Friday, September 3, 2004

Will Swiftboats sink Kerry?:
Just when we thought our home state Sen. John Kerry was about to win the presidency of the United States, a loathsome thing happened: A group of former veterans holding a 35-year grudge orchestrated one of the harshest political attacks that our generation has ever seen.
The group, The Swiftboat Veterans for Truth, has made all kinds of claims about Kerry's service in Vietnam. Depending on which newspaper you read or TV program you watch, the viewer gets a different version of the story. For every claim that one of his Purple Heart awards was for a self-inflicted wound, there is a firsthand account of someone else who says Kerry plucked him from the water, under enemy fire.
Since I wasn't there, I don't know what actually happened and neither do most of us. No matter what someone may think of the attacks themselves, they were broad. The Swiftboat group and their well-financed Republican backers from Texas, impressively calculated their attacks for maximum damage - rolled out with unbelievable media precision.
First, a book, "Unfit for Command," was released. Then a small $100,000 TV ad buy in a handful of swing states - which was then blasted over and over again on every news program possible. Then there were interviews with the key people involved saying all kinds of nasty things about Kerry. Kerry foolishly said little in his own defense - choosing instead to go windsurfing - at a critical time in the campaign cycle.
This was a surgical attack on a level we have never seen before in politics. It was planned and thought out for months, probably a long time before Kerry sewed up the nomination. Anyone who has dealt with publishing knows that it takes a long time to get a book edited and published. While I haven't read it [I've only skimmed it and read excerpts], the book was probably quite an undertaking.
Swiftboat spokesman John O'Neill seems to have performed his assault task dutifully, but that shouldn't surprise anyone. O'Neill cut his teeth as a member of the Nixon dirty tricks squad. He has also made some outlandish accusations, saying that Kerry should have been court-martialed for crossing into Cambodia, while ignoring the fact that O'Neill was recorded on tape telling Nixon that he himself had crossed into Cambodia. There are also the different versions of events from many of the members of his group. The Washington Post recently released an exhaustive study of their allegations, calling them unproven.
Yet what is really amazing about all of this is that we are still fighting about Vietnam more than three decades later while our soldiers die in Iraq and Afghanistan. What happened to the mentality of Support our Troops, Support our Veterans, no matter what? Shouldn't veterans like Kerry be given the benefit of the doubt? Or, will the American people have to call for an audit of every Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Silver Star, Medal of Honor, etc. ever awarded to a soldier to make sure that every last veteran actually earned his medals?
Part of this attack on Kerry is his own fault. Under the contrived spectacle that was the Democratic National Convention, Kerry spent a lot of time talking about his military service, a whole 11 months of his life. Almost nothing was said about the 19-plus years he spent in the Senate but that isn't surprising. We all know Kerry's lack of commitment to constituent services and his well-earned reputation for changing his mind and voting against the interests of Massachusetts.
But because he relied so heavily on his Vietnam war record in his speeches and advertising, he opened himself up to the Swiftboat attack. Kerry was tripped up on his own war-time braggadocio.
Shockingly, the Kerry campaign was completely unprepared for this - thinking that the limited defense they have run in previous Senate campaigns and the extensive biographical coverage written was enough to fend off future attacks. It wasn't.
All across the United States, polls are shifting and the slight bounce Kerry received from his convention has fallen out from underneath him. It was only a couple of weeks ago when safe red states - states in which President George W. Bush was almost guaranteed a victory - were in play for the Democrats. In Arkansas, Arizona, North Carolina, and Virginia, states where Democrats have rarely been able to compete, Kerry was within the margin-of-error of Bush. It was all pretty amazing. But as easy as the shifting tides, there goes Kerry's bounce, eaten up by this nasty political hit. It really makes you wonder if Kerry was the right Democrat to be taking on the president at this crucial time in our history.
What is disappointing about all of this is that there are real problems in our nation and this world that need solving. Many of them are the fault of Bush and the Republicans. Many others are the fault of Kerry and the Democrats. Inside Madison Square Garden, Republicans raised the bloody shirt of 9/11, hammering away at the flip-flopping, soulless yuppie Kerry. While outside, the Democrats walked with flag-draped coffins, comparing the president to Adolf Hitler. Is this the best we can do?
While we all know what must be done, the answers are not as clear as we might think - with those same answers bogged down in the emotional phenomenon that is known as partisan, two-party politics.
But what seems assured is that no matter who wins, we'll all end up losers.

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