WASHINGTON, D.C., Oct. 31, 2006 -- For weeks, Republicans on the campaign trail have been looking for something -- anything -- to talk about other than the record of the Republican Congress and the way the Bush administration has conducted the war in Iraq.
Monday, they got their wish. While stumping for local Democrats in California, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., addressed students at Pasadena City College and made a comment about education and the war in Iraq that lent itself to much controversy.
"You know education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. And if you don't, you get stuck in Iraq," he said.
It was a rhetorical gift for the embattled Republican Party, which is eager to run against Kerry again. The White House, in an unusual move, notified the media ahead of time that the president would address Kerry's comment in remarks at today's campaign rally in Georgia.
The Kerry kerfuffle is a prototype for controversies of the new media age. "Thanks to the Internet, all life is on the record now," observed Jeff Jarvis, a journalism professor at the City University of New York. "Everything a politician says and does is public and the world can see in a second. … that's life now."
After Kerry's remarks were mentioned on the Web sites of local newspapers, including the Whittier Daily News, the video popped up on YouTube and conservative blogs like Newsbusters.org, and then talk radio seized on them.
Though, as opposed to 2004, it didn't take Kerry weeks to respond to attacks against him. Shortly before noon Tuesday, Kerry, a Vietnam veteran, responded, insisting in a statement that he had not belittled the intelligence of soldiers serving in Iraq, but rather that of "the president who got us stuck there."
But it may have been too late. The train had left the station.
"I believe Sen. Kerry owes an apology to many thousands of Americans serving in Iraq, who answered their country's call," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., campaigning in Indiana.
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh said, "It tells us what John Kerry himself and the Democratic Party think about the troops and the U.S. military."
By the time Kerry got to a microphone in Seattle this afternoon to explain what he called a botched joke about the president, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Americans, had already heard about it and Republican candidates were talking about it.
"It disgusts me that a bunch of these Republican hacks who have never worn the uniform of our country are willing to lie about those who did," Kerry added.
What's unclear is if Kerry's comments will help rally Republican voters or help their party portray Democrats as against the troops to score victories next Tuesday. A Democratic congressman told ABC News Tuesday, "I guess Kerry wasn't content blowing 2004, now he wants to blow 2006, too."