Zell Miller's Attack on Kerry: A Little Out Of Date
September 3, 2004
Updated: October 4, 2004
Miller slams Kerry for opposing bombers, fighters, and helicopters. That WAS true 20 years ago but not lately.
Sen. Zell Miller, the Georgia Democrat who delivered the Republican National Convention's keynote address Sept. 1, said Kerry "opposed" weapons including the B-1, B-2, F-14, F-15, and Apache helicopters. "This is the man who wants to be the Commander in Chief of our US Armed Forces?" Miller exclaimed. "Armed with what? Spitballs?"
Miller said "Americans need to know the facts" about Kerry's record, but his applause-getting recital is a decade or so out of date. Kerry did oppose all the weapons Miller cited when he was a candidate for the Senate in 1984, and did vote against the B-2 bomber, Trident nuclear subs and "star wars" anti-missile system more than a decade ago. Kerry also voted in three different years against the entire Pentagon budget.
But in his nearly 20 years in office Kerry's record has evolved. Kerry hasn't opposed an annual Pentagon appropriation since 1996. And he's voted for them far more often than against them.
This is a Republican line of attack that we first took on back in February. Nothing much has changed. Miller was a bit more careful in his wording than some previous Republican critics, and avoided saying anything factually incorrect.
Kerry the 1984 Candidate
Miller didn't say that Kerry voted against the weapons on the list he rattled off, only that he opposed them. And indeed Kerry did, in 1984, as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for Senate from Massachusetts.
All the weapons cited by Miller are listed in a memo from the 1984 Kerry campaign, which we posted along with our Feb. 26 article on Republican distortions of Kerry's defense record. In that 1984 memo Kerry called for "cancellation" of the very weapons Miller cited.
Kerry the Senator
Once elected, however, Kerry's voting record evolved. He did cast votes more than a decade ago against the B-2 Stealth Bomber in 1989, 1991 and 1992. But by 1992 even President Bush (the current incumbent's father) was calling for cancellation of the B-2 and promising to cut military spending by 30% in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was no secret -- Bush did that in his 1992 State of the Union address. But Miller left out that little detail.
Miller did avoid some earlier Republican excesses, as when Miller's fellow Georgia senator, Republican Saxby Chambliss, told reporters on Feb. 21 in a Bush campaign conference call with reporters that Kerry had a "a 32-year history of voting to cut defense programs and cut defense systems." Since Kerry has only been in Congress for just under 20 years, the Chambliss statement was an impossibility. Republicans have also accused Kerry of voting against more mainstream weapons including the M-1 Abrams tank and the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, but have been unable to cite any specific votes against those weapons. The best they can do is point to occasional votes Kerry cast against the entire Pentagon budget, which hardly constitutes opposition to any specific weapon.
Kerry voted against the entire Pentagon appropriations bills in 1990 and 1995. Kerry also voted against the Pentagon authorization bills (which provide authority to spend but not the actual money) in those years and also in 1996. However, he hasn't opposed an annual Pentagon appropriation since then, nor did he do so in 16 of his 19 years in office. So by the Republicans' own measuring stick, Kerry voted for the weapons they list far more often than he voted against them.
From "Stupid" to "Responsible"
Kerry himself conceded that some of the positions he took 20 years ago were "ill-advised, and I think some of them are stupid in the context of the world we find ourselves in right now and the things that I've learned since then." That was in an interview published in June, 2003 in the Boston Globe. "I mean, you learn as you go in life," Kerry was quoted as saying. He added that his subsequent Senate voting record on defense has been "pretty responsible."
Other Misleading Remarks
Note: This isn't the only misleading claim made at the Republican convention. Miller falsely claimed "Kerry has made it clear that he would use military force only if approved by the United Nations," when in fact Kerry has said no such thing.
(Update, Sept. 10: It has been pointed out to us that Kerry DID once say such a thing -- more than 30 years ago. He was running in 1970 for the House of Representatives as an anti-war candidate. He was quoted in the Harvard Crimson as saying, "I'm an internationalist. I'd like to see our troops dispersed through the world only at the directive of the United Nations." He lost that election.)
And New York Gov. George Pataki made a similarly misleading statement Sept. 2 when he implied that Kerry would "just wait for the next attack" before using military force to defend the US.
What Kerry really said -- in his own acceptance speech -- is this: "I will never hesitate to use force when it is required. Any attack will be met with a swift and certain response. I will never give any nation or international institution a veto over our national security." That's the opposite of what Miller said Kerry "made clear."
But we'll leave those other distortions for another day.
Zell Miller, "US Sen. Zell Miller delivers remarks at the Republican National Convention," Federal Document Clearing House, FDCH Political Transcripts, 1 Sep 2004.
Samuel Z. Goldhaber, Harvard Crimson, "John Kerry: A Navy Dove Runs for Congress," 18 Feb. 1970.
(For other sources see our Feb. 26 article)
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