08.01.08 Swiftboat Season
It’s just about four years ago that John Kerry foolishly announced to the nation that his chief qualification to be president of the United States was his status as a Vietnam War hero. “Reporting for duty,” he cried.
It was all so horribly militaristic. But gullible progressives (myself included, I must admit) hoped for a brief moment that this silly ploy might actually work. We had forgotten that the Democratic habit of trying to win elections by being more Republican than the Republicans already had a long record of failure. After all, why would anyone vote for a Democrat pretending to be a Republican, when one could vote for a real Republican, instead?
John Kerry’s inability to articulate any reason why he should be president other than his crisp salute, along with his mind-bogglingly ridiculous attempt to have it all ways on the Iraq War, left his campaign vapid and vulnerable. It is no wonder that the GOP lie machine, having invented an Orwellian history of John Kerry the Vietnam War coward, captured the public imagination. The Kerry campaign was so focused on their own self-reverential image that they seemed never to know what hit ‘em. It was downright embarrassing to see how meekly they went down.
“To swiftboat” entered the lexicon. It is the use of a big lie to destroy the image – indeed the entire rationale – of a political opponent. The definition does not necessarily indicate that only Republicans can swiftboat, but somehow I can’t get my mind around the idea of any Democrat’s being able to. It’s not that Dems are too honest. It’s that they are too weak.
Successful swiftboating doesn’t just rely on the ingenuity and deep pockets of Republican liars. It also relies plenty of sympathetic “free media” from all those so-called “news” outlets that love to prove how fair they are by giving equal time and credence to all data reaching them, regardless of factual accuracy. This has been going on since before anyone (other than Vietnam vets) knew what a swiftboat was. The great example from 2000 was the great lie, embraced and furthered by the media, that Gore was a liar.
Well, we’re now in August of a presidential campaign year. And guess where Johnny McCain is? You’ve got it: he’s “presiding” over a campaign being run by key operatives from Bush/Rove 2004. And guess what they’re doing? You got it: they’re spreading as many big lies about Barack Obama as they can push out the door.
In the past two weeks, we’ve seen a full-throttle attack in Obama for deigning to go abroad and speak in front of adoring crowds. We have seen a fallacious meme that Obama refused to meet with wounded troops. And now we’re seeing an advertising campaign that compares Obama with Brittney and Paris.
This is all old-time GOP crap. The Democratic is unpatriotic. He is too, well, foreign. He is elitist. He is out of touch. (Never mind that McCain & Wife are worth more than all the readers of this blog put together, never having lived with or like “little people.”)
You and I can see through the shear idiocy of this all day long. But is it shear idiocy if it works? We know that the media eats this stuff up. And we know that Dems go through several ineffectual stages of (not) dealing with it, beginning with arrogant assumptions that it can’t possibly work because it is so stupid and ending with whimpering in a corner.
So. What’s it going to be this year? Will Barack Obama let the bad guys define him?!
It’s too early to tell. Unlike Kerry (and Gore, and Dukakis, for that matter), Obama says he is prepared. He insists that he will not allow his image and campaign to be hijacked by the right and their media lackeys. So far, Obama has been standing tall, releasing an ad of his own that goes after the Republicans for their tactics and speaking out strongly and derisively about what’s going on.
But, the reality is that he is the blank canvas in this contest, meaning that the bad guys have an opportunity to paint the picture they want. Furthermore, his squishiness on one issue after another leaves him that much more vulnerable to being caricatured.
As I pointed out in previous posts, Barack Obama has shown since June that he is not the different kind of politician he wanted us to believe. (Among other things, he has given off signals that he buys at least parts of the old mythology that Democrats win by pretending to be Republicans.) We just have to hope he is a different kind of Democrat in one very crucial way: by fighting aggressively against everything his morally and ethically bankrupt opponents can throw his way.
©2008 Keith Berner