Kerry apologizes for a ‘botched joke’

WASHINGTON – Sen. John Kerry apologized for “a botched joke” about President Bush’s Iraq policies that led Bush and fellow Republicans to accuse him of insulting U.S. troops. Some Democrats in close races assailed Kerry, while others called the flap a ploy by the GOP to improve its chances in next week’s midterm elections.

“Of course I’m sorry about a botched joke. You think I love botched jokes?” Kerry said during an appearance Wednesday on Don Imus’ nationally syndicated radio program. “I mean, you know, it’s pretty stupid.”

Kerry, D-Mass., said he meant no offense to troops when he told a college audience Monday that young people might get “stuck in Iraq” if they don’t study hard and do their homework.

On Wednesday, he said, “You cannot get into the military today if you do badly in school.” But he also said the White House was purposely twisting his words and asserted that it is Bush who owes troops an apology for a misguided war in Iraq.

“I’m sorry that that’s happened,” he said of his earlier comment. “But I’m not going to stand back from the reality here, which is, they’re trying to change the subject. It’s their campaign of smear and fear.”

Kerry said he mangled the delivery of a line aimed at Bush, according to aides, language which was originally written to say “you end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq.”

Republicans seized on it as evidence of troop-bashing by the Democratic Party’s 2004 presidential nominee, and the controversy quickly erupted into an issue for races across the country. The Republican National Committee released a Web ad, to be e-mailed to GOP activists and state party officials, called “Apologize.”

Said Bush, in an interview with conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh: “Anybody who is in a position to serve this country ought to understand the consequences of words. … We’ve got incredible people in our military, and they deserve full praise and full support of this government.”

The White House took the unusual step of releasing in advance comments Vice President Dick Cheney was making later Wednesday at a Montana campaign rally, in which he scolded Kerry for taking “another swipe at the U. S. military.”

“Of course, now Senator Kerry says he was just making a joke, and he botched it up. I guess we didn’t get the nuance. He was for the joke before he was against it,” Cheney said in a line meant to recall Bush’s skewering of Kerry in their 2004 race for saying he had voted for war funds before he voted against them.

GOP Sen. John McCain, a Vietnam veteran and possible 2008 contender, said Wednesday he wasn’t sure “how you could construe” Kerry’s comment as a joke.

And White House spokesman Tony Snow said Kerry’s apology on Imus didn’t pass muster. “He’s insisting on pointing fingers at the president,” Snow said. “Just say you’re sorry. It’s not hard.”

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