Sunday, August 22, 2004

More Blowback

From today's editorial pages around the nation.

Hartford Courant: Mr. Kerry volunteered to serve with the U.S. Navy and was in Vietnam for several months in 1968 and 1969. He was awarded five medals - a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts - for wounds suffered and actions taken as a commander of a small Swift boat on river patrol. Navy records and first-person accounts of men who served on the boat with him back him up and validate claims of heroism. He carries shrapnel in his body to this day.

But that hasn't stopped a political group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth from running television ads and publishing a book claiming that Mr. Kerry lied about the actions that won him the medals. The group, which has ties to the family and political associates of President Bush, asserts that the Democrat is unfit to lead the nation.

Their claims are animated mostly by anger over Mr. Kerry's anti-war statements made when he returned, disillusioned, from Vietnam. One ad shows Mr. Kerry testifying in 1971 about alleged brutality by Americans in Vietnam. However, the group's claims about Mr. Kerry's wartime actions are filled with holes. They are contradicted not only by Navy records and the accounts of crew members who served next to Mr. Kerry, but also by their own comments.

Boston Globe: Although his tour in Vietnam was short, on at least two occasions he acted decisively and with great daring in combat, saving at least one man's life and earning both a Silver Star and a Bronze Star. That's not our account or Kerry's; it is drawn from eyewitnesses and the military citations themselves.

Yet a group of Vietnam veterans is questioning Kerry's record, operating cynically and ignoring the evidence. Many in this group felt betrayed by Kerry's opposition to the Vietnam War after he returned home. A renewed debate on that war might be useful, though we believe most Americans now agree with Kerry's famous statement to Congress at the time that it was a mistake.

Rather than seeking debate, however, this group, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, is attempting political assassination, claiming in ads and a best-selling book that Kerry is "Unfit for Command." In many cases the charges conflict with statements the same men made in the past. Sometimes the allegations contradict documentary evidence. Last week a former swift boat commander, Larry Thurlow, said Kerry didn't deserve his Bronze Star because there was no enemy fire at the time, but this is contradicted by five separate accounts -- including the Bronze Star citation Thurlow himself was awarded in the same incident, as reported by The Washington Post.

While a few details and dates of Kerry's Vietnam record are open to question, most of the accusations are laughable. Kerry's record of service in Vietnam is clear and, one would think, unassailable. Given the contrast in their Vietnam-era records -- Bush even let his pilot's license lapse while still in the Guard -- Bush might be expected to change the subject.

Yet the Kerry opponents, working with funders and political operatives closely linked to Bush personally, are attempting what is known in politics as the big lie -- an effort simply to contradict the truth repeatedly.

Both parties do it, but Republicans are developing a shocking expertise. The smearing of John McCain in South Carolina in 2000, the reprehensible attack to oust Senator Max Cleland of Georgia in 2002, and this utterly cynical campaign against Kerry by Bush's False Squad deserve only condemnation.

Kerry has faulted a few of his own supporters who lampooned Bush's National Guard record. Now Bush should call off his dogs.

Minneapolis Star Tribune: It should not be necessary to plow through all this minute detail about something that happened 35 years ago, wondering whether Kerry remembers it all with precise accuracy. But we must, because the Republican smear machine insists we do. Along with former and current Republican elected officials, Hinderaker and Johnson are serving as part of the effort to smear John Kerry, just as Republicans smeared Sen. John McCain in 2000, then-Sen. Max Cleland in 2002, and critics Richard Clarke and Joe Wilson in 2004. This serves two purposes: to sow doubts in voters' minds about Kerry and to divert attention from the serious issues that really should concern voters: health care costs, the anemic state of the American economy, the mess that is Iraq and the continuing, relentless Republican effort to shift the burden of paying for the federal government from America's wealthy to its middle class.

As the old saying goes, "Politics ain't beanbag," but this Republican crew, including Hinderaker and Johnson, take the art of slime-throwing to levels of immorality seldom seen. Voters need to awaken to this tactic, and realize how much contempt it shows for the workings of democracy and for the intelligence they bring to the task of choosing this nation's leaders.

Kansas City Star: One Republican group, calling itself “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth,” has mounted a particularly odious attack on Sen. John Kerry's military record.

Cleveland Plain Dealer: Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a group of Vietnam veterans largely sponsored, counseled and coached by individuals with long ties to President George W. Bush, his family and his Texas political base, has set out to destroy Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry's record of decorated service in that war. And the president, to his discredit, appears perfectly content to let it do so.

Portland Oregonian: A s the appalling argument over Sen. John Kerry's war record rages on, it's worth mentioning that quite a bit more is at stake here than the outcome of the presidential election.

A group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth began attacking Kerry about a month ago. They said, among other things, that Kerry did not deserve the Bronze Star he received in Vietnam for rescuing Green Beret Jim Rassmann after an explosion blew him off Kerry's patrol boat.

We've already mentioned in this space that we agree with Sen. John McCain, who backs President Bush, that these attacks on Kerry are scurrilous. We might add that the record suggests the attackers' memories aren't too good, either.

Kerry shouldn't be above criticism, though, even from this group. His post-Vietnam antiwar activism ought to be fair game for those who, like French, believe he betrayed the trust of his fellow veterans. Kerry's views as head of Vietnam Veterans Against the War were widely known and influential back then, and it's fair to use them against him now.

And we're not arguing that no one should be able to challenge the official record. But the burden of proof in such cases belongs with those challenging the established accounts, not with those who witnessed them and provided contemporaneous testimony.

The Swift Boat veterans attacking Kerry fall well below that threshold and, we suspect, their tactics ultimately will do more to harm their own cause than help it.

Philadelphia Inquirer: The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth may sincerely believe the insulting, incendiary things they say. But their belief in what they're saying does not make it true. Again, the research shows little correlation between an eyewitness' confidence and the accuracy of his memory.

No matter what they say they "know," the only truth these Swift boat veterans are qualified to express is how long they have resented Kerry's antiwar stance, how hurt they felt to be shunned after they returned from an unpopular war.

The other truth this group puts on display is how worried Bush supporters must be.

Kerry's Vietnam service by itself hardly qualifies him for the White House (forget the over-the-top "band of brothers" riffs in Boston). But it should have at least inoculated him against the GOP right's habitual stereotype of Democrats as cowardly dupes of the enemy. Instead, a heavyweight GOP donor from Houston funded the Swift Boat Veterans to the tune of $200,000, seeking a way to revive that discredited line of attack. The group is technically distinct from the Bush campaign, but it is as much a partisan piece of the reelection effort as is to the Democratic effort.

To put this sideshow to rest, four numbers are all you need to know: Five. Zero. Three. 2004.

Five is how many medals John Kerry earned, in the judgment of his commanding officers, during his volunteer service in Vietnam.

Zero is how long George W. Bush served in Vietnam and how many medals he earned there.

Three is how many prominent Vietnam veterans have now had their service, patriotism and suffering denigrated by Bush surrogates in recent elections. The sliming of Sen. John McCain, a former POW, and former Sen. Max Cleland, who lost three limbs in Vietnam, was even more despicable.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: TWO WEEKS AGO, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called upon President George W. Bush to denounce the scurrilous attack ads of a group that goes by the misnamed Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Mr. Bush refused. The White House says it does not question the military service of Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., and had nothing to do with the ads. But that response won't wash. The smear campaign was funded and orchestrated by a coterie of Texans with strong ties to the Bush family and the president's political director, Karl Rove. The president should disown the ads and tell his friends that he wants them to stop.

Louisville Courier-Journal: The controversial television ad and book that accuse Sen. John Kerry of lying about his military service in Vietnam is as described by Sen. John McCain: "dishonest and dishonorable."

It is the inevitable result of the politics of character assassination: a campaign apparently motivated by pure malice and consisting of fabrications. The problem is not the subject matter. Sen. Kerry has emphasized his service in Vietnam and his decorations for courage and injuries under enemy fire, and he has used his military record to make the case that he is qualified to be commander in chief during dangerous times.

It is fair game for those opposed to his candidacy to raise information about Sen. Kerry's time in Vietnam, to pose questions, to criticize his antiwar activities after he returned from Southeast Asia or even to argue that he dwells too much on a war that ended 30 years ago.

Nor is it necessary to argue that Sen. Kerry is uniquely subjected to misleading advertisements. He isn't. Many ads about President Bush — both those officially paid for by the Democratic campaign and those produced privately — contain distortions or are hateful in tone.

But the Vietnam ad, the work of a group calling itself Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, shreds even the appallingly low standards of modern campaign discourse, as recent investigative reporting makes clear. Several of the resulting stories appear in the Forum and front sections of today's newspaper.

The anti-Kerry group received financing, advice and production expertise from individuals with close ties to the President and his family.

More important, their claims are devastatingly undercut by military files, assertions by Sen. Kerry's commanders and previous statements by several of the group's own members in praise of Sen. Kerry's Vietnam actions. Still, the swift boat veterans' charges have been circulated widely. They are repeated without challenge on right-wing talk shows. Conservative commentators treat them as a legitimate, alternative viewpoint.

The person who can bring this destructive ugliness to a halt is the President himself. Sen. McCain, R-Ariz., has called on him to renounce the ads.

Mr. Bush has not done so, however. Instead, his campaign has argued simply that it had no hand in the ads. That's unlikely, but in any case it's not the point. No president should allow the military service of an American veteran to be impugned recklessly and malevolently.

Yet, that is precisely what Mr. Bush has done.

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: At the moment, Kerry is smarting most from the surrogate campaigning; in reality, his surrogates are a much bigger problem. He's smarting because campaigning as surrogate for Bush is the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which aired an ad in Wisconsin and elsewhere attacking Kerry's version of his Vietnam service. A more despicable and misleading ad is hard to find unless it's the one by another group - targeting African-American voters - that labels Kerry as "rich, white and wishy-washy."

Las Vegas Sun: We have written before that President Bush should have immediately denounced "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth," the group that is using bogus charges to question John Kerry's war record in Vietnam. Perhaps then the group's objective, sinking Kerry's presidential bid by way of dirty politics, could have been blunted. Now, however, the group has achieved some small gains. Donations are coming in to finance more ads and public appearances by its members, and Kerry's poll numbers among veterans groups are slipping.

Fortunately there are new reports, published independently of the Kerry campaign, that we hope will restore the faith of veterans and others who may have been misled by the Swift Boat group. Last week both the Washington Post and The New York Times published lengthy investigative reports documenting that the group's attacks on Kerry -- who earned a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts while commanding a Swift boat -- have no credibility.

For example, former Swift boat commander Larry Thurlow is alleging that Kerry was not under fire when he earned his Bronze Star for rescuing a soldier blown from another boat after a mine detonated. The newspapers reported that Thurlow, too, received a Bronze Star for his part in the rescue, with his award praising him for assisting "despite enemy bullets flying about him." Obviously, if Thurlow was under fire at the same time as Kerry was, then Thurlow isn't telling the truth as he seeks to denigrate Kerry's heroism.

The articles point out numerous such inconsistencies, as well as the strong ties that backers of the group have to President Bush and his inner circle. It's not too late for Bush to take the ethical high road and denounce the allegations of the Swift Boat group.


Blogger St Louis Cardinals BUFF said...

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