As Note readers know, Kerrey, a former Nebraska senator and current president of the New School University, served in Vietnam as a Navy SEAL. After losing part of his right leg when a grenade exploded at his feet, Kerrey returned to Nebraska where he ran a business, served as governor, and got elected to the Senate.
This Democrat knows how to handle a weapon, get elected in a very Red state, and, let's face it, he's perdy.
Kerrey's national security credentials go beyond his service in Vietnam. He was the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee and is a current member of the 9-11 commission. Last week, the Bush Administration thought highly enough of him to float his name as the kind of "nonpartisan statesman" they were seeking for the commission probing the failures of pre-war intelligence.
If DNC Chair Terry McAuliffe is savoring a national-security debate that features Kerry, with his "chest full of medals," squaring off against President Bush, just think about his glee in picturing Kerrey, a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, staring down Vice President Cheney.
It's not hard to imagine the man who said that then-nomination opponent Bill Clinton would be "opened up like a soft peanut" having the words "other priorities in the '60s than military service" come tripping off of his tongue.
In fact, Kerrey was making the AWOL charge about Cheney's running mate before the 2000 election, telling the Boston Globe's Walter V. Robinson: "If he is elected president, how will he be able to deal as commander in chief with someone who goes AWOL, when he did the same thing?"
What's more, as a deficit hawk and Concord Coalition co-chair, Kerrey also has the credentials to criticize the Administration for the rising tide of red ink and alleged failure to plan for the retirement of the baby boomers.
But there's also a personal dimension to the Kerrey pick.
As we have seen clearly in the last few months, the sometimes-aloof Kerry is more at ease in the company of his fellow veterans. After 12 years together in the Senate, Kerry and Kerrey share a personal friendship and have already stood together in trying times. And while Kerrey is compelling as a speaker, he will not overshadow his ticket-make's eloquence -- a potential problem with Sen. Edwards.
In 2001, when Kerrey revealed that he led a raid in 1969 that allegedly caused the deaths of 13 to 20 unarmed civilians, most of them women and children, Kerry marshaled the Senate's veterans in Kerrey's defense.
"He obviously feels anguish and pain about those events," Kerry said of his besieged colleague in a Senate floor speech in April of 2001. "But I don't believe they should diminish for one moment the full measure of what he has given to his country and of what he represents."
Is all this too good to be true?
Sure, there's plenty of oppo on Kerrey. When he ran for president in 1992 as the "health-care candidate," reports emerged that Kerrey did not provide health insurance for most of his restaurant and health club employees. His lack of focus on the campaign trail was legendary -- don't get us started on the movies in the back of the candidate's van. His failure to connect was widely panned.
More recently, as co-chair of a bipartisan commission on entitlement reform, Kerrey advocated a package of Social Security and Medicare reforms that could raise hackles on the left. The recent revelations about his Vietnam service could do the same.