Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has become firmly entrenched in the battle over his service in Vietnam.  And however much truth exists in the claims of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, their presence is certainly having an impact in this campaign season.  Kerry has brought a counterattack, and has sought President Bush’s help to exfiltrate him out of this fight, but the Swift vets show little signs of quitting.

But as Jeff Jacoby points out in today’s Boston Globe, the Kerry campaign has largely brought this confrontation upon itself.

“He was the one who made his long-ago stint in Vietnam the centerpiece of his campaign for president,” Jacoby writes. “He’s the one whose running mate urges voters to take Kerry’s measure by spending ‘three minutes with the men who served with him 30 years ago.’ He’s the one whose campaign ads dwell on his combat heroics. He’s the one who has repeatedly played the Vietnam card against critics and opponents. And he’s the one who challenged anyone ‘who wants to have a debate about our service in Vietnam to bring it on.'”

With every haughty salute, every reflection to the Vietnam days, and every military metaphor coordinated at the Democratic convention a few weeks ago, Kerry’s campaign made this controversy perhaps more inevitable.  After all, it’s not like the Swift vets just popped out of the woodwork.  They have been shouting against Kerry for as long as he’s been the presumptive nominee for presidential candidate — but for several months no one was listening.

Perhaps the Kerry team thought they could drawn out the voices of this band of rogue brothers, but once the vets’ first advertisement began receiving media attention, Kerry’s big selling point became his biggest controversy.  Now, he must not only convince voters that he hasn’t inflated his service on the Swift boats, but he also has to come face to face with the impassioned anti-war stance he took after his tour.  The latter may be even more difficult obstacle to overcome.

Jacoby continues, “He came to prominence as a radical opponent of the war in Vietnam, yet now he runs for president on the strength of his service in that war. He portrayed the men who fought there as unspeakable savages, yet now he surrounds himself with Vietnam vets at every turn. He lent respectability to those who demanded that America cut and run, that it abandon a beleaguered ally, that it drop ‘the mystical war against communism.’ Yet now he insists that he would be a tough and vigilant commander-in-chief, one who would never disrespect allies, one in whose hands the security of the United States would be safe.”

It is extremely unfortunate that we must be having this discussion about a war of the past — there are far too many important issues on the table, chief among them our current war against terrorism.  But since Kerry placed the crosshairs on his record in Vietnam, he will have to be the one to shift the turrets back toward election issues.

Cal Thomas writes in his column today, “It would be nice if Republicans and Democrats elevated their criticism to this higher level. It might also get more people interested in, instead of turned off by, the political process by which we elect a president. Democrats can’t credibly complain of a bloody nose when they threw the first punch.”

American people deserve to hear constructive debate from our presidential candidates on how they intend to protect and promote United States interests and welfare during the next four years.  But neither can the Swift vets and their accusations just be brushed under the rug.