Notebook" reported (subscription required) on December 2, 2002, "attacks on Cleland's patriotism formed the subtext of virtually the entire Chambliss campaign, as noted by innumerable press accounts leading up to and following the election." Chambliss attacked Cleland, claiming Cleland opposed the creation of a Department of Homeland Security, even though Cleland was a co-sponsor of legislation introduced on May 2, 2002, calling for the creation of a cabinet-level DHS. As Media Matters for America has noted, it was the Bush White House that opposed the creation of DHS, until Bush reversed position in June 2002 and promoted a different bill that included provisions opposed by Democrats, including Cleland.

A July 3, 2003, Washington Post article described a controversial Chambliss ad that attacked Cleland:

It opened with pictures of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. "As America faces terrorists and extremist dictators," said a narrator, "Max Cleland runs television ads claiming he has the courage to lead. He says he supports President Bush at every opportunity, but that's not the truth. Since July, Max Cleland voted against President Bush's vital homeland security efforts 11 times!"

Cynthia Tucker, editorial page editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, criticized Chambliss's attack, suggesting that it was as disingenuous as it was vicious:

In the beginning, Bush didn't even want a homeland security department. He fought it tooth and nail


opposing a bill offered by Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) -- until Karl Rove figured out that Democrats were gaining popular support in their efforts to get one started. Then, Bush flipflopped and quickly put together legislation to create a homeland security department; but the bill was salted with minefields, including a provision that infuriated employee unions.

When Democrats fought the labor-bashing provision, the GOP accused them of stalling the creation of a homeland security post. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., then a congressman, defeated then-Sen. Max Cleland by portraying him as unpatriotic; Cleland's opposition to the labor provision somehow got twisted into proof that Cleland opposed the homeland security act and also America.

Miniter also claimed that Kerry "call[ed] for a 'global test' in the use of American military power" -- echoing the distortions of the Bush/Cheney '04 campaign and other conservative media figures. As Media Matters noted at the time, during the September 30, 2004, presidential debate, Kerry did not call for a global test on U.S. military action, but rather said that he would pre-emptively act to protect the United States, while stressing that the president must be able to demonstrate the necessity of having done so:

KERRY: No president, through all of American history, has ever ceded, and nor would I, the right to preempt in any way necessary to protect the United States of America.

But if and when you do it, [moderator] Jim [Lehrer], you have to do it in a way that passes the test, that passes the global test where your countrymen, your people understand fully why you're doing what you're doing and you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons.

As for Miniter's assertion that Kerry lost after "allegedly inflating his service on a Navy swift boat," Miniter neglected to mention that those allegations came from the widely discredited Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (now known as Swift Vets and POWs for Truth).

Miniter wrote:

This is about where the American voting public is asked to weigh in and for the past two election cycles, they've tended to side with the War Party. In 2002 Georgia's Sen. Max Cleland, a Democrat with an honorable military record and who lost three limbs in Vietnam, was voted out of office for being too soft on the war on terror. In 2004 John Kerry, another softy who had nonetheless served in Vietnam, lost after being savaged for calling for a "global test" in the use of American military power, waffling on the war in Iraq, and allegedly inflating his service on a Navy swift boat.

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Brendan Miniter
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