Kerry Apologizes for “Botched Joke” on Iraq
Kerry said his remarks about Iraq troops to a college crowd in California were aimed at Bush, not the military, and canceled campaign appearances on behalf of Democratic candidates to avoid becoming a bigger distraction.
Wednesday, November 1, 2006
Kerry apologises for ‘botched joke’
01/11/2006 – 17:27:52
Former US Presidential candidate Democratic Sen John Kerry today apologised for “a botched joke” about President George Bush’s Iraq policies that led Bush and fellow Republicans to accuse him of insulting US troops.
Even some Democrats assailed Kerry, who had some campaign appearances cancelled today.
“Of course I’m sorry about a botched joke. You think I love botched jokes?” Kerry said during an appearance on Don Imus’ nationally-syndicated radio programme. “I mean, you know, it’s pretty stupid.”
Kerry said he meant no offence to troops. “You cannot get into the military today if you do badly in school,” he said. But he said the White House was purposely twisting his words, and asserted that it is Bush who owes troops an apology for a misguided war in Iraq.
“I’m sorry that that’s happened,” he said of his comment. “But I’m not going to stand back from the reality here, which is, they’re trying to change the subject. It’s their campaign of smear and fear.”
At issue is Kerry’s speech to a group of California students on Monday, when he said people who do not study hard and do their homework would likely “get stuck in Iraq”.
Kerry aides said he mangled the delivery of a line aimed at Bush which was written to say: “You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq.”
But Republicans seized on it as evidence of troop-bashing by the Democratic Party’s 2004 presidential nominee. The Republican National Committee released a Web ad, to be e-mailed to Republican activists and state party officials, called Apologise.
“If it was a botched joke, someone show me the punch line. I don’t see how it was funny,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said. “I don’t know how … anybody could have taken them any other way.”
The fiery exchange evoked memories of Bush and Kerry’s bitter 2004 race for the White House, and injected last-minute fireworks into a taut race between Republicans trying to cling to control of Congress in the November 7 elections and Democrats striving to win it back.
With each party looking for any advantage in a campaign expected to turn in large measure on the unpopular war in Iraq, some Democrats joined Republicans in calling on Kerry to apologise.
“Whatever the intent, Senator Kerry was wrong to say what he said,” said Democratic Congressman Harold Ford Jr., running for the Senate in Tennessee.
“Sen Kerry’s remarks were poorly worded and just plain stupid,” said Montana Senate President Jon Tester, a Democrat trying to unseat Republican Sen. Conrad Burns. “He owes our troops and their families an apology.”
“I’m sorry he did what he did. But I think the issue … we want to make sure it doesn’t confuse the subject of the war in Iraq,” Democratic Congressman Ben Cardin, running for Senate in Maryland, said on CNN.
A spokesman for Democratic congressional candidate Bruce Braley in Iowa said Braley had decided independently to cancel an event with Kerry scheduled for Thursday. Braley, who is running against Republican Mike Whalen, said in a statement that the White House and Kerry should stop bickering and focus on how to change course in Iraq.
Meredith Salsbery, a spokeswoman for congressional candidate Tim Walz, said Kerry made the final decision but acknowledged campaign officials were worried that the controversy would distract from his effort to unseat incumbent Republican Congressman Gil Gutknecht.
Kerry spokesman David Wade confirmed Kerry no longer would appear at a Philadelphia rally today for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bob Casey.
“We made a decision not to allow the Republican hate machine to use Democratic candidates as proxies in their distorted spin war,” Wade said.
Kerry, meanwhile, sought frantically to contain the damage – to his party in next week’s elections and his own potential repeat run for the White House in 2008. He and some Democrats viewed the fracas as a key test of a lesson learned in the 2004 race – that he responded too slowly when hit with unsubstantiated allegations about his Vietnam war record from a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
Kerry’s office released a supportive statement from retired Lt. Gen Claudia Kennedy, the first female three-star general in the Army and a supporter of his 2004 bid against Bush. “When it comes to Iraq, he’s right to stand up against baseless attacks, and right to keep fighting for a better course for our troops and our country,” she said.
Sen Chuck Schumer, head of the Democratic campaign effort, called the White House attacks on Kerry an effort by Bush “to divert attention from his failed Iraq policy”.
“Instead of going on television attacking John Kerry and everyone else under the sun, the president ought to be sitting at his desk coming up with a plan for Iraq,” Schumer said.
The head of the Democratic party also downplayed Kerry’s remarks. “Kerry made a blooper. Bloopers happen,” Howard Dean told reporters in Burlington, Vermont.
Bush, campaigning in Georgia on Tuesday night, said Kerry’s statement was “insulting and it is shameful” hours after his spokesman, Tony Snow, unleashed a harsh attack on the Massachusetts senator.
Kerry responded yesterday with a harsh statement and in a hastily arranged news conference in Seattle: “I apologise to no one for my criticism of the president and of his broken policy.”
Republican Sen. John McCain said Wednesday he wasn’t sure “how you could construe” Kerry’s comment as a joke. Calling Kerry “my friend,” the Arizona Republican said: “I’ve found that if it is just a botched joke then apologise and move on.”