"John Kerry is awful, and anything we can do further to degrade his political prospects is worth doing. But really, I saw a clip of him making the much-deplored remark, and it was obvious that the dimwit in Iraq that he referred to was George W. Bush, not the American soldier. It was a dumb joke badly delivered, but his meaning was plain.  My pleasure in watching JK squirm is just as great as any other conservative's, but something is owed to honesty.  There's a lot of fake outrage going round here," - John Derbyshire, NRO.

On the last point, I absolutely agree. But, as I've written, the ad lib was obviously ambiguous - and there is, alas, a plausible inference to make it mean what some have jumped on. I understand why, if Kerry really didn't mean that at all, he resists apologizing. I understand the rage at the cynicism of the way the right-wing machine has blown this out of all perspective.

But just as the president has to deal with reality, so does Kerry. The reality is that all the Bush machine needs for traction is a plausible inference - not even a probable one - and they have an issue. And that's all Kerry needs to apologize for. It came out wrong. He can explain what he meant and still apologize if others interpreted it differently. And an apology like that kills this non-issue before it continues to obscure the life-and-death matters we have to deal with.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.