* Mark Kirk constantly uses his position as a Navy intelligence officer to buttress his foreign policy insights. But the Sun-Times checked into two of his stories and found them lacking…
But some of the stories Kirk tells on the stump seem a bit too good to be true. When he last ran for re-election to his congressional seat, he got into trouble for saying China was drilling for oil off the coast of Cuba, which was not true, he acknowledged Thursday in a meeting with the Sun-Times editorial board.
Speaking to the City Club of Chicago last year just after President Obama authorized the shooting of Somali pirates who kidnapped American Capt. Richard Phillips, Kirk got a whole lot wrong talking about pirates attacking ships off Africa.
“We began to see some backbone, not from the U.S. but from France,” Kirk said. “France was always good for a quick $2 million ransom until the election of President Sarkozy. When his first ship was seized, he authorized the standard ransom payment — with a transmitter in the box. As that went into the pirate compound, he then authorized French Special Forces to roll in. And they killed everybody. . . . It kind of shocked us in the Pentagon. But it sent a clear message and I don’t think the French have had many problems since.”
Here’s the problem: Much of the answer was fiction. It wasn’t the first ship attacked after Sarkozy took office; and the French Special Forces didn’t kill everybody. In fact they didn’t kill anybody, Sarkozy has said.
* The Tribune editorial board discloses something the paper’s reporters did not, then goes on to whack Kirk but good…
[Kirk] spoke for an hour to the Tribune editorial board — and called back later to volunteer that during the interview he had displayed too much defensiveness, and too little candor. Before our eyes, he had tried to writhe away from questions about whether he repeatedly had embellished his service record. Not until his subsequent phone call did he say in plain English that the simple answer to those questions is Yes.
Why had he stretched the already admirable truth? We don’t know the motive. Taken together, though, Kirk’s misstatements demonstrate how deeply he had succumbed to the I-must-sell-myself temptations of politics, elevating the importance of what “I” accomplished in the military. Most veterans instead speak of what “we” won or lost. There is no Army — or in Kirk’s case, Navy — of One.
Kirk’s reluctant acknowledgement of his errors has been maddening but also saddening. For a decade this page has respected naval intelligence officer Kirk and Congressman Kirk. Thus the dilemma: What are we — what are all the voters of Illinois — now to make of candidate Kirk? He has weakened one of the most compelling arguments for electing him to the Senate. […]
For us, the disclosures of Mark Kirk’s career inflation are not excusable. For military families in particular, this is serious. Neither, though, are his offenses a reason to discount his service or to declare him unfit for the Senate. Kirk made arrogant errors and now he has apologized. He may not go one day between now and Nov. 2 without having to offer his personal regrets to the people of Illinois.
* Mark Brown has a good summation…
But the [Navy fitness] reports also make clear what Kirk isn’t. He isn’t a battle-tested combat veteran as he seems determined to portray himself. […]
Judging from what his superiors say about him, Kirk has had a very honorable, impressive military career. It’s a shame he didn’t realize that was enough to take him where he wanted.
* And my syndicated newspaper column is also about this issue…
Political reporters and pundits have a bad habit of saying: “If present trends continue.” The truth is, in politics, “present trends” almost always change.
Last week, Illinoisans were treated to a classic example of how that overused phrase can so often be horribly wrong.
Let’s take a look back, shall we?
For years, the Republican powers that be in this state have dreamt of finding a “perfect” statewide candidate.
Social liberal, fiscal moderate without a hint of scandal. That’s the key to winning statewide in Illinois. Finding that person hasn’t been so easy, however.
Then GOP Congressman Mark Kirk decided to move up the political ladder to U.S. Senate. Kirk is pro-choice, pro gay rights, tough on guns, but a fiscal hawk in the tradition of Jim Edgar.
Best of all, Kirk serves in the Navy Reserves. Reporters, as a class, love military men, and Kirk’s stories about his daring feats of bravery have made the tough-nosed Chicago media drool all over him.
A decorated Naval intelligence officer works great with voters as well. Kirk could separate himself from average politicians by pointing to his honorable service. Despite some bumps along the way, the military has long been one of the most respected institutions in this patriotic nation.
A recent USA Today poll found that by a margin of 2 to 1, Americans would “rather vote for a candidate who has never served in Congress over one with experience.” And since “Republican congressman” polls even lower than “congressman,” Congressman Kirk would be at a serious disadvantage without that Naval service.
Until last week, Kirk looked to many like a slam-dunk winner - or as much of one as a Republican could be in this state. The trend against the Democrats was certainly working in his favor. And Kirk’s Democratic opponent Alexi Giannoulias had been pummeled left and right over stories about how his now-defunct family bank had made loans to mobsters and had other nefarious ties.
Giannoulias endured one of the worst three months of any candidate I’ve ever seen starting shortly after he won the February Democratic primary. He was hammered relentlessly in the media, and the pack was full-on engaged the day his family’s bank was seized by federal regulators.
Unsourced speculation abounded that the youthful state treasurer would be pushed out of the U.S. Senate contest by the White House. Nobody had any real basis for those claims except a strong belief that the horrific trend dictated that Giannoulias would be gone any day.
But then something happened which turned all of that smug punditry on its head.
It turns out that Congressman Kirk is a serial exaggerator.
The Washington Post reported over Memorial Day weekend that Kirk had falsely claimed for years that he had won “the Navy’s Intelligence Officer of the Year” award when his unit actually won an award from a private group, but recommended by Navy brass.
Over the next few days, Kirk was forced to admit a whole host of untruths. He hadn’t served in 2003’s Operation Iraqi Freedom. He wasn’t a veteran of 1990-91’s Operation Desert Storm. Kirk had to backtrack from bravado comments he made about being shot at by the Iraqis. He hadn’t “served in Iraq,” as his recent TV ad claimed. He also didn’t “command” the Pentagon’s “War Room.”
Kirk didn’t pull it off well, either. “I simply misremembered incorrectly,” was his excuse to the Chicago Sun-Times, whatever that means. “You should speak with utter precision,” he admitted to the Chicago Tribune, even though most of these false claims had little to do with “precision” and much to do with overstating his service record.
So, will this years-long stream of prevarications ruin Kirk? Well, he has certainly damaged his credibility, particularly with his many friends in the media. The “current trend” would say he’s in bad shape indeed.
Still, this is a long campaign. There will no doubt be much more mud slung back and forth before it’s over.
If I had to guess, I’d say Kirk’s bizarre overstatements will most likely knock him off his high horse and force him to actually engage with Giannoulias, rather than be content to constantly deride the treasurer as unfit for office. But he’s showing no sign of that yet.
Just remember that this race isn’t over for either candidate. Don’t let anybody tell you it is. Politics is always full of surprising twists and turns and I’m sure there are lots more ahead of us.
What we’ve seen here is an equalization of sorts. Both candidates are now damaged goods. But the trend on election day is the only one that matters.
* Illinois VFW Commander on Kirk Controversy: ‘It Isn’t a Good Situation’
* Illinois Senate race: All insults, all the time
* Marin: Independents will decide Senate race
* Roskam’s FDIC Ignorance