I’m usually not one to get sucked into political nitpicking, but when the keynote speech at one of the most important political conventions in the last century is built on a blatant falsehood someone needs to step in with the real facts.
The crux of Zell Miller’s speech is that John Kerry is “weak” on defense and that during his term in the Senate he voted against and opposed many of the vehicles and weapons systems that are being used today in the war in Iraq. These claims have been levied against Kerry throughout most of 2004, and have been the subject of several political attack ads that have been airing since April, first by the Bush campaign itself and later by a pro-Bush 527 group called Progress for America. There has also been a chain e-mail going around with much of the same text as Zell Miller’s speech.
The ads cite three “nay” votes that Kerry made (S. 3189 (1990), H.R. 5803 (1990), and H.R. 2126 (1995)) against Department of Defense appropriations bills. These bills covered almost the entire defense budgets for their accompanying year, encompassing thousands of items and totaling billions of dollars - including everything from the cost of weapons research and maintenance to personnel expenses (salaries, medical benefits, tuition assistance, reenlistment bonuses), medical research, waste cleanup, base maintenance, and a whole host of other expenditures. A member of Congress can only vote on the entire bill, they can’t pick and choose specific items they want to approve or reject.
As a result of this, a vote against a wide-ranging spending bill is most certainly not a vote against a specific weapon. Would Zell Miller and Progress for America also like to argue that the esteemed Republican John McCain wants to “weaken our military”, since he voted against H.R. 2126 too? What these attacks also leave out is that these are the only Pentagon appropriations bills that Kerry voted against, he voted “yea” 16 other times. Using Miller’s logic, that would make Kerry a major supporter of the weapons systems named in the speech, not an opponent.
Furthermore, many of the weapons named in the speech were pegged for elimination by the administration of George H.W. Bush. Current Vice President Dick Cheney himself, in his capacity as Secretary of Defense at that time, testified before the House Armed Services Committee on August 13, 1989 that he had recommended canceling the Apache Helicopter program:
I recommended that we cancel the AH-64 program two years out. That would save $1.6 billion in procurement and $200 million in spares over the next five years.
Three years later Cheney complained before a Senate committee that he was being "forced" to spend money on unneeded weapons:
Congress has let me cancel a few programs. But you've squabbled and sometimes bickered and horse-traded and ended up forcing me to spend money on weapons that don't fill a vital need in these times of tight budgets and new requirements . . . You've directed me to buy more M-1s, F-14s, and F-16s — all great systems . . . but we have enough of them.
Even in the first President Bush’s State of the Union address in 1992, he declared that it was time to end funding for B-2 bombers and Trident missiles.
Before Zell Miller and George W. Bush decide to apply their twisted and false logic as to whom was “selling off our national security”, perhaps they should first look to the people that they are supporting for executive office before they attack someone else.