In Defense of Kerry

Letter to the Editor in response to “Georgia Democrat puts family over party loyalty,” The Washington Times, Nation (9/2/04).

A number of the charges against Sen. John Kerry during the Republican convention were spurious and weaken the quality of our national debate. In particular, Sen. Zell Miller’s suggestion that Mr. Kerry has categorically opposed a long list of important weapons systems during his career in the Senate is just plain wrong (“Georgia Democrat puts family over party loyalty,” Nation, Sept. 2). Consider the following:

Mr. Kerry has supported 16 of 19 overall defense-authorization bills in his Senate career. This is the bottom line on Kerry’s defense record; these in the end are the bills that count.

It is normal, and in fact constitutionally required, that Congress scrutinize and sometimes challenge the specifics of defense-budget proposals offered by the Pentagon and other parts of the executive branch. It’s called democracy—and separation of powers—and it’s healthy for our country.

Sometimes it is wise to cut spending on certain weapons. As Dick Cheney showed when he was secretary of defense during the post-Cold War drawdown and proposed canceling many good weapons systems because we already had enough of them or could make do without them: The only way to cut the defense budget is to cut the defense budget.

More recently, when campaigning for the presidency in 1999, then-Gov. George W. Bush gave a speech at the Citadel in which he called for us to “skip a generation” of weapons systems. Unless Mr. Bush didn’t really mean what he said, that expression suggested canceling certain types of arms. In fact, as president, Mr. Bush has, among other things, canceled (correctly, in my view) the Army’s Crusader howitzer and Comanche helicopter as well as the Navy’s lower-tier missile defense system.

Mr. Kerry’s current defense plan clearly endorses the same continued increase in military spending that the Bush administration plans. Mr. Kerry would spend more on soldiers and less on missile defense, but the overall commitment of the two to the nation’s security as measured in dollar terms is similar, if not identical.

There is a lot to debate in this campaign, and there are plenty of real differences between the candidates. Let’s get on with the important debates and get away from the silliness.