Bush Campaign Lies
Friday, April 23, 2004
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:
- 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.
- 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'.
- 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'.
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:
- At least 10 of them concerned legislation which merely reduced or limited funding for SDI --- and in one instance, Kerry voted against the limit.
- One vote was on an amendment Kerry authored which would have shifted $400 million from SDI to programs to treat drug abuse, prevent breast cancer, and fund health care for veterans.
- One was a general deficit-reduction bill which contained many other items besides SDI. Kerry supported this bill, as did Republicans by a margin of 34-9.
- One other bill Kerry voted for was also overwhelmingly supported by Republicans (by a margin of 36-4).
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.
- Senate vote #157, 2nd session of the 104th Congress: Kerry voted against the 'Defend America Act' of 1996. There is no indication why he voted this way, but it's reasonable to assume he opposed the act because it emphasized space-based weapons systems and allowed the possibility of U.S. withdrawal from the ABM treaty. When a similar resolution came along in 1999 without those provisions, Kerry supported it.
- Senate vote #168, 1st session of the 102nd Congress: This was an amendment written by Al Gore, which would have shifted the focus of U.S. missile defense away from so-called 'brilliant pebbles' (space-based, SDI-type defense) to 'provide highly effective surface-based theater missile defenses (TMD) to United States forward-deployed and expeditionary armed forces and to our friends and allies' (emphasis mine). Gore also took care to require that the resulting system be 'ABM-treaty compliant'. Kerry voted for this amendment, yet the Republicans cite it as one of Kerry's votes against missile defense.
- Senate vote #131, 2nd session of the 105th Congress: Kerry opposed ending a filibuster of the American Missile Protection Act of 1998, and in a floor speech, gave his reasons why. He pointed out that the government had already invested billions of dollars in theater missile defense systems, and that even those more limited efforts were far from successful. He therefore opposed spending even more money --- $30 to $60 billion --- on long-range missile defense systems. In essence, he argued that we must walk before we run, and that an attempt to do otherwise would be a waste of money:
"Let me reiterate, Mr. President, that the choice the Senate will make today is not about whether we should make a Herculean effort to develop anti-missile technology. We are doing that and spending multi-billions of dollars to do it as rapidly and well as our best minds can do so. The vote today will not alter that mission or our commitment to it.A vote against a missile defense bill, yes; a vote against missile defense, no.
The vote today is about whether--at a time before a real ballistic missile threat from sources other than Russia and China exists, at a time before we perfect the anti-missile technology on which we have been energetically working for years so that we know it is ready to be deployed--we will make a national commitment of scores of billions of dollars to field the nonexistent system against nonexistent threats.
That, Mr. President, would be an unwise decision of great magnitude, particularly at a time when we face very real threats to our national security and when we are struggling to provide the resources to ensure our military and intelligence capabilities are both appropriate and adequate to address those threats."
- Senate vote #178, 2nd session of the 106th Congress: This is really the clincher, as far as I'm concerned. In item (2) above and elsewhere, Kerry is quoted as saying he supports effective defense against ballistic missiles. This is a large part of the reason he opposed the legislation mentioned in the previous bullet: he thought our defense dollars were better spent elsewhere. Kerry is so concerned that our tax dollars are spent wisely, in fact, that in 2000 he supported an amendment which would 'provide for operationally realistic testing of National Missile Defense systems against countermeasures; and to establish an independent panel to review the testing'. There's not much point in paying for a missile defense system if it doesn't work, right? Well, the Republicans count this vote as the final evidence that Kerry has opposed missile defense --- and the Republicans in the Senate saw that this amendment was tabled (every single Democrat voted against tabling it).
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.