Losing 101

John Kerry finally lets the Navy release his military records. Why did he wait so long?

Published June 7, 2005 4:10PM (EDT)

For those who believe that John Kerry lost to George W. Bush because he didn't fire back fast or hard enough at the charges made by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, today's news brings a new load of bewilderment and consternation.

When the Swift Boat Veterans began slandering him for his service in Vietnam, Kerry put some of his Navy records up on his campaign Web site. But he didn't sign Standard Form 180, the document that would have allowed the Navy to release his entire military file to the press. In a "Meet the Press" appearance in January -- two months after the election was over -- Kerry vowed that he'd sign the form. When he didn't, the Republicans continued to hound him for it -- and, given his pledge to sign the form, not entirely without justification.

Well, Kerry finally signed Standard Form 180 on May 20, and the Boston Globe has now reviewed the documents the Navy produced as a result. The Globe's conclusion: An "earlier release" of the documents "might have helped" Kerry's campaign because they contain a "number of reports lauding his service" -- including commendations from some of the veterans who attacked him during the campaign -- and because releasing them could have put to rest suspicions that Kerry was hiding something.

That's not the way a losing presidential candidate thinks, however. In a written response to questions from the Globe, Kerry said he didn't release the records during the campaign precisely because the Swift Boat Veterans were making such a stink about them. "The call for me to sign a 180 form came from the same partisan operatives who were lying about my record on a daily basis on the Web and in the right-wing media," Kerry said. "Even though the media was discrediting them, they continued to lie. I felt strongly that we shouldn't kowtow to them and their attempts to drag their lies out."

Hindsight may be 20-20 and all that, but when you've got the ammunition to shoot down your opponents' claims, maybe -- just maybe -- it's a good idea to use it before the election is over.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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