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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Political World After the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth

There might be a day in the distant future when the Democratic party will come to terms with the SBVT but they will never forget it. Furthermore, it appears that they will also not learn the right lessons from it. Most any beyond the pale broad side attack from their party or its surrogates will inevitably be excused or explained by references to the SBVT.

I watched Juan Williams pull just such a stunt in partially explaining the broadside attack of Wesley Clark on John McCain. On so many levels, the Democrats continue to be stunned and at a loss to explain how this narrow and modestly funded group made such a huge impact in the last election. Furthermore, they allow their partisan beliefs to drive their analysis rather than reality. Democrats everywhere continue to believe that it was SBVT SMEARS on John Kerry's EXEMPLARY war record that caused his demise. As such, they not only continue to see it as a miscarriage of justice, but also, they see hope that their side can accomplish the same sort of thing to John McCain and future Republican war heroes. What the Democrats continue to miss is that the SBVT became a phenonenon due to a confluence of events that will likely not be replicated. Most importantly, their influence on the election was completely legitimate, and ultimately Kerry got what he deserved. Here are the three main reasons that caused the perfect storm of the SBVT.

1) Kerry foolishly decided to make his three month tour in the 1960's a center piece of his campaign. It really got started when John Kerry saluted the audience at the Democratic National Convention and said that he was reporting for duty. From that moment forward, Kerry wanted people to vote for him in large part because he created the perception that he was a war hero. Since, his supposed war heroism, not necessarily anything he had done politically, became the central portion of his campaign, that record became open to scrutiny.

Of course, it was absurd for Kerry to make his war record a bigger issue than even Ike, but that's what he did. By doing it, he opened himself up to the scrutiny of just such a group as the SBVT.

2) The SBVT had a narrow scope and they had significant credibility on their scope. Unlike most attack groups, the SBVT had only one purpose, to attack Kerry's war record. Many in the group were themselves Democrats. They only had one priority...the truth, as they saw it, of Kerry's war record. When Moveon.org attacked General Petraeus, there was a strong partisan undercurrent. Obviously, you lose serious credibility when the attack looks partisan rather than real. Furthermore, Moveon.org is a politcal organization questioning the wisdom and patriotism of a General in the battlefield.

The SBVT weren't questioning Kerry on policy. They weren't attacking his Senate record. All they attacked was his war record. On this they had plenty of credibility. The entire group was made up of veterans themselves. Many served with Kerry. Unlike Wes Clark, they had no political axe to grind with Kerry.

3) Kerry's record was in fact full of holes. It turned out that Kerry had been lying for years about going into Cambodia illegally even though it was supposedly seared into his memory. More than his war time record, Kerry came back to the States and became the face of the anti war movement. He himself smeared his fellow officers during his Senate testimony. He met with leaders of the VC in Europe after the war. He allied himself with Jane Fonda. His record had plenty of material with which to attack.

If I could give the Democrats some unsolicited advice, I would tell them to get over it. The can refer to smears as Swift Boating. They can pretend as though the election was stolen from them by unsubstantiated rumors and innuendo, but all that does is question the intelligence of Americans that were affected by the revelations that the SBVT brought to light. The Democrats need to realize the absurdity of the strategy that Kerry employed that the SBVT so acutely destroyed, and stop making excuses and accusations.

The SBVT were a phenomenon of unique proportions and they will likely never be replicated. The Democrats need to get over it. All the SBVT really did was expose a flawed strategy. The sooner the Dems realize this the better it is for them. They need to stop fooling themselves into believing that they played a nefarious role in that election. They need to stop using them as an excuse for any broadside attack of theirs and their allies. Most importantly, they need to stop pretending they can replicate them.

The reality is that the political landscape hasn't changed that much in the aftermath of the SBVT. Its unlikely that such a moment will ever bring such an opportunity for such a group again. Once the Democrats realize this they can move on. If, on the other hand, they continue to insist that the SBVT smeared and lied, and use those supposed lies as excuses for the lies of their own allies, the SBVT will be an albatross around their necks indefinitely.

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

Cardboard Swiftboats don't float...at least not very long.

Nice analysis.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that you would describe any group with $25+ million to spend as “modestly funded.” “Narrow,” yes, which of course accounts in part for their impact in 2004 - not many campaigns, PACs, or 527s had that much to spend on a single issue media blitz AND take themselves to Disney World.

Anyone who thinks the SBVT smears “caused” his defeat is mistaken. Most polls showed very few voters were swayed by SBVT in the end, and in fact he came within 140,000 votes of winning. Most people do believe he was harmed more by his perceived failure to respond quickly than from the attacks themselves, whether that belief is valid or not.

But let’s consider the one factual allegation you make on their behalf and see how close it is to any sort of “truth.”

“It turned out that Kerry had been lying for years about going into Cambodia illegally.”

Wrong. Assuming you are talking about Christmas Eve 1969, Kerry never said he’d gone to Cambodia on that date “illegally,” unless you mean crossing the border by accident. As much as SBVT and their followers want to suggest he claimed he was sent on some sort of secret mission, the fact is he never claimed any such thing. He told his biographers and interviewers he was on a routine patrol that went up to the border; in fact, Brinkley and Kranish both published long excerpts from his journal describing that patrol. At least two of his crewmates verify this. He said he was ambushed - a fact borne out by Elliott in his fitness report. He thought he’d crossed the border sometime during the patrol/ambush. He corrected a statement he’d made in 1979 about being five miles over the border, saying that happened a different time, but he’s never retracted his story about being on patrol at the border on Christmas Eve.

This information has been out there for years and years. I guess that’s one of the problems with allowing your partisan beliefs to drive your analysis rather than reality.

Chris said...

Good post. The dem's are running on their distorted interpretation of the SBV's. We'll see if the prior results are replicable or not. Hopefully not but the mendacity of the BO campaign is something to behold.

mike volpe said...

Given that the left spent 100 times as much as the right on 527's in 2004, yes the SBVT were modestly funded.

As for their impact, if they didn't have much impact, why are you making such a big deal out of it.

Kerry came within 100,000 votes in OHIO of winning and of course he still lost. Thus, if you want to consider that he lost for other reasons that is your business because he still lost.

As for his Christmas jaunt into Cambodia, well he was no longer in Vietnam by Christmas time and so it was very hard for him to be there.

Anonymous said...

Just one comment- Kerry met with the North Viet and VC representatives in Paris in 1970, while the war was still ongoing, not after the war. U.S. involvement was winding down with the withdrawal of U.S. troops, but the U.S. was still fighting the North Vietnamese and the few remaining VC.

Lew Waters said...

I have to disagree with "All they attacked was his war record."

While they did indeed raise legitimate questions as to his "awards," their scope covered much more, primarily his after Viet Nam actions and lies about the ongoing conflict he left behind and those of us who were there.

From my persepective, revealing it to be Kerry who was the Lieutenant that "testified" against our service and actions in Viet Nam drew more Veterans to the Swift Boat Veterans than his "war record" revelations.

Many of us were overseas still when he committed the acts we consider treason and never knew who it was. We only heard a Lieutenant had spoke lies about us. Others had forgotten who it was.

I don't believe Kerry expected so many Veterans to remember what he did in 1971 and still hold a grudge. In that, he seriously underestimated the impact his post Viet Nam conduct had on so many of us.

Anonymous said...

"...but he’s never retracted his story about being on patrol at the border on Christmas Eve."

He retracted his story about being 5 miles inside Cambodia on Christmas Eve 1968 after lying about it on numerous, documented occasions.

Take your strawman argument elsewhere.

Lew Waters said...

For doubting Thomas's on the Christmas in Camobodia story, from the Boston Globe written by Michael Kranish, "On the same night, Kerry and his crew had come within a half-inch of being killed by "friendly fire," when some South Vietnamese allies launched several rounds into the river to celebrate the holiday.
To top it off, Kerry said, he had gone several miles inside Cambodia, which theoretically was off limits, prompting Kerry to send a sarcastic message to his superiors that he was writing from the Navy's "most inland" unit.
"

In the October 14, 1979 Boston Herald, Kerry wrote, "On more than one occassion, I, like Martin Sheen in 'Apocalypse Now,' took my boat into Cambodia. In fact, I remember spending Christmas Eve of 1968 5 miles across the Cambodian border being shot at by our South Vietnamese allies who were drunk and celebrating Christmas. The absurdity of almost being killed by our own allies in a country in which President Nixon claimed there no American Troops was very real."

(jpg copy of article available upon request)

In addition, there is Kerry's March 27, 1986 Senate Floor Speech where in part he said, "Mr. President, I remember Christmas of 1968 sitting on a gunboat in Cambodia. I remember what it was like to be shot at by Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge and Cambodians, and have the President of the United States telling the American people that I was not there; the troops were not in Cambodia,

I have that memory which is seared-seared-in me, that says to me, before we send another generation into harm's way we have a responsibility in the U.S. Senate to go the last step, to make the best effort possible in order to avoid that kind of conflict.
"

Kerry's own words are a far cry from, "He told his biographers and interviewers he was on a routine patrol that went up to the border; in fact, Brinkley and Kranish both published long excerpts from his journal describing that patrol."

Anonymous said...

Lew Waters said:

"From my persepective, revealing it to be Kerry who was the Lieutenant that 'testified' against our service and actions in Viet Nam drew more Veterans to the Swift Boat Veterans than his 'war record' revelations."


I take it you're not referring to Swift Boat veterans being "drawn" to SBVT. 'Cause by my count, the SBVT membership increased by about what, 60, during the entire campaign? This despite months of national publicity and intense lobbying of vets on the Swift Boat rolls.

Anonymous said...

I see that I accidentally posted about Christmas Eve 1969, when I meant Christmas Eve 1968.

I was pretty sure you knew that. But if your comment about him not being in VN then was based on that, then I withdraw my rude response.

However, the rest of my comment about Christmas Eve in Cambodia stands.

Anonymous said...

My initial post may not have shown up, making my next post pretty confusing. So I am re-posting my initial post just in case:


"Given that the left spent 100 times as much as the right on 527's in 2004, yes the SBVT were modestly funded."

First, that's demonstrably false.

Opensecrets

Second, care to name a single 527 that had $25+ million to spend on a single-issue media campaign?

--------

"As for their impact, if they didn't have much impact, why are you making such a big deal out of it."

First, I'm responding to your blog post, which did make a big deal out of it.

Second, I didn't say they didn't have much impact, I said it was a mistake to claim their smears "caused" Kerry's defeat, as you claim.

---------------

"Kerry came within 100,000 votes in OHIO of winning"

Which means he came within 100,000 (actually 140,000) votes of winning the Presidency.

---------------

"As for his Christmas jaunt into Cambodia, well he was no longer in Vietnam by Christmas time and so it was very hard for him to be there."


I'd originally given a snarky response, before realizing I'd mistakenly referred to Christmas Eve 1969 instead of Christmas Eve 1969. If it shows up, I of course withdraw it.

However, the rest of my comment about that mission stands.

mike volpe said...

Mr. Anonymous, he just wasn't in Vietnam during Christmas time period. It has nothing to do with which year. He just wasn't there.

As for spending, of course it wasn't 100 times. I was exaggerating, however George Soros spent way more on 527's than anything th SBVT did.

As for Kerry, he lost. You can justify it all you want but the bottom line is he lost.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Volpe, your comment that Kerry wasn't in Vietnam over a Christmas period is simply wrong. Kerry was in Vietnam for Christmas Eve '68, none of which was spent 5 miles inside Cambodia, a lie he was compelled to retract.

Kerry is an established liar. The only argument remaining is the breadth...which is substantial.

mike volpe said...

The last anonymous poster is correct, at least that is what this Washington Post story says...

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A27211-2004Aug23.html

I should have re checked my facts as much of this information I first learned about four years ago.

Anonymous said...

I take it you're not referring to Swift Boat veterans being "drawn" to SBVT. 'Cause by my count, the SBVT membership increased by about what, 60, during the entire campaign? This despite months of national publicity and intense lobbying of vets on the Swift Boat rolls.

More pap. SBVT purportedly attempted to contact as many Swiftboat veterans as they could prior to the commencement of their campaign. It is hardly surprising (to anyone other than spinmeisters) that the entire universe of Swiftboat veterans was reachable. Nor should it be surprising (to anyone other than spinmeisters) that many who WERE contacted preferred not to enter the public fray. If you have evidence, other than their initial communication/letter, of "months" of "intense lobbying" of "vets on the Swift Boat rolls", produce it here. I'd like to see it.

Given the viscious assault leveled at this group by a complicit media, that 60 more (by your count) publicly joined the effort AFTER the campaign commenced is a testimony to the strength of their case, hardly a reflection of disdain.

But you like the numbers game, so let's play s'more. How many Swiftboat veterans were publicly "drawn" to Kerry after the start of the campaign?
Here's a clue. You could hold the next "Swiftboat Veterans for Kerry" meeting in a phone booth.

Anonymous said...

"It is hardly surprising (to anyone other than spinmeisters) that the entire universe of Swiftboat veterans was reachable."

Oops...should read "not reachable"

mike volpe said...

So, to sum up so far, goo discussion first of all...

John Kerry served nobly in Vietnam. His service should never have been a central theme of his campaign. While he served nobly in Vietnam, his behavior after the war was a betrayal to most of the troops he left behind. Those troops had an not unexpected negative visceral reaction to his behavior following the war.

When he made his Vietnam service central to his campaign, it brought many old wounds back to his fellow vets. Some of these vets form SBVT and began a campaign of countering the image of the flawless war hero he created. Since in fact, he wasn't a flawless war hero, this campaign was largely successful. Their campaign played a large role in determining the course of the election.

I believe that is essentially the point of my piece.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

"...but he’s never retracted his story about being on patrol at the border on Christmas Eve."

He retracted his story about being 5 miles inside Cambodia on Christmas Eve 1968 after lying about it on numerous, documented occasions.



------------------

Links please.

Anonymous said...

Kerry's own words are a far cry from, "He told his biographers and interviewers he was on a routine patrol that went up to the border; in fact, Brinkley and Kranish both published long excerpts from his journal describing that patrol."


------------------------

Actually, they're not. He told those biographers that he thought he'd crossed the border at the same time.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous at 5:39 am:

It is a fact that SBVT hired a detective to contact Swift Boat vets trying to get them to badmouth Kerry. That's mentioned in the book and several vets have mentioned it in public.

At least you don't deny that despite the months of national publicity, they got very few willing to sign on. And a few who hadn't realized what they were signing up for signed off, as I recall.

Anonymous said...

PS, his journal and his interviews also mention an ambush during the patrol (verified in his fitness report), as well as being shot at by drunken friendlies later.

Nary a word about a "secret mission," despite what SBVT would like to tell you.

Anonymous said...

mike volpe said...

"As for spending, of course it wasn't 100 times. I was exaggerating, however George Soros spent way more on 527's than anything th SBVT did."

I know you were exaggerating, but as I showed, the idea that the right wing groups were hugely outspent by the left-wing groups is just not true.

And once again, George Soros did not finance a $25+ million single-issue campaign.

------------------------

"As for Kerry, he lost. You can justify it all you want but the bottom line is he lost."

Of course he lost, and I don't see where I've "justified" anythings. It's just inaccurate to suggest he lost because of what the SBVT said. Which was your point, I believe.

Anonymous said...

Mike Volpe said:

"Since in fact, he wasn't a flawless war hero, this campaign was largely successful. Their campaign played a large role in determining the course of the election."

Well, if that really is one of your essential points, I have to say I disagree, for reasons already stated.

Anonymous said...

At least you don't deny that despite the months of national publicity, they got very few willing to sign on. And a few who hadn't realized what they were signing up for signed off, as I recall.

Interesting math. 60 additional (by your count) is "very few" and 2? who withdrew their initial support are "a few".

mike volpe said...

Look, Kerry lost for many reasons however if you think the SBVT were helpful or even of no consequences you are just fooling yourself.

Once the SBVT attacked Kerry he was defensive and that posture stayed for a while. That is not a good thing and Democrats still haven't gotten over it. Frankly, I wouldn't have so much debate from you if you thought they were benign.

There was plenty of reasons why Kerry lost and SBVT was a main one.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Interesting math. 60 additional (by your count) is "very few" and 2? who withdrew their initial support are "a few".

-------------------------

Well yes, 60 out of 2500-3000 surviving vets, after months of blazing publicity and recruitment efforts, is very few.

There were two who were interviewed in an article who took their names of the list. At least one other ended up so disgusted he gave signed statements to the Kerry campaign and voted for Kerry. That doesn't include the vets like James Zumwalt who said they had "misgivings" about SBVT tactics. And it doesn't include the ones whose names weren't made public.

Anonymous said...

mike volpe said...

Look, Kerry lost for many reasons however if you think the SBVT were helpful or even of no consequences you are just fooling yourself.

Once the SBVT attacked Kerry he was defensive and that posture stayed for a while. That is not a good thing and Democrats still haven't gotten over it. Frankly, I wouldn't have so much debate from you if you thought they were benign.

There was plenty of reasons why Kerry lost and SBVT was a main one.

------------------------------

Sorry, your first paragraph doesn't make sense.

As to the rest, the fact that few voters were swayed by SBVT doesn't mean they were "benign."

GWB won despite the fact that Kitty Kelley wrote ludicrous things about him. Most people didn't believe GWB actually snorted coke at Camp David ...does that mean her lies were "benign"?

Lew Waters said...

Latest anonymous, a fatal flaw in your assertion:

Kelly had no corroborating evidence or witnesses to back up her ludicrous claims.

The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth had many corroborations and even Kerry's own admissions of falsehoods and errors.

One thing Kerry never received, even though he counted on it, was the Veteran Vote. Upwards of 80% of us Viet Nam Vets voted against him, thanks to what we learned from the SBVT.

We saw through Kerry's smokescreen and recalled his slanderous "testimony" before the Fulbright Commission.

That "testimony," which the Swiftees reminded us all of, sunk his chances much more than his scant service time in Viet Nam or his glory grabbing to build a hero portfolio he never deserved.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Lew, you've missed my point.

Go back and try again.