(CNSNews.com) - Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) says comments he made Monday that appeared to imply that American troops were uneducated were a "botched joke" intended to insult President Bush.
At a news conference in Seattle Tuesday, Kerry refused to apologize and accused Republicans of distorting his comment in a "classic GOP, textbook Republican campaign tactic."
His comment was "clearly a remark that was directed at this administration."
Kerry said Republicans "know precisely what I was saying, and they're trying to turn this because they have a bankrupt policy."
At a campaign stop in California for gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides, Kerry said Monday: "Education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, and you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."
Kerry's comment drew a strong reaction from conservatives, with some accusing him of "smearing" the troops by calling them uneducated.
In Tuesday's news conference, Kerry said most of the criticism had come from people who "never wore the uniform." One of the leading voices requesting an apology, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), is a Vietnam War veteran.
Criticism also came from the national commander of the American Legion, the nation's largest veterans' group.
"While the American Legion shares the senator's appreciation for education, the troops in Iraq represent the most sophisticated, technologically superior military that the world has ever seen," Paul A. Morin said in statement.
Morin said there is "a thing or two that they could teach most college professors and campus elitists about the way the world works."
"A generation ago, Sen. Kerry slandered his comrades in Vietnam by saying that they were rapists and murderers," Morin added. "It wasn't true then and his warped view of today's heroes isn't true now."
In Seattle, Kerry highlighted his own military background.
"If anyone thinks that a veteran would somehow criticize more than 140,000 troops serving in Iraq and not the president ... they're crazy," Kerry said.
While refusing to apologize, Kerry did offer praise for American soldiers, saying "this is the finest military ... that we've ever had."
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