Bush Campaign Lies

Friday, April 23, 2004

Bush Campaign Lie #37: Kerry Flip-Flop-Flipped On Ballistic Missile Defense 

Not only does this alleged Kerry flip-flop rely on a warped interpretation of Kerry's Senate voting record, as usual, but it is buttressed by the Republicans' conveniently presenting their 'evidence' out of chronological order, in order to make Kerry seem especially wishy-washy.

In sum, the Republican argument consists of three parts:

  1. A listing of 53 of Kerry's Senate votes from 1985 to 2000, together with the claim that these votes prove Kerry has a long record of opposing missile defense.
  2. A Kerry quote from 2004 stating that he supports 'the development of an effective defense against ballistic missiles that is deployed with maximum transparency and consultation with U.S. allies and other major powers'.
  3. Another Kerry quote from March 2003 which cites a Kerry advisor as saying that Kerry would defund Bush's National Missile Defense system because 'there is not proof of concept'.
Note that there really is no good reason to present (2) and (3) in that order, other than to embellish an already highly deceptive yarn.

But let's address the big money point: Kerry's Senate votes. To start with, ask yourself how much should be spent on missile defense? $1 billion? $10 billion? $100 billion? Should we spend all of our money on missile defense and nothing else? Or is there some reasonable upper limit?

Another question: What kind of missile defense should we build? Should it be Reagan's 'Star Wars' space-based system, or a ground-based system? Should it be focused on protecting us from all threats from all places at all times, or should it be focused on protecting fighting troops in a limited theater of conflict?

Reasonable people may answer these questions differently, and still be supporters of missile defense. Such is the case with Kerry. He opposes the weaponization of space, supports so-called 'theater' missile defense, supported the ABM treaty until Bush walked away from it, and places a more restrictive limit on defense spending than most Republicans. His Senate votes clearly support these conclusions. What they do not support is the idea that John Kerry has ever been an opponent of missile defense.

It is clear that the Republicans present 53 of Kerry's Senate votes in the hope that no one will bother to research them all. And in all fairness, I only researched 34 of them, since the online records only go back to 1989. However, it's safe to assume that all 19 of the votes I missed pertain to SDI (or are votes on large pieces of legislation, like Defense Authorization Acts), since they occurred during the Reagan administration. Kerry opposes weaponizing space, so these votes don't prove anything. Similarly, of the 34 remaining votes, 15 of them concern SDI in some manner, and of those:

Of the remaining 19 votes, one had nothing whatsoever to do with missile defense, and 5 were duplicates of other votes (an original Senate vote, and then a later vote on the conference report with the House). That leaves 13 votes to account for.

Of those, five were votes on large packages like the National Defense Authorization Act or the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, and not votes on missile defense per se. Four more were again limitations or reductions in funding. This leaves a total of four Senate votes which might reveal something meaningful about Kerry's stance on missile defense.

And they do --- but not that he's 'against' it, like the Republicans claim.

So after all of that, these votes seem to indicate that Kerry has always supported theater missile defense, opposed the weaponization of space, and is willing to support more broadly-scoped missile defense efforts provided they have a prayer in hell of bearing fruit. He has also shown that he supports the ABM treaty --- which Bush has since withdrawn from.

Has he flip-flopped? Well, a floor speech he gave in May 2001 reiterates all of these themes (except for the weaponization of space part). Is he correct to want to de-fund Bush's National Missile Defense system because it's ineffective? Well, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the American Physical Society certainly think so.

It's easy to throw billions of dollars at speculative missile defense programs, but it requires more discipline to advocate for a system which is actually effective. We should be applauding John Kerry for his efforts to make the best use of our tax dollars to provide the most effective defense of our country, rather than twisting his voting record to make it look like he flip-flopped.

10:09 PM