Max at Maxspeak is fed up with all the talk of Kerry’s and Bush’s military records. “The comparison is simple: Kerry went into combat, Bush didn’t. All the rest is a massive distraction from what the election ought to be about,” namely a referendum on which candidate is better able to handle Iraq, terrorism, and the economy. “Wallowing in details only serves those who would like you to not talk about the issues above,” he grumbles. “It’s a losing battle. Floating lies is costless. Documenting their falsity exhausts resources. You don’t have to argue with hacks and idiots. Their function is to absorb your attention, because it could be deployed to better effect elsewhere.”

OxBlog’s David Adesnik has the same feeling about the controversy over whether Kerry actually spent Christmas 1968 in Cambodia. He writes, “The whole thing seems pretty pointless.” Sounding an awfully lot like Max, minus the politics, he suggests, “I think conservatives would gain more ground by hitting Kerry on actual issues that matter.”

Instapundit, by contrast, is one conservative who is frustrated over the lack of attention the Cambodia charge is getting from the press. He searched both the New York Times and Washington Post websites and found nothing. With the Kerry campaign backing away from Kerry’s initial statement, Instapundit notes, “the Post did find the time to condemn the Swift Boat vets, though, without admitting that one of their charges has already been borne out.” The campaign press, he concludes, is “spending another chunk of their diminishing credibility to help this guy. Hope they still think it was worth it in a few years.”

Digby over at Hullabaloo also thinks the attacks on Kerry are hogwash. It’s a “slick smear,” says Digby, because “[a]ll these right wing vets get filmed saying ‘he’s unfit to be commander in chief’ without providing any details. They don’t say specifically why, but you are left with the clear impression that 200+ Vietnam vets think Kerry’s lying about his record at best and that he’s a coward at worst.” Digby suggests a way to counteract the slurs, “I think the way to frame this issue is that these men are smearing the United States Military by saying that all those glowing reports and medal recommendations were lies.” He continues, “I think, if pressed, they may want to explain that when they say he’s ‘unfit,’ they are talking about Kerry’s antiwar activity, not his combat experience.”

Jim Geraghty of the National Review’s Kerry Spot suggests the same proposition, that it is because of Kerry’s antiwar activities at home, not because of his actions under fire in Vietnam, that “the men of the Swift Boat Vets for Truth developed strong opinions about him. He was trashing their reputations. He was calling them war criminals.” In the end, Geraghty opines, “Positive first impressions are washed away, and a portrait of an incompetent, lying, dishonorable man remains.” However, Geraghty writes, “[T]he reverse is also a possibility — that the men who stand so close and so proud to Kerry now have changed their opinion of him in light of who he has become today….For a man who kept you alive in a war zone, would you forget his mistakes and amplify his triumphs, to give your old friend the help he needs at the moment he needs it?”

Campaign Desk can’t help but side with MaxSpeak and Oxblog on this one. This election is, or ought to be, about big issues, not about whether John Kerry spent Christmas of 1968 sitting under a tree in Vietnam — or sitting under a different tree 100 yards away in Cambodia.

Thomas Lang

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Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.