Which brings us to John Kerry. What is his unique truth? In 1986, on the floor of the United States Senate, he said:
'I remember Christmas of 1968, sitting on a gunboat in Cambodia. I remember what it was like to be shot at by the Vietnamese and the Khmer Rouge and Cambodians, and the president of the United States telling the American people that I was not there, the troops were not in Cambodia. I have that memory, which is seared -- seared -- in me.' (emphasis added)
Though the seared senator peddled this searing memory for a quarter-century, it had evidently been seared into him pretty haphazardly. It turns out at Christmas 1968 he wasn't in Cambodia but was instead 55 miles away at Sa Dec, South Vietnam. So the Kerry campaign's begun riffling hurriedly through its Sears Rowback catalog for more or less watertight back-pedaling of the story: They now say that ''many times he was on or near the Cambodian border,'' which is true in the sense that 80 percent of Canadians live on or near the American border. But most folks in Vancouver don't claim to be living in the Greater Seattle area.
Earlier, senior Kerry spokesman Michael Meehan told ABC News: ''The Mekong Delta consists of the border between Cambodia and Vietnam, so on Christmas Eve in 1968, he was in fact on patrol ... in the Mekong Delta between Cambodia and Vietnam.'' For a crowd of ostentatious multilateralists, they can't seem to hold the map the right way up: The Mekong River isn't the border between Cambodia and Vietnam; it cuts through the heart of Cambodia and then runs through Vietnam to the sea.
But this question isn't about geographical degrees of latitude so much as psychological ones. Here's the real reason Lt. Kerry wasn't spending Dec. 24, 1968, on a secret mission in Cambodia: On the previous day, Dec. 23, the U.S. government finally secured the release, after a five-month diplomatic stand-off, of 11 Americans whose U.S. Army utility landing craft had made a navigational error and strayed into Cambodian waters. Prince Sihanouk had rejected U.S. apologies and threatened to try the men under Cambodian law. It's unlikely, 24 hours after their release, anyone in Washington was thinking, ''Hey, we need to send that hotshot Kerry in there.''
So what are we to make of Sen. Kerry's self-seared 30-year-old false memory of Christmas in Cambodia with its vast accumulation of precise details? Of being shot at by the Khmer Rouge (unlikely in 1968) and of South Vietnamese troops drunkenly celebrating Christmas (as only devout Buddhists know how)?
It's not about dates and places. For Kerry, his Yuletide mission was an epiphany: the moment when he realized his government was lying to the people about what was going on. This is the turning point, the moment that set the young Kerry on the path from brave young war volunteer to fierce anti-war activist.
And it turns out it's total bunk.
Thirty-five years on, having no appealing campaign themes, the senator decides to run for president on his biography. But for the last 20 years he's been a legislative non-entity. Before that, he was accusing his brave band of brothers of mutilation, rape and torture. He spent his early life at Swiss finishing school and his later life living off his wife's inheritance from her first husband. So, biography-wise, that leaves four months in Vietnam, which he talks about non-stop. That 1986 Senate speech is typical: It was supposed to be about Reagan policy in Central America, but like so many Kerry speeches and interviews somehow it winds up with yet another self-aggrandizing trip down memory lane.
... on the swift vets' first major allegation -- Christmas in Cambodia -- the Kerry campaign has caved.