YOU COULD LOOK IT UP. SO WHY DIDN'T THE TIMES? As Casey Stengel used to say, "You could look it up." Incredibly, the big-time national political reporters who help to define the presidential campaign all too often couldn't be bothered.
Today's example: the New York Times. A front-page story today by Richard Stevenson and Jodi Wilgoren on George W. Bush's defense of his Iraq policy claims that John Kerry has changed his explanation for why he voted against $87 billion in reconstruction money for Iraq and Afghanistan last year. They write:
In an apparent response to Mr. Cheney, Mr. Kerry also said he was "proud" that he and Mr. Edwards had voted against the administration's request for $87 billion to help finance military and reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan because "we knew the policy had to be changed." That was a new explanation by Mr. Kerry for a vote that has been a point of much contention during the campaign.
At the fund-raiser, Mr. Kerry also attacked the administration as unnecessarily sending young soldiers into harm's way, and he spoke about the votes he and Mr. Edwards cast last fall against the $87 billion.
"I'm proud to say that John joined me in voting against that $87 billion when we knew the policy had to be changed, we had to get it right, we needed other countries involved, we needed to reach out to our allies, we needed to put other boots on the ground," Mr. Kerry said.
Earlier, Mr. Kerry had said he voted against the bill because he thought the war and reconstruction should be financed by rolling back part of the Bush administration's tax cuts. That, he explained, was why he had voted for the $87 billion appropriation when it included an amendment demanding that the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans be reversed, then against it once that provision was stripped. His explanation has been mocked as a flip-flop by Republicans and featured in their campaign commercials.
So there you have it: Republican talking points dressed up and trotted out as serious political analysis. Kerry's a flip-flopper! But wait - here is what Kerry said at a Democratic debate on October 26 of last year, according to the Boston Globe's Patrick Healy and Anne Kornblut:
Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, who has suffered intense criticism for his seemingly ambiguous position on Iraq, sought to present a clear explanation for his decision to authorize military force but later oppose the $87 billion proposal to pay for the war's aftermath. "It is absolutely consistent, because what I voted for was to hold Saddam Hussein accountable, but to do it right," Kerry said. "This president has done it wrong every step of the way." He ridiculed Bush's efforts to internationalize the war as a "fraudulent coalition."
And check out what Noelle Straub wrote in the Boston Herald last October 17:
Presidential hopeful Sen. John F. Kerry said he opposed the funding because he believes Bush has not put forward an adequate plan to protect troops and bring in other nations to help and because the money comes at the expense of domestic priorities.
"We need to stand up to this president," Kerry (D-Mass.) said. "They've already proven they can't be trusted, they've already proven that they're willing to mislead, and this particular plan for $87 billion is top down, starting with Halliburton and the other great friends of the president."
Is it true that Kerry supported an amendment to fund the $87 billion by rolling back tax cuts for the rich? Yes. But the Times tag team of Stevenson and Wilgoren makes it sound like that was Kerry's only reason for opposing the $87 billion.
Kerry deserves to be whacked for failing to explain himself clearly, and for that ridiculous clip in which he says that he actually voted for the $87 billion before he voted against it. But Stevenson and Wilgoren are taking dictation from the Bush-Cheney campaign, claiming that Kerry has flip-flopped on his reasons for opposing the $87 billion even though he's actually been a model of consistency.
By the way, Media Log thinks Kerry got it wrong twice: he should have voted against authorizing Bush to go to war, but then he should have voted in favor of the $87 billion. But this isn't about anyone's opinion - this is about getting it right.