White House spokesman lashes out at Kerry's remark on education and Iraq

Tuesday, October 31st 2006, 2:03 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The White House accused Sen. John Kerry on Tuesday of troop-bashing, seizing on a comment the Democrat made to California students that those unable to navigate the country's education system ``get stuck in Iraq.''

``Senator Kerry not only owes an apology to those who are serving, but also to the families of those who've given their lives in this,'' White House press secretary Tony Snow said. ``This is an absolute insult.''

Kerry, a decorated Vietnam veteran and President Bush's 2004 rival, fired back.

He said he had been criticizing Bush, not the ``heroes serving in Iraq,'' and said the president and his administration are the ones who owe U.S. troops an apology because they ``misled America into war and have given us a Katrina foreign policy that has betrayed our ideals, killed and maimed our soldiers, and widened the terrorist threat instead of defeating it.''

``This is the classic GOP playbook,'' Kerry said in a harshly worded statement. ``I'm sick and tired of these despicable Republican attacks that always seem to come from those who never can be found to serve in war, but love to attack those who did. I'm not going to be lectured by a stuffed suit White House mouthpiece standing behind a podium.''

One week before the midterm elections, the two parties are searching for any edge amid indications Democrats could take back the House and possibly win control of the Senate.

Snow was asked about the comment which Kerry made during a campaign rally Monday for California Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides. The White House spokesman was clearly ready, consulting his notes to read a fuller account of Kerry's statement and unleashing a sharp attack.

Separately, the White House issued President Bush's Veterans' Day proclamation praising those who have served in the armed forces _ a week and a half before the holiday.

The Massachusetts senator, who is considering another presidential run in 2008, had opened his speech at Pasadena City College with several one-liners, joking at one point that Bush had lived in Texas but now ``lives in a state of denial.''

Then he said: ``You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq.''

Snow said the quote ``fits a pattern'' of negative remarks from Kerry about U.S. soldiers and suggested that whether Democratic candidates _ particularly those running on their military service backgrounds _ agree with their 2004 standard-bearer should be a campaign litmus test.

Unsubstantiated allegations about Kerry's Vietnam War heroism from a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth figured prominently in the 2004 Kerry-Bush race. Even Kerry has blamed his slow and uncertain response to the group's claims for helping doom his White House chances.

Snow said a lot of Americans have joined the military since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

``As for the notion that you can say this sort of thing about the troops and say you support them, it's interesting,'' the press secretary said.

A potential rival to Kerry in 2008 _ Republican Sen. John McCain _ said in a statement that Kerry ``owes an apology to the many thousands of Americans serving in Iraq, who answered their country's call because they are patriots and not because of any deficiencies in their education.''

Like Kerry, McCain is a decorated Vietnam veteran.

House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, also called on Kerry to apologize, labeling his comments ``disrespectful and insulting to the men and women serving in our military.''