Kerry: I won't let them Swift-boat me again

The senator says John McCain should be asking Bush and Cheney for apologies.

Published October 31, 2006 9:47PM (EST)

At a press conference in Seattle this afternoon, John Kerry said -- and showed -- that he's learned a thing or two since he was Swift-boated out of the presidency in 2004. Pushing back hard against GOP criticism of words he uttered in Southern California Monday, Kerry said that he's learned a lesson "deep and hard": A Democrat can never give "one ounce of daylight" to Republicans who want to "spread their lies."

Kerry said that he "botched" a "joke" when he said Monday that "if you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well," but that if you don't "you get stuck in Iraq." But he insisted that the White House and its Republican allies knew full well what he meant: Not that members of the U.S. military are stupid or uneducated, but that the president and his people might be.

"This president and his administration didn't do their homework," Kerry said. "They didn't study what would happen in Iraq. They didn't study and listen to the people who were the experts and would have told them. And they know that's what I was talking about yesterday."

Kerry was just getting started.

"I think Americans are sick and tired of this game. These Republicans are afraid to stand up and debate a real veteran on this topic. And they're afraid to debate -- you know, they want to debate strawmen because they're afraid to debate real men. Well, we're going to have a real debate in this country about this policy. The bottom line is: These Republicans want to distort this policy. And, this time, it won't work because we are going to stay in their face with the truth. No Democrat is going to be bullied by these people, by these kinds of attacks that have no place in American politics. It's time to set our policy correct. They have a stand-still-and-lose policy in Iraq, and they have a cut-and-run policy in Afghanistan. And the fact is, our troops, who have served heroically, who deserve better, deserve leadership that is up to their sacrifice -- period."

Asked about John McCain's criticisms of his remarks, Kerry said that McCain knows what he really meant. "John McCain ought to ask for an apology from Dick Cheney for misleading America," he said. "He ought to ask for an apology from the president for lying about the nuclear program in Africa. He ought to ask for an apology for once again a week ago referring to al-Qaida as being the central problem in Iraq, when al-Qaida is not the central problem. Enough is enough. I'm not going to stand for these people trying to shift the topic and make it politics. America deserves a real discussion about real policy. And that's what this election is going to be about next Tuesday."

Minutes after Kerry's staff circulated a transcript of his press conference, the Republican National Committee responded with a blast e-mail under its "America Weakly" banner. The headline: "Kerry Apologizes to No One: 2004 Dem Presidential Nominee John Kerry Refuses to Apologize for Belittling U.S. Troops."

By Tim Grieve

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

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2006 Elections Dick Cheney George W. Bush Iraq War John F. Kerry D-mass. John Mccain