These Charges Are False ...UPDATE: They also take Bob Dole to the woodshed...
It's one thing for the presidential campaign to get nasty but quite another for it to engage in fabrication.
August 24, 2004
The technique President Bush is using against John F. Kerry was perfected by his father against Michael Dukakis in 1988, though its roots go back at least to Sen. Joseph McCarthy. It is: Bring a charge, however bogus. Make the charge simple: Dukakis "vetoed the Pledge of Allegiance"; Bill Clinton "raised taxes 128 times"; "there are [pick a number] Communists in the State Department." But make sure the supporting details are complicated and blurry enough to prevent easy refutation.
Then sit back and let the media do your work for you. Journalists have to report the charges, usually feel obliged to report the rebuttal, and often even attempt an analysis or assessment. But the canons of the profession prevent most journalists from saying outright: These charges are false. As a result, the voters are left with a general sense that there is some controversy over Dukakis' patriotism or Kerry's service in Vietnam. And they have been distracted from thinking about real issues (like the war going on now) by these laboratory concoctions.
It must be infuriating to the victims of this process to be given conflicting advice about how to deal with it from the same campaign press corps that keeps it going. The press has been telling Kerry: (a) Don't let charges sit around unanswered; and (b) stick to your issues: Don't let the other guy choose the turf.
At the moment, Kerry is being punished by the media for taking advice (b) and failing to take advice (a). There was plenty of talk on TV about what Kerry's failure to strike back said about whether he had the backbone for the job of president - and even when he did strike back, he was accused of not doing it soon enough. But what does Bush's acquiescence in the use of this issue say about whether he has the simple decency for the job of president?
Whether the Bush campaign is tied to the Swift boat campaign in the technical, legal sense that triggers the wrath of the campaign-spending reform law is not a very interesting question. The ridiculously named Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is being funded by conservative groups that interlock with Bush's world in various ways, just as MoveOn.org, which is running nasty ads about Bush's avoidance of service in Vietnam, is part of Kerry's general milieu.
More important, either man could shut down the groups working on his behalf if he wanted to. Kerry has denounced the MoveOn ads, with what degree of sincerity we can't know. Bush on Monday - finally - called for all ads by independent groups on both sides to be halted. He also said Kerry had "served admirably" in Vietnam. But he declined an invitation to condemn the Swift boat effort.
In both cases, the candidates are the reason the groups are in business. There is an important difference, though, between the side campaign being run for Kerry and the one for Bush. The pro-Kerry campaign is nasty and personal. The pro-Bush campaign is nasty, personal and false.
No informed person can seriously believe that Kerry fabricated evidence to win his military medals in Vietnam. His main accuser has been exposed as having said the opposite at the time, 35 years ago. Kerry is backed by almost all those who witnessed the events in question, as well as by documentation. His accusers have no evidence except their own dubious word.
Not limited by the conventions of our colleagues in the newsroom, we can say it outright: These charges against John Kerry are false. Or at least, there is no good evidence that they are true. George Bush, if he were a man of principle, would say the same thing.
...and These Are Silly
Former Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas has transformed himself in recent years from the Republican Party's nastiest hatchet man to a cuddly, clever and beloved elder statesman. His terrible wounds from World War II have been an important part of this transformation, making him a visible symbol of the sacrifices of America's Greatest Generation.
Why would Dole put that makeover in jeopardy - and tarnish his own heroism and sacrifice - by starting a grotesque game of wound one-upmanship on behalf of George W. Bush, who never suffered anything worse during his (intermittent) service in the Texas Air National Guard than a hangover?
John Kerry "never bled," and his wounds in Vietnam were only "superficial," Dole declared Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition." Not good enough! You call those wounds? Why lemme tell you, young fella….
So give this round to the GOP. Next, the Democrats can be represented by former Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia, who lost three limbs in Vietnam, and lost a Senate race to a Republican who questioned his patriotism.
Two parties can play this game. But who on Earth would want to?