On March 14, 1969, 25-year-old Bob Kerrey led his team of Navy SEALs up a 350-foot sheer cliff in Vietnam to a position above the ledge on which the enemy was located. A fierce battle ensued, and a grenade shattered Kerrey's right leg, which subsequently had to be amputated below the knee. Fighting to remain conscious despite his injuries, Kerrey continued to direct his unit to victory. He was sited for gallantry above and beyond the call of duty and decorated with our nation's highest military award, the Medal of Honor.
Today, at age 68, Bob Kerrey seems to have lost a great deal of that courage. After four years as governor of Nebraska, twelve years in the United States Senate, a 1992 presidential bid, and service on the 9/11 Commission, one would think he would have little to fear. But over the past month, Kerrey has shown Nebraskans that he is conniving, calculating and very afraid, indeed.
With the retirement of Senator Ben Nelson, whose career was all but destroyed by his deciding vote for Obamacare, Nebraska Democrats were in a panic. Even their top former officeholders were afraid to challenge two well-known Republicans who have been seeking the senate seat for more than a year — Attorney General Jon Bruning and State Treasurer Don Stenberg, one of whom is certain to be chosen as the GOP's nominee in the May Primary.
So the Dems turned in desperation to an old familiar name, Bob Kerrey. At first, Kerrey declined to return to politics. "Family considerations," he demurred. That was in early February. Later in the month, after others had made plans based on his promise not to run, "Cosmic Bob" (as he became known early in his political career) changed his mind — again.
Or did he?
It should be understood that, by choice, Bob Kerrey is no longer a Nebraskan. When he left the senate in 2001, he had the choice to remain in his home state or go elsewhere to retire. He chose the most liberal place he could find: Greenwich Village, where he moved with his second wife to start a new family and a new life as president of the New School, one of the most left-wing colleges in the country.
Kerrey has vowed that his ten-year-old son will never darken the door of any school in Nebraska. In fact, he has made it clear that his family will remain in New York City until after the election, then they will join him in Washington. Obviously, he does not deem it necessary to actually live in his abandoned home state in order to represent it in the U.S Senate.
After declaring his intention not to run, Kerrey pledged his support to the only Democrat willing to put his name on the ballot, Chuck Hassebrook, who gave up a reelection bid to the University of Nebraska Board of Regents to seek the senate seat. When word of Kerrey's possible change of heart reached him, Hassebrook stated for the record that he knew Bob Kerrey to be a man of integrity, a man of his word, who would never do such a thing.
Apparently Chuck Hassebrook doesn't know Bob Kerrey as well as he thought he did.
But the aspect of all this that smells as bad as Ben Nelson's "Cornhusker Kickback" is the timing of it all. In Nebraska, incumbent officeholders must file for any elected position by February 15th. Non-incumbents have until March 1st to make their official intentions known. Kerrey announced his intentions not to run well before the middle of February, and then changed his mind well after that all-important date.
This put Hassebrook in an impossibly awkward position. But more importantly, it undercut the one potential Republican candidate who surely would have trounced Kerrey in November — Nebraska's enormously popular Governor Dave Heineman, who was being wooed by national GOP officials to get into the race. Heineman is the man who, in the 2006 gubernatorial primary, defeated a Nebraska icon, Tom Osborne, the legendary former football coach and three-term congressman. Odds are he could have beaten Cosmic Bob. But now we'll never know, will we?
It appears that Bob Kerrey is not nearly as fearless as he once was.
© 2012 by Doug Patton
Doug Patton describes himself as a recovering political speechwriter who agrees with himself much more often than not. Now working as a freelance writer, his weekly columns of sage political analysis are published the world over by legions of discerning bloggers, courageous webmasters and open-minded newspaper editors.