Monday, September 13, 2004

The Race to the Bottom Accelerates!

It had been a while since I stirred up the wingnuts, and apparently the hot button is the Swift Boat Veterans for Lying About Stuff. Nice to get the angry emails again.

I'm not exactly sure how I feel about this political race to the bottom, but here we are. So the Republicans want this election to be about character, but Bush's character is off-limits for discussion? I don't think so. We Democrats shouldn't play the Dukakis role anymore; we learned that lesson in 1988. If we go down, we should go down fighting just as hard and just as tough as the other side. And even the best argument for Bush is pretty much limited to "Kerry is worse." I guess that means we're allowed to make our argument that Bush is far worse than Kerry. (After all, we certainly don't want to oversell our guy.)

People say they don't like negative campaigning. But there's really no more results-oriented business than politics. If voters actually didn't pay attention and either rejected or ignored negative ads, you'd be amazed at how quickly the campaigns would drop them and move to something else. But the GOP is getting traction with going after Kerry personally; there's no reason for Democrats not to try the same and cut into Bush's post-convention bounce. Hang on to your hats, it's going to be a bumpy ride.

Basically, the Bush campaign depends on keeping Iraq off the news. Even the people who write those "here's the good news" columns are having a tough time explaining away all the casualties and the loss of more strategic areas of the country. We've pretty much run out of options, and it's only getting worse. Kerry does need to figure out how to keep Bush accountable for getting us into a war (for what reason, exactly?), then wrecking the peace. If he can do that, I think he wins. If Bush is able to avoid responsibility for his own policies (like of like how he avoided his Guard obligations--and that's what U.S. News says, not me, so maybe there's a connection to the larger issue, and maybe can help make things closer while Kerry tries to remind people that there's a war going on even if you don't see it on TV), then Kerry loses. I think it's pretty simple.

Does anyone really think that if there had been fewer mentions of Kerry's service that the Republicans would have said, oh, never mind? How many months before the convention did the Swifties start working on their book?

Here are the links: My column, and the Bob Schuster column that triggered the parting shot.

East Valley Tribune, Sept. 12, 2004

This past week, some guy sent me dozens of emails supporting the Swift Boat Veterans for Making Stuff Up. All I can say is “the facts are John Kerry served. He served honorably. And that’s why he was honorably discharged.”

Oh, wait. My emailer won’t consider that nearly enough to rebut slurs against Kerry’s service record and medals. That kind of non-response is available only for George W. Bush. (With only the name changed to protect the innocent, it’s exactly how White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett responded to new evidence casting more yet doubt on Bush’s National Guard record.)

Apparently, Bush needn’t explain why what he’s saying now about his past differs from what he said in 1999, or in his 2000 campaign autobiography, or this year. We’re at war. If facts and documents don’t support Bush, the facts are biased!

Consider the “Christmas in Cambodia” attack. Kerry said that while serving in Vietnam, he entered in Cambodia in December, 1968, but now there’s a good reason to think that it actually happened in January, 1969. (The claim that Kerry couldn’t have been in Cambodia has vaporized, once researchers unearthed the 1969 White House tape in which John O’Neill, head of Swift Boat Liars, tells President Nixon about crossing into Cambodia. Now we’re arguing just about timing.) This one-month discrepancy in events nearly 40 years ago, about which Kerry last spoke 18 years ago, is trumpeted as evidence that Kerry’s unfit for office.

Of course, if you’re George W. Bush, and you said last month that you fulfilled all of your National Guard commitments, and earlier this year the White House said that it had released all of the documents from Bush’s National Guard service -- and both statements turn out to be false -- that isn’t a character flaw, it’s yet more proof of your sterling leadership despite the truth.

To Republicans parsing every mote of Kerry’s public service, it simply doesn’t matter when Bush gets it wildly wrong. Bush’s National Guard service apparently gets the same scrutiny as his Middle East democracy-promotion “policy,” or proposed spaceflight to Mars -- Bush gets credit for talking. Actually doing anything is irrelevant.

GOP partisans now describe Vietnam draft deferments as “honorable” while criticizing Kerry for not serving long enough, or in the right branch, or getting wounded severely enough for their taste. Republicans won’t say exactly how long Kerry should have fought in Vietnam, or how much shrapnel he needs in his leg, to satisfy them. But these critics have no problem with Bush performing his Guard duty only when convenient.

Yes, the 2004 election probably shouldn’t hinge what happened four decades ago. But, Republicans, it’s a little late to complain now. You started it, and you should reap what you’ve sown.

Republicans could have condemned the Swift Boat Prevaricators for Distortion. John McCain, who knows something about how a Bush campaign uses wacko fringe veterans to attack a military record unfairly, called on Bush to denounce the ads. Bush steadfastly refused until the attacks had run their course.

So now that we’re about to see Bush’s “young and irresponsible” years dredged up in books of dubious veracity, it’s a tad late to complain when nobody on the GOP side had any problem when books of dubious veracity attacked Kerry. If it’s so vital to Republicans what Kerry did in the 1960’s, don’t Democrats get to inquire about what Bush did -- or didn’t -- do then?

If Republicans consider these latest attacks unfair, then Kerry simply can do what Bush did with the Swifties. Kerry should say that books have attacked him, too; that he thought the campaign finance reform law eliminated these kinds of unfair books; and that we need to ban all books about political candidates.

That, of course, would be an absurd and unconstitutional position -- but hey, it worked for Bush.

Parting shot: Last week we Democrats got “friendly” advice from an unlikely source. If Bob Schuster can give us advice, then I say to my Republican friends that here in Arizona, we need a GOP that’s more Barry Goldwater -- and less Goldwater Institute.

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