As a former Presidential candidate now long out of politics, Bob Kerrey has become the unleashed id of the current Democratic candidates for President.
In response to Rudy Giuliani’s recent remarks doubting the ability of Democrats to keep America safe from terrorism, the Vietnam veteran and former Navy SEAL questioned whether the former Mayor is himself qualified for the job.
“It’s an outrageous statement,” Mr. Kerrey said about Mr. Giuliani’s assertion that a Democratic President would make the country more vulnerable to a similar terrorist attack. “His record of preparing New York between World Trade Center attack No. 1 and attack No. 2—it wasn’t exemplary.”
Far from it, argued Mr. Kerrey in an interview. The former Nebraska governor and then Senator said that he thinks Mr. Giuliani showed solid leadership in the hours and days after the attack, but he just won’t stand for the idea that Republicans—and especially President Bush—did a better job than Democrats at keeping danger at bay.
“When he turned and said to Bernie Kerik, ‘Thank God George Bush is President,’” said Mr. Kerrey, echoing one of Mr. Giuliani’s favorite (but now retired) 9/11 anecdotes. “What he should have said was, ‘Why the fuck didn’t George Bush call us and tell us this was going to happen?’ That was a more appropriate response.”
Not exactly the stuff you heard from the Democratic presidential candidates at the debate in South Carolina. But not far, one supposes, from what the candidates are actually thinking, either.
Mr. Giuliani’s campaign declined to respond to Mr. Kerrey’s remarks.
Mr. Kerrey, who lost part of his leg in Vietnam and was one of the most vocal Democratic boosters of the war in Iraq, has never been accused of shyness. He arrived in New York in 2001 to take over the New School, bringing with him a Senatorial mane of greying hair, a reputation for dating movie stars and a whiff of Mayoral ambition.
Mr. Kerrey’s most public duties these days usually tend towards the ceremonial: introducing Bill Clinton at the annual Parsons Fashion Benefit and Fashion Show, as he did on Monday night, or debating angry liberal teenagers upset about his invitations to John McCain and Newt Gingrich to speak at New School forums.
But he is by no means disengaged from politics.
Asked to rate the foreign-policy platforms of the various Democratic candidates, he was unflinching.
Joe Biden, he says, is the most serious thinker on Iraq, even though his plan smacks too much of micromanaging. Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd and Governor Bill Richardson are likewise in the top tier of foreign policy.
Barack Obama lacks experience, but is uniquely equipped, given his Muslim heritage, Christian faith and peripatetic childhood, to face the foreign-policy challenges of the 21st century.
John Edwards has made strides in foreign policy since he last ran for President, though he is still stronger on domestic issues.
Mr. Kerrey, who sat as the highest-ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, also has some specific criticisms of their plans for dealing with Iraq.
He thinks, for example, that Mrs. Clinton’s plan, which maintains funding for American troops but threatens to slash money for the American-trained Iraqi security forces, is misguided.
“I think we have under-funded the Iraqi military,” said Mr. Kerrey. “They don’t have enough helicopters; they don’t have enough of the basic necessities to confront an enemy, either domestic or foreign. So the idea that we are going to provide them an incentive by cutting back on their military—I don’t understand that.”
Worse, said Mr. Kerrey, is that such a move would help America’s enemy in the region.
“Iran will step into the breach,” he said. “If we don’t want to be Iraq’s ally, there are a lot of people in the region who we don’t like who will be willing to fill the gap.”