Let Them Do the Dirty Work
Bush team is used to winning ugly.
Thursday, October 28, 2004
In response to the intensifying controversy over the so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attack on John Kerry, spokespeople for the Bush campaign and the White House have denied any connection between the Bush campaign and the Swift Vets, and they have maintained that Bush has not participated in the effort to denigrate Kerry’s service in Vietnam.
But Bush has refused to denounce the ads produced by the Swift Vets and instead has only generally criticized the existence of such (supposedly) independent political hit-jobs. Monday The New York Times quoted Bush campaign flack Steve Schmidt insisting, “The president has made clear that he regards John Kerry’s service as noble service.”
Perhaps. But when Bush had the chance to make clear that he
considered Kerry’s service “noble,” Bush took a pass. In fact,
he even—nod, nod, wink, wink—encouraged criticism of Kerry’s
record by maintaining silence when his fervent supporters
repeated the Swift Vets’ criticisms.
In 2000, Bush and his campaign engaged in precisely the same dirty politics, after Senator John McCain walloped Bush in the New Hampshire primary.
At one of his “Ask President Bush” events—those faux townhall meetings attended only by Bush fans screened by the Republicans—Bush took questions from the crowd in Oregon. Two Bush backers in the crowd referred to the Swift Vets’ campaign against Kerry. Here are those exchanges, taken from the transcript:
Q: On behalf of Vietnam veterans—and I served six tours over there—we do support the President. I only have one concern, and that’s on the Purple Heart, and that is, is that there are over 200,000 Vietnam vets that died from Agent Orange and were never—no Purple Heart has ever been awarded to a Vietnam veteran because of Agent Orange. Yet, we’ve got a candidate for President out here with two self-inflicted scratches, and I take that as an insult. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I appreciate that. Thank you. Thank you for your service. Six tours? Whew. That’s a lot of tours. Let’s see, who’ve we got here? You got a question?
Is it really honoring Kerry’s service essentially to nod as others denigrate it?
But this is part of the Bush playbook. In 2000, Bush and his campaign engaged in precisely the same dirty politics, after Senator John McCain walloped Bush in the New Hampshire primary. With the GOP nomination battle seeming to hinge on the primary in South Carolina, home to many retired military veterans, Bush appeared at a campaign rally with J. Thomas Burch Jr., the chairman of a marginal outfit called the National Vietnam and Gulf War Veterans Coalition. Burch bitterly decried McCain for “always” opposing veterans’ legislation, including measures concerning Agent Orange, health care and the Gulf War. When Burch finished slamming McCain, Bush shook his hand and said, “Thank you, buddy.”
There was one problem. What Burch had said was a lie. McCain had co-sponsored the Agent Orange act that became law. He also had testified in favor of legislation to provide compensation to Gulf War vets struck by unexplained illnesses. After news accounts noted that Burch had lied and after five senators who had fought in Vietnam (including two Republicans) termed Burch’s allegations “absolutely false,” Bush refused to repudiate Burch. Instead, the Bush campaign crowed about the effectiveness of Burch’s phony attack. Bush campaign spokesman Tucker Eskew said, “The McCain campaign is squawking because we hit them where they hurt.”
That quote says much about the Bush gang’s ethics (or lack thereof). This time around, the campaign is savvy enough not to brag. But the methodology is mostly the same. First, let others mount the dirtiest assaults—even if untrue. Then, say nothing to disrupt these attacks, Finally, reap the rewards. The Bush crowd’s response to the Swift Vets’ campaign is hardly surprising. And it is hardly honorable.