Vietnam service hijacks presidential debate

Many months ago I watched a Fox News show that predicted the issues of the Iraq war, the economy and, to a lesser extent, health care as the keys to this November’s presidential election. The diverse viewpoints of both candidates on these issues have the potential to foster some good debate within the nation. Unfortunately though, what we are witnessing is a back-and-forth barrage of attacks on each candidate’s military service during the Vietnam War. As a veteran myself, the differences in service during a divisive war that is several decades old is far less critical than casting a vote as a commentary on the past four years and the direction this nation is headed.

From the little coverage I have watched of the Vietnam veterans coming out in support of or against either candidate, I’m curious about their timing. I mean, after all, if Sen. John Kerry really did receive totally superficial injuries for which he was awarded Purple Hearts and was not a good leader, then why didn’t this information pervade his previous Senate races? It may be possible that some of this documentation has only surfaced now, but more likely these individuals are exploiting their own political views to sway the outcome of a decidedly close election. At the end of the day, no matter the truth of the allegations, both President Bush and Sen. Kerry were given honorable discharges from the military, and that is not debatable.

One thing this retrospective on the 1960s and 1970s has done is shifted the focus away from a largely unpopular war in Iraq. While there have been over 1,000 U.S. deaths in the Iraqi war, eerily the additional deaths are beginning to be as commonplace and numbing as hearing about another Israeli and Palestinian clash in the West Bank. The premise for going to war has morphed over time from Secretary of State Colin Powell holding up vials before the U.N. representing the danger of Saddam Hussein’s weapons and claiming an “imminent threat” to President Bush’s supposition that Saddam was a “bad man” and the world is safer without him. Unfortunately, if the new litmus test for pre-emptive military action is a case of a “bad man,” U.S. casualties will mount as we take war to the doorstep of numerous countries. The debate over the Iraq war needs to go much deeper than whether Sen. Kerry would do anything different now, but must focus on the approach to Iraq before the invasion. Asking Sen. Kerry what he would do differently today is akin (on a smaller scale) to asking an engineer after the collapse of the Crosstown Expressway section what he or she would do now. The answer may simply be that they would have taken a different approach to begin with.

In addition to the Iraq war, the economic numbers indicating a net job loss is a statistic the Bush administration is probably more than happy to see replaced on the network news by the endless Vietnam-era debate. It is true that the most recent months have seen positive numbers on the job-creation front, and it is debatable how much influence the president actually has on the economy, but let’s at least have the debate for the benefit of the American people.

For example, there is a stark difference between the taxation policies favored by both candidates. It’s apparent that the magnitude of taxes imposed upon income has a greater impact on the future of this nation than whether Sen. Kerry spent Christmas in Cambodia or who saw President Bush in the Alabama National Guard and when.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that while the presidential election in November may be a referendum on the Iraq war and the economy, the nation must muddle through a lot of surface crud to really evaluate the differences in the candidates. Perhaps with the upcoming presidential debates the American people will see the candidates keep the debate about the issues facing the nation today. But I won’t be holding my breath.

Aaron Hill is a junior majoring in chemistry.