Kerry should be wary of dredging up past February 15, 2004 BY MARK STEYN SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST If you own a computer or listen to talk radio or read the British or Australian papers, you'll know that John Kerry is currently beset by rumors of interns. By the time you read this, it may be that America's genteel broadsheets and network news shows will have overcome their squeamishness and tiptoed gingerly down the path blazed by Drudge and Fleet Street, or it may be that they decide to investigate it a bit longer, just to get chapter and verse nailed down, which means you may not get to read about it till, oh, midway through President Kerry's second term. Now let me say that I've no idea whether there's anything to the alleged intern business but . . . what's the word Howard Dean uses when he's on NPR and he wants to air some conspiracy theory about whether Bush was tipped off in advance about 9/11? Ah, yes, ''interesting.'' It's an ''interesting'' story. And, if you think we should have concrete proof before we bring it up, then I take the line Wes Clark does when he's asked to substantiate the wild claim made at a Clark event about whether Bush is a ''deserter'' and Clark replies he has no proof Bush isn't a deserter. I've no proof Kerry isn't an adulterer. Nonetheless, while I enjoy ''the politics of personal destruction'' as much as the next chap, I've no desire to fight the 2004 election on anything as quaintly anachronistic as an intern scandal. That's so last millennium. On the other hand, so is Kerry droning on about Vietnam at every campaign stop and traveling the country with his own personal VFW detail. This year more than ever, the hack politician's laziest platitude is true: ''This election is about the future.'' Unfortunately, most politicians who say ''this election is about the future'' haven't given it a moment's thought. Say what you like about us right-wing war mongers, but after Sept. 11 we abandoned our long-cherished theories of realpolitik -- find your local strongman and shovel millions of dollars at him -- as inadequate, and indeed part of the problem. Sentimental liberal internationalism -- everything has to be done through the U.N., no matter how stinkingly corrupt and ineffectual it is -- is just as inadequate to the challenges of the age. Yet Kerry, John Edwards, Howard Dean and the rest of the left cling to it like a security blanket. Ask them anything about foreign policy, and they sing like the Von Trapp children, ''We need to get the U.N. in there.'' As Sam Goldwyn said, ''I'm sick of the old cliches. Bring me some new cliches.'' And few people are so in need of some new cliches as the Democratic Party. That's why they've wound up running on the twin planks of where Kerry was in the late '60s and where George W. Bush wasn't in the early '70s. You could hardly ask for a neater precis of the atrophied boomer heart of the Dems than their decision to fight the 2004 election on the oldies station slogan of ''Where were you in '72?'' In 2002, the Dems had no ideas and they ran on biography: In Missouri, Jean Carnahan was the brave widow of the late governor; in Georgia, Max Cleland was a Vietnam veteran and triple amputee; in Minnesota, Walter Mondale was the lion of the '84 campaign and a friend of Paul Wellstone. In all three cases the public shrugged and voted Republican. These are serious times and they demand politicians rise to them. Yet here we are two years later, and they're running on biography all over again. But this time their chosen biography is Vietnam, and for many Americans, and especially boomer Democrats, that's far more psychologically complicated. Look at Kerry's stump speech: ''We band of brothers,'' he says, indicating his fellow veterans. ''We're a little older, we're a little grayer, but we still know how to fight for this country.'' Thirty years ago, he came back from Vietnam and denounced his ''band of brothers'' as a gang of drug-fueled torturers, rapists and murderers. These versions are not reconcilable. When he was palling around with Jane Fonda in the '70s, he hated the military. It wasn't just that he opposed the war but that he accused his ''band of brothers'' of a level of participation in war crimes and civilian atrocities unmatched by the Japanese, the Nazis and the Soviets. If he'd said, ''We band of brothers . . . We're a little older, we're a little grayer, but we still know how to get high, murder the gooks and rape their womenfolk,'' it would at least have been consistent with his congressional testimony. So one John Kerry is a fake. Which is it? The Jane Fonda in pants of the early '70s? Or the Bob Hope USO tour Kerry of today? Running on biography is lame enough. Running on fake biography is pathetic. Likewise, Max Cleland, the former Georgia senator turned cable show hit man for the Kerry campaign on the Bush National Guard ''scandal.'' He's untouchable because, as Terry McAuliffe likes to say, he's a ''triple amputee who left three limbs on the battlefield of Vietnam.'' As Ann Coulter pointed out in a merciless but entirely accurate column, it wasn't on the ''battlefield.'' It wasn't in combat. He was working on a radio relay station. He saw a grenade dropped by one of his colleagues and bent down to pick it up. It's impossible for most of us to imagine what that must be like -- to be flown home, with your body shattered, not because of some firefight, but because you made a stupid mistake. Once upon a time, Cleland loathed the Silver and Bronze Stars he'd been given: He was, in his words, ''no hero'' -- which is true. He was a beneficiary of the medal inflation that tends to accompany unpopular wars. But Cleland learned to stop hating himself to the point where he's happy to be passed off as a hero wounded in battle because that makes him a more valuable mascot to the campaign. Sad. Next to these deceptions -- and self-deceptions -- what are Dems hoping to pin on Bush? Thanks to Kerry in his Hanoi Jane period, Vietnam was a disaster for America that gave the establishment a wholly irrational fear of almost every ramshackle Third World basket case on the planet. Look at what everyone from Arthur Schlesinger to Chris Matthews wrote about the ''unconquerable'' Afghans only two years ago. That defeatism was the Kerry legacy from the '70s: a terrified, Kerrified America. If he wants to fight Campaign 2004 on Vietnam, then, as he would say, bring it on.