Conservatives resuscitated 1988 Kerry quote on Reagan years

On the day of former President Ronald Reagan's funeral, conservative media outlets circulated a quote by Senator John Kerry from a speech he gave at the 1988 Democratic National Convention in which he called the Reagan-Bush administration a period of “moral darkness.” The New York Post followed on June 12 with articles quoting the Kerry speech. On the June 13 edition of FOX News Sunday with Chris Wallace, Weekly Standard editor William Kristol recommended that the Bush campaign use Kerry's quotation in advertisements.

As Media Matters for America previously documented, since Reagan's death, several conservative news outlets revived other Kerry criticisms of Reagan -- a pattern identified in a June 7 New York Times article: "[I]n one sign of what may lie ahead, Republicans circulated old quotes from Mr. Kerry in which he criticized Mr. Reagan."

Before Reagan's June 11 funeral ended, Internet gossip Matt Drudge had posted the headline "1988 Flashback: Kerry calls Reagan Presidency 'Moral Darkness' in convention speech" and had republished an excerpt (though Drudge did not make clear that it was only an excerpt) of a July 21, 1988, Boston Globe article titled “Dukakis Sweeps to the Nomination; Jackson's Forces Make it Unanimous” (available online by purchase from the Globearchives). According to the 1988 article, “Kerry took to the convention hall podium, telling the delegates that the 'moral darkness' of President Reagan's presidency will soon end.”

James Taranto -- editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page website, -- wrote in his June 11 "Best of the Web" column, “Although the vituperation [from Reagan's opponents] did not reach the levels it has today with George W. Bush, it still got pretty vicious” ; Taranto also reprinted an excerpt -- including the Kerry quote -- from the same Globe article about the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta.

Communications consultant Jay Bryant -- who is a columnist for the Heritage Foundation's website -- wrote in his June 11 column:

During the 1988 election campaign, the one between Bush the Elder and Michael Dukakis, during which Senator John Kerry called the Reagan years a time of “moral darkness,” ...

The New York Post ran two news stories on June 12 that cited the speech. In an article titled "Sad Ride Into Final Sunset" Deborah Orin and David K. Li covered Reagan's funeral and reported:

John Kerry -- who in 1988 blasted Reagan for the “moral darkness” of his presidency -- sat with other senators and chatted briefly with Bill Clinton before the service began.

In an article titled "Democrat Foes Bury the Partisan Hatchet in Praise of Gipper," New York Post's Vincent Morris reported:

For Reagan's old foes, like Kerry, the grand sendoff was a marked contrast to the years of enmity.

Back in 1988, while speaking at the Democratic National Convention where Michael Dukakis was nominated, Kerry described Reagan in harsh terms, calling his eight-year presidency a period of “moral darkness.”

Kristol recommended that the Bush campaign run an ad that says, “John Kerry thought the Reagan presidency was a period of 'moral darkness.'” During a panel discussion on the June 13 edition of FOX Broadcasting Company's FOX News Sunday with Chris Wallace, Kristol said of Reagan's death:

KRISTOL: I think it could have an impact if the Bush campaign has the nerve to make it have an impact. John Kerry said at the 1988 Democratic convention, speaking on behalf of his fellow Massachusetts liberal Democrat, Michael Dukakis, John Kerry said that the Reagan presidency was a period of “moral darkness.”

Now, the Bush campaign -- and no one wants to politicize the death of a recent president. But you know what? The Bush campaign should. And, in my view, they should go out with an ad next week, a very respectful ad about President Reagan and say, “We have a disagreement. George W. Bush is a Reaganite. John Kerry thought the Reagan presidency was a period of 'moral darkness.'”