Saturday, August 28, 2004

On vacation

Until mid-week. In the meantime, check out the blogs listed at right to find out what's really going on.

The Kerry you should know

I should have linked to this when it first came out; better late than never. In the American Prospect, journalist Thomas Oliphant (who's been covering John Kerry's career for 30 years) has a fascinating article on the Kerry he knows. This is really a great read -- by far the most serious and in-depth take on the candidate that I've seen in this election year.

This is a contemplative, serious person -- well-grounded in progressive principles -- who has the good habit of getting interested in new ideas that survive scrutiny. His work habits reveal an iron butt for grunt work, as well as considerable experience in working across party lines. A non-Bush president will have to repair considerable damage abroad and at home, complex tasks that will resist grand fixes and reward the patience and tough negotiating that are Kerry attributes. But a non-Bush president will also have to think and act big and new, and the work Kerry has already done on a range of issues should inspire confidence....

John Kerry is a good, tough man. He is curious, grounded after a public and personal life that has not always been pleasant, a fan of ideas whose practical side has usually kept him from policy wonkery, a natural progressive with the added fixation on what works that made FDR and JFK so interesting. I know it is chic to be disdainful, but the modern Democratic neurosis gets in the way of a solid case for affection. Without embarrassment, and after a very long journey, I really like this guy.


Via Oliver Willis, some good news:

Americans increasingly believe President Bush's re-election campaign is behind the ads attacking Democrat John Kerry's Vietnam experience, a poll found.

Almost half in a poll taken this week say they think the president's campaign is behind the ads that try to undercut Kerry's medals for heroism while just over a third think the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is an independent group, the National Annenberg Election Survey found.

It would be rough justice indeed if this latest rendition of the oldest trick in the Bush playbook ended up biting Bush and Rove in the ass. If that happened, it might begin to restore a little of my faith in humanity -- which is sorely taxed by the 40-odd percent* of Americans who stubbornly persist in regarding Dubya as an acceptable president despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. (A belief which also runs counter to their own economic interests, I might add.)

*Assuming the polls are correct....

Serial liars

From a great Cynthia Tucker column:

It is an axiom of normal human behavior that one is embarrassed when caught flat-footed in a lie. That axiom, however, does not apply to the Swift boat critics of John Kerry. When caught cold in one lie, they simply move to the next.

Friday, August 27, 2004

William Greider picks up the stench of desperation

William Greider in The Nation:

What this farfetched smear demonstrates for sure, however, is the President's desperation. The man will do anything (didn't we already know that?). If Kerry is smart, he can turn this latest hit job into an excellent opportunity. Since Bush has raised the question of character and honesty, by all means let's talk about it. Kerry should open every speech with that line and then review the shameful evidence of Bush's mendacious character, from the fictitious threats from Iraq to the 5 million jobs his rich-guy tax cuts were going to produce for ordinary Americans. Which candidate trashes the truth? By all means let the election be decided on that question.

Despite the propaganda barrage, John Kerry seems to be holding his own. The most recent Gallup poll reported a slight improvement in the President's numbers but also found that Kerry is now more trusted to handle the war in Iraq by 48 percent, compared to 47 percent for Bush. That's a remarkable finding, given that effective war-making was supposed to be Bush's best and biggest card. Indeed, given the bloody muddle in Iraq, many Americans may be in the mood for more nuance in US foreign policy and less extremism from the White House.

The smoking gun

To the Boston Globe's editors, the connection between BC04 and SBVT is perfectly clear:

Benjamin L. Ginsberg is the smoking gun. As national counsel to Bush-Cheney for five years, he has operated continuously at the center of President Bush's political organization. He was James Baker's right-hand man during the 2000 Florida recount challenge.

When Ginsberg aided the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth's untruthful, scurrilous attacks on Senator John Kerry's Vietnam War record, he established a strong and obvious connection between the president's campaign and the smear....

Now the politics of the issue seems to be catching up with the facts. The story is no longer Vietnam but the smear. Bush, realizing that the tide has turned against him, is trying to back-pedal and change the subject -- proposing yesterday that both campaigns join in challenging the so-called 527 groups, like the veterans and some Democratic and Republican groups, that use unregulated "soft" political contributions from wealthy donors and special interests to influence campaigns. There is a legitimate 527 issue. The members of the Federal Election Commission, appointed by Bush and Bill Clinton, have betrayed their office by not reining in groups that are too closely aligned with both campaigns.

But that is not the issue with the anti-Kerry veterans. The issue is Bush -- his refusal to condemn a patently false attack, his willingness to try to reap some political reward on the cheap, his utter lack of leadership in brushing off the role played by his close political aides. 

Bob Herbert delivers Max Cleland's message

Bob Herbert weighs in:

Max Cleland, minus the three limbs he lost in Vietnam, showed up in his wheelchair outside President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Tex., on Wednesday to suggest that the president take the simple and decent step of condemning the slime that is being spread by Bush supporters against the war record of John Kerry.

He didn't get very far. The president was busy vacationing and had neither the time nor the inclination to meet with Mr. Cleland, a former U.S. senator who was himself the target of vicious, unconscionable attacks by the G.O.P. slime machine when he ran for re-election in Georgia in 2002....

Mr. Cleland reminded reporters of the scurrilous attacks by Bush forces against Senator John McCain in the Republican presidential primary in 2000 and said: "Keep in mind, this president has gone after three Vietnam veterans in four years. That's got to stop."

In what is surely the most important election of the last half-century, we seem trapped in the politics of the madhouse. What is incredible is that these attacks on men who served not just honorably, but heroically, are coming from a hawkish party that is controlled by an astonishing number of men who sprinted as far from the front lines as they could when they were of fighting age and their country was at war.

Among them:

Mr. Bush himself, the nation's commander in chief and the biggest hawk of all. He revels in the accoutrements of combat. The story was somewhat different when he was 22 years old and eligible for combat himself. He managed to get into the cushy confines of the Texas Air National Guard at the height of the Vietnam War in 1968 - a year in which more than a half-million American troops were in the war zone and more than 14,000 were killed.

The story gets murky after that. We know the future president breezed off at some point to work on a political campaign in Alabama, skipped a required flight physical in 1972 and was suspended from flying. He supported the war in Vietnam but was never in any danger of being sent there.

Vice President Dick Cheney, another fierce administration hawk. Mr. Cheney asked for and received five deferments when he was eligible for the draft. He told senators at a confirmation hearing in 1989, "I had other priorities in the 60's than military service." Many draft-age Americans had similar priorities - getting an education, getting married and starting a family....

It's one thing to decline to serve. It's quite another to throw mud at those who did serve - or to remain silent as allies hurl the mud.
[Or to instigate the mud-hurling by those allies.--LW]....

George W. Bush ought to call off his dogs. The one thing we ought to be able to do in this hyperpoliticized era is rally in a bipartisan way behind those who have been willing to fight our wars.

The privileged classes no longer feel an obligation to put their lives - or their children's lives - on the line in defense of the nation. The very least they could do is insist that those who have put themselves in harm's way be treated with respect.

Kerry nails the real flip-flopper

And gets a standing ovation. From the AP:

Kerry...defended himself from Republican charges that he wavers in his convictions on major issues.

"It's standard Republican playbook," Kerry said in response to a voter's question. "They just say it, and if you spend enough money and say it enough, people like you are going to ask the question."

Kerry said Bush has been the one flip-flopping over the last four years — standing against the Homeland Security Department, then embracing it; fighting against the Sept. 11 commission, then endorsing it; promising to fund his new education law, then failing to.

After his response got a standing ovation, Kerry said, "That's why it would be great to be talking about this every week."

Now THAT's taking the fight to the enemy. Way to go, Big John.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Putting the blame where it belongs

The Bush family is "very good at getting jobs done without leaving fingerprints, without compromising their patrician image and their alleged character."

From Dick Meyer of CBS News (via Josh Marshall):

Any student of Bush family campaigns could have seen the swift boat shiv shining a mile away. This old family has traditions – horseshoes, fishing, bad syntax and having the help do the dirty work in campaigns as well as the kitchen. And they are very good at getting jobs done without leaving fingerprints, without compromising their patrician image and their alleged character.

Even the audaciousness of this year’s episode is not surprising. Who would have believed that George Bush, with all the trouble over his National Guard service, could get John Kerry in hot water for his combat duty and medals in Vietnam? Well, anyone who saw what George Bush did to former POW John McCain in the 2000 primaries, which was even more outrageous.

As I've said before, there's no limit to how low the Bushes will sink in pursuit of power. (We have an expression down here that's applicable: "lower than a snake's belly.") It's also worth noting that when they get that power, they use it solely for the benefit of themselves and their wealthy compadres.

Eric Alterman reminds us that choices matter

Here's Eric:

It’s amazing and a bit disgusting that our election seems to be turning on a war that took place thirty years ago in which the man who served honorably both in the war and in the anti-war movement is on the defensive against the man who supported the war but took a pass on any service or sacrifice it might have involved, but there it is.  Given that we have no choice but to engage the issue, let’s think about it for a moment and see if we can isolate the kinds of decisions that faced young men in those dark days when American leaders—as they are doing today—unjustly sent America’s youth to pay for their own folly and ignorance. 

Recall that only privileged Americans had a choice as to whether to fight in Vietnam.  The sons of poor and working-class people did not have access to educational deferments and hence were unceremoniously sent to the firing line.  Given that, here are a few categories of the choices faced and the choices made, in what I judge to be descending order of moral fortitude.

A taxonomy of positions on Vietnam:

Category A: Exhibiting the strength of one’s moral convictions.

1. Supported the war and served in Vietnam (John Kerry, John McCain)
2. Opposed the war and served in Vietnam because it would have been unfair to force someone less fortunate to take one’s place (Al Gore)

3. Opposed the war and dedicated oneself to anti-war movement at some personal risk, including conscientious objection. (This position is not as dangerous as serving in a war, but it is nevertheless just as moral. The war was evil.  Putting oneself at legal and physical risk as many did to try to end this evil strikes me as an unimpeachable moral position, though given America’s political culture, it would also be untenable for any contemporary presidential candidate to hold.)

Category B: Exhibiting the strength of one’s moral convictions after protecting one’s posterior

* Opposed the war, protected self, and then worked for anti-war movement (Bill Clinton)
This position seems to me to be the minimum necessary to consider oneself a moral being.  Risking one’s person for one’s principles is a lot to ask for most of us, but the least one could ask is that if we identify an evil that is literally killing people, our peers included, one lifts a proverbial finger to stop it, say, by working for the presidential candidacies of Robert Kennedy, Eugene McCarthy or George McGovern.

Category C: Having no convictions to protect save self-protection

* Opposed the war, protected self, let others worry about it (Howard Dean, Joe Lieberman)
This is the position of those who merely opted out of the question, accepted their college deferments and went on with their lives and did not feel any sense of responsibility for their peers and countrymen.

Category D: Contradicting one’s alleged convictions in the service of protecting one’s posterior

* Supported the war, preferred to let others fight and die for it (George W. Bush, Dick Cheney)

This seems to me to be the least defensible position imaginable.  Bush and Cheney both used their privileged positions to protect themselves; Cheney says he did it because he had “other priorities.”  Bush says he did it because he wanted to “better himself” by learning to fly planes.  Whether he deserted his post or not—and I think he did—it is incontrovertible that he wasted the government’s million dollar investment in his training by allowing his qualifications to lapse while he was still supposed to be on active duty. 

Crewman on Thurlow's boat remembers being under fire

Via Josh Marshall, we learn that the Jackson Co. (Ore.) Mail Tribune features an interview with local veteran Robert E. Lambert -- who disputes Larry Thurlow's assertion that the Swift boats were not under fire when Joihn Kerry earned his Bronze Star.

And Lambert was on Thurlow's boat.

[T]he Eagle Point man challenges claims by a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that there was no enemy fire aimed at the five swift boats, including the one commanded by Kerry, on March 13, 1969 on the Bay Hap River in the southern tip of what was then South Vietnam.

Lambert, now 64, was a crew member on swift boat PCF-51 that day. The boat was commanded by Navy Lt. Larry Thurlow, a now-retired officer who questions why Kerry was awarded a Bronze star for bravery and a third Purple Heart for the March 13 incident.

"He and another officer now say we weren’t under fire at that time," Lambert said Wednesday afternoon. "Well, I sure was under the impression we were."

Lambert’s Bronze Star medal citation for the incident praises his courage under fire in the aftermath of a mine explosion that rocked another swift boat on that day 35 years ago.

"Anytime you are blown out of the water like that, they always follow that up with small arms fire," he said.

Lambert contacted the Mail Tribune after reading a lengthy article from the Washington Post examining the controversy. That article, carried in the Tribune, indicated that Lambert was a witness to the event but declined to comment.

Although noting he was never contacted by the Post, Lambert stressed that he believes the swift boat controversy has no place in the presidential election.

"This is being blown out of proportion," he said. "It’s absolutely unnecessary and irrelevant, as far as I’m concerned. All of this is nothing but a distraction. It doesn’t have anything to do with what is going on today."

A registered independent, Lambert said the presidential debate ought to be on the future, not the past.

"They should be focused on our exit strategy from Iraq," he said....

Lambert also disputes Thurlow's contention that medals were awarded on the basis of a report written by Kerry.

"They took what everybody said after they got in, piled it altogether and shipped it off and somebody wrote that, either at the division level, squadron level or commander of naval forces, Vietnam level," Lambert said. "They decided what kind of medal was going to be put on it."

Wonder how many eyewitness accounts it will take to make the media stop giving credence to tales told by people who WEREN'T there?

Why the press has a credibility gap

The Columbia Journalism Review thinks the press is doing a lousy job in this election year:

When Kerry called on Bush to condemn the Swift Boat ads, the White House pointed out that the president had himself been the target of harsh attack ads run by independent "527" groups supporting Kerry, and repeated its months-old contention that all such outside advertising should be banned.

The press dutifully reported this argument. But rarely if ever did reporters see fit to assess the validity of the comparison the Bush campaign was making. The anti-Bush ad most often cited by the White House as comparable to the Swift Boat spot was a MoveOn ad that questioned the president's service in the National Guard. But each one of the claims made in the MoveOn ad -- that Bush used family connections to get into the Guard, that he was grounded after failing to show up for a physical, that he wasn't seen at a Guard meeting for months, and that he was released eight months early to attend Harvard Business School -- is not in dispute. The overall tenor of the ad is harsh, to be sure -- so harsh, in fact, that Kerry quickly called it "irresponsible" -- but there's been no real argument that any of its assertions are untrue.

Compare that to the Swift Boat ads. Given that military records support Kerry's version of events, and that the credibility of many of Kerry's accusers is now in doubt, it would seem that if anyone should be on the defensive for lacking corroboration and documentation, it's those defending Bush's service record, not Kerry's. No anti-Bush ad from MoveOn has flown in the face of the preponderance of evidence in the way that the Swift Boat ad does. The press, then, should have pointed out the illogic of grouping the two spots as one and the same.

In the end, as always, the information that voters receive depends entirely on the way in which the press frames the story. The problem is that once an easy storyline is entrenched -- that Kerry and his detractors disagree -- too many reporters fail to press on. In this case, they neglected to either test the veracity of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth or to compare their ads with those financed by other 527s like MoveOn.

There have been dozens of press failures during this presidential campaign. But this one, even given the Times' and the Post's belated efforts to get to the bottom of things, has to rank as a low point.

In the end, the whole ball of wax certainly did nothing to help the mainstream press' credibility with what is an increasingly dubious audience.

I hope editors and news directors read this. The people at CJR are performing a public service with their Campaign Desk media critiques -- and they're finding a helluva lot to criticize. It's bad enough when people get their "information" from Faux News; it's even worse when the legitimate news outlets fail to provide the necessary corrective to administration propaganda.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Interesting question

Oliver Willis raises an interesting question: Should John O'Neill be disbarred?

Works for me. (The wingnuts will retort that Bill Clinton wasn't disbarred for lying -- but he was disciplined by the bar association. And he was simply trying to conceal a personal indiscretion -- he wasn't engaged in a smear campaign.)

[Another observation on O'Neill: When you get right down to it, I suppose none of this should be surprising. Not only is it standard operating procedure for Rove and the Bush family, but it's clear -- if you watch the old "Dick Cavett Show" debate between Kerry and O'Neill -- that O'Neill was taking the whole thing personally. Kerry's always polite (even when he's asking O'Neill if he's familiar with the Geneva Conventions); O'Neill, on the other hand, comes across like an attack dog. It's as if he can barely keep a lid on his anger. (Although given the Mutt-and-Jeff contrast between the two, the effect is comical; O'Neill reminds me of a nasty little dog that's latched onto the leg of Kerry's trousers.) Anyway, if the vets who still rant about "Hanoi Jane" can't get over that after all these years, I guess it's not surprising that O'Neill's personal animus lives on.]

How many lies = discredited?

You may have noticed that even though the Smear Boat Liars for Bush have been caught in numerous lies, the media keep trotting them out to spout still more falsehoods.

Josh Marshall raises a good question:

....what exactly is the statute of limitations on these guys? How many times do they have to get caught making false claims, unsubstantiated assertions or putting forward witnesses who weren't there, before they cease to have any credibility and get treated as such in the media?

At the moment the standard seems to be, "Okay, on your first nineteen claims, it seems like you were lying to us, but send along number twenty and we'll run that one up the flag pole too."

I'd sure like to see some editor or news director address that question.

Spotlight on shamelessness

This was pure political genius on the part of Max Cleland (or whoever came up with the idea). He put the spotlight squarely on Bush's utter shamelessness and total lack of moral courage (a subject discussed at length by Josh Marshall).

Been there, done that

Not a day goes by without more connections between the Bush campaign and Smear Boat Veterans for Bush coming to light.

Filthy campaigning of this sort is a Karl Rove trademark. Maybe -- just maybe -- the media won't let him get away with it this time.

In a democratic society, the Fourth Estate is our designated watchdog -- but for the last several years, too many so-called "reporters" have functioned more like lap dogs for the RNC. They've accepted talking points from the RNC at face value and dutifully regurgitated them. The 2000 campaign provided a case study of the phenomenon -- documented exhaustively by such media critics as Bob Somerby (of The Daily Howler) as well as in more conventional venues like the Columbia Journalism Review).

It will be interesting to see if this actually represents a turning point for the press. For the sake of our democracy, I certainly hope so.

Bush caught in another big lie

Dubya claimed that he served in the US Air Force. That'll sit well with a lot of guys who actually DID -- like my father (who is a member of Veterans for Kerry, by the way). Oliver Willis is all over the story.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Business as usual for Bush

The San Francisco Chronicle examines the history of Bush and his "brain" Karl Rove:

Bush's comments from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, were his most extensive yet on Kerry's military record. a pattern that dates back to Bush's early run for office as well as campaigns run by Karl Rove, his chief political adviser.

"It's amazing how similar this type of attack is to the pattern of attacks I have seen over two decades -- in some cases involving Bush's campaigns, in other cases they involved campaigns in which Karl Rove was a participant,'' said Wayne Slater, senior political writer at the Dallas Morning News, who has covered Bush since his early days in Texas politics and is author of the book "Bush's Brain,'' about Rove.

"In every case, the approach is the same: You have a surrogate group of allies, independent of the Bush campaign, raising questions not about the opponent's weakness but directly about the opponent's strength,'' Slater said...[He goes on to cite examples in which Buch collaborators smeared Ann Richards and John McCain.]

Slater said in each case Bush "was able to basically take the high road and give the same answer: 'I'm not associated with these attacks, and I don't condone these attacks. I'm engaged in a high-road campaign,' while at the same time, his allies are basically doing the dirty work."

For someone who makes so much noise about being "born again," Bush sure does have a tenuous relationship with the truth. Apparently he thinks the ninth commandment doesn't apply to him. (That would be the one about bearing false witness, George.)

To paraphrase some doggerel I found in a union newsletter at my grandparents' home, many years ago:

Not even the devil could stand the smell
Of a red-hot Bush on a griddle in hell.

Milbank catches BushCheney in more lies

Dana Milbank catches Bush and Cheney misquoting John Kerry:

The 2004 presidential campaign sometimes resembles the children's game of "telephone." Here are some quotations as they came out of Democratic nominee John F. Kerry's mouth -- and how President Bush and Vice President Cheney later recounted them.

"Every performer tonight in their own way, either verbally or through their music, through their lyrics, have conveyed to you the heart and soul of our country." -- Kerry, July 8

"The other day, my opponent said he thought you could find the heart and soul of America in Hollywood." -- Bush, Aug. 18

And that's just the beginning. Check it out. (What was I saying the other day...something about people who couldn't tell the truth if you wrote it out for them in words of one syllable?)

I think we could all use some laughs

Liberal Oasis links to a Swift Boat ad parody from Air America's "Morning Sedition."

And here's a good one from WTF Is It Now??, one of my favorite political commentary sites:

Q: What medal did George W Bush earn during the Vietnam war?
A: The Pabst Blue Ribbon.

And speaking of fun, don't forget: John Kerry on Comedy Central's "Daily Show," tonight at 11 p.m.

Adlai Stevenson proposes a deal

Kos features some great (and prescient) quotes from Adlai Stevenson. Apparently some things never change:

If the Republicans will stop telling lies about the Democrats, we will stop telling the truth about them.

Bush has NO problem with 527s... long as they're raising money and doing dirty work for HIM. The Washington Monthly has the gory details.

'Bush has no positive achievements to run on'

...which is why he went on the attack as soon as John Kerry locked up the nomination, and he's stayed on the attack ever since. Paul Krugman saw it coming, and detects standard Bush operating procedure:

Almost a year ago, on the second anniversary of 9/11, I predicted "an ugly, bitter campaign - probably the nastiest of modern American history." The reasons I gave then still apply. President Bush has no positive achievements to run on. Yet his inner circle cannot afford to see him lose: if he does, the shroud of secrecy will be lifted, and the public will learn the truth about cooked intelligence, profiteering, politicization of homeland security and more.

But recent attacks on John Kerry have surpassed even my expectations. There's no mystery why. Mr. Kerry isn't just a Democrat who might win: his life story challenges Mr. Bush's attempts to confuse tough-guy poses with heroism, and bombast with patriotism.

One of the wonders of recent American politics has been the ability of Mr. Bush and his supporters to wrap their partisanship in the flag. Through innuendo and direct attacks by surrogates, men who assiduously avoided service in Vietnam, like Dick Cheney (five deferments), John Ashcroft (seven deferments) and George Bush (a comfy spot in the National Guard, and a mysterious gap in his records), have questioned the patriotism of men who risked their lives and suffered for their country: John McCain, Max Cleland and now John Kerry.

There's a word for Cheney, Ashcroft, and Bush: chickenhawks. Actually, let's make that lying chickenhawks.

'George, everything isn't politics'

E.J. Dionne holds the media accountable:

The media have to do more than "he said/he said" reporting. If the charges don't hold up, they don't hold up. And, yes, now that John Kerry's life during his twenties has been put at the heart of this campaign just over two months from Election Day, the media owe the country a comparable review of what Bush was doing at the same time and the same age.

If all the stories about what Kerry did in Vietnam are not balanced by serious scrutiny of Bush in the Vietnam years, the media will be capitulating to a right-wing smear campaign. Surely our nation's editors and producers don't want to send a signal that all you have to do to set the media's agenda is spend a half-million bucks on television ads.

This is also a test of John McCain. When he ran against Bush four years ago, McCain was smeared mercilessly. When McCain protested to Bush about the attacks at one of their debates during the 2000 primaries, Bush brushed him off. "John," Bush said, "it's politics."

McCain snapped back, "George, everything isn't politics."

McCain was right, and when he returns to the United States from a trip to Europe this week, he should stand up for that principle by suspending his campaigning for Bush's reelection until the smears against Kerry's Vietnam record stop.

When McCain was smeared in 2000, John Kerry stood up for him. Now we'll see if McCain can stand up to Bush. And for that matter, we'll find out who DOES set the media's agenda.

John Kerry on The Daily Show!

This just in: John Kerry will be a guest on Comedy Central's "Daily Show" Tuesday at 11 p.m.!

More to come

Tonight on MSNBC, Tom Oliphant of the Boston Globe said the Kerry people had told him the counterattack would continue tomorrow. Oliphant also pointed out that in every campaign, Kerry's opponents have tried to trash his record in Vietnam. (You notice he keeps winning elections.)

I have a distinct feeling that by the time this is over, Karl Rove will wish he'd never heard of Swift boats, John O'Neill, or Regnery Publishing.

Monday, August 23, 2004

'A formidable reputation as a nasty campaigner'

A good catch on Josh Marshall's part:

From The Financial Times, left-wing rag, December 9th, 2003 ...

The Bush campaign machine, well oiled and already rolling, should not be underestimated. The current president's father gained a formidable reputation as a nasty campaigner, though the presidential fingerprints were carefully wiped off negative blueprints administered by Lee Atwater, the first Mr Bush's ruthless chief strategist.

Karl Rove, a disciple of Mr Atwater, is similarly meticulous about keeping the president publicly above the fray. Yet it is an open secret in Washington that White House-blessed campaign strategists have been working quietly for months to compile potentially damaging background on all the Democratic candidates. In the early going, when it appeared Mr Kerry would emerge as the frontrunner, one senior Republican commented wryly: "By the time the White House finishes with Kerry, no one will know what side of the (Vietnam) war he fought on."

The White House has been planning this all along. BushCo did the same thing to John McCain in 2000, with an outfit called "Republicans for Clean Air" financed by one of Bush's "Pioneer" fundraisers. Independent group, my ass -- this Swift Boat outfit has Karl Rove's fingerprints all over it.

'If you have half a brain, it shouldn’t be too hard to make up your mind'

Eric Alterman cuts to the chase:

If you vote for John Kerry you are going to get one kind of presidency, and if you vote for George W. Bush, you are going to get another kind.  They are quite different, and really, if you have half a brain, it shouldn’t be too hard to make up your mind.

That's exactly what bugs the hell out of me when I hear some idiot say, "I still haven't decided how I'm going to vote." These are the same numbskulls who didn't see any difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush.

Heads-up, folks: President Gore would have taken care of business in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden probably would be in US custody by now, because President Gore would not have pulled US forces out of Afghanistan and sent them on a wild-goose chase for non-existent WMDs in Iraq. (For that same reason, nearly 1,000 Americans would still be alive; several thousand more would not be maimed for life; and our National Guard would not be so overtaxed as to be incapable of handling an emergency here at home.)

I'll even go so far as to say that a Gore administration might -- just might -- have headed the 9/11 attacks off at the pass, because when the intelligence system was blinking red in the summer of 2001, Gore would have been "shaking the trees" in the manner Richard Clarke advocated. Had Gore received a PDB headed "Bin Laden determined to strike in US," he wouldn't have thrown up his hands and said, "But it doesn't specify the place and time!" Gore would have moved heaven and earth to get those answers. (This is, after all, a man who as vice president read all his daily briefings and jotted down questions for which he wanted answers.)

Moreover, President Gore would not have appointed lobbyists from polluting industries to "oversee" the environment. He would not have given an immense tax cut to the wealthiest Americans, thereby shifting the tax burden to the middle class. He would not have given the pharmaceutical companies a license to rob consumers blind and called it a "Medicare prescription drug benefit."

And the differences between John Kerry and George W. Bush are just as dramatic. Everything I said above applies to John Kerry as well. And Kerry will get serious about homeland security: instead of issuing vague color-coded "warnings," he'll focus on protecting ports, nuclear plants, chemical facilities, and the water supply. Kerry has practical, innovative ideas to reduce our dependence on Saudi oil and provide more people with health insurance (and you can read about his plans at Having served in combat himself, Kerry will only go to war when necessary -- and never without a plan for the aftermath.

Kerry and Bush could not be more different. If you have a hard time choosing between these two candidates, I respectfully suggest you refrain from voting in this election. For a well-informed voter, the choice is easy.

'Liddy' Dole gets a letter from a constituent

Since your husband chose to sound off about John Kerry's Purple Hearts, would you please remind Bob Dole how he got HIS first Purple Heart?

In a 1988 campaign-trail autobiography, here's how Dole described the incident that earned him his first Purple Heart: "As we approached the enemy, there was a brief exchange of gunfire. I took a grenade in hand, pulled the pin, and tossed it in the direction of the farmhouse. It wasn't a very good pitch (remember, I was used to catching passes, not throwing them). In the darkness, the grenade must have struck a tree and bounced off. It exploded nearby, sending a sliver of metal into my leg--the sort of injury the Army patched up with Mercurochrome and a Purple Heart."

As a constituent, I'd appreciate it if you'd refresh your husband's memory. Thanks.

Linda L. Whitener

As long as we're examining the record....

Kevin Drum's takedown of the Not-too-Swift Liars:

This probably isn't a complete list, but here's a quick recap of why nobody with a brain should trust a word they say:

Roy Hoffman, today: "John Kerry has not been honest."
Roy Hoffman, 2003: "I am not going to say anything negative about him — he's a good man."

Adrian Lonsdale, today: "He lacks the capacity to lead."
Adrian Lonsdale, 1996: "He was among the finest of those Swift boat drivers."

George Elliot, today: "John Kerry has not been honest about what happened in Vietnam."
George Elliot, 1996: "The fact that he chased an armed enemy down is something not to be looked down upon, but it was an act of courage."

Larry Thurlow, today: "...there was no hostile enemy fire directed at my boat or at any of the five boats operating on the river that day."
Larry Thurlow's Bronze Star citation, 1969: "...all units began receiving enemy small arms and automatic weapons fire from the river banks."

Dr. Louis Letson, today: "I know John Kerry is lying about his first Purple Heart because I treated him for that injury."
Medical records, 1968: "Dr. Letson's name does not appear on any of the medical records for Mr. Kerry. Under 'person administering treatment' for the injury, the form is signed by a medic, J. C. Carreon, who died several years ago."

Grant Hibbard, today: "He betrayed all his shipmates. He lied before the Senate."
Hibbard's evaluation of Kerry, 1968: "Mr. Hibbard gave Mr. Kerry the highest rating of 'one of the top few' in three categories—initiative, cooperation and personal behavior. He gave Mr. Kerry the second-best rating, 'above the majority,' in military bearing."

They were either lying then or they're lying now. Take your pick. But either way, since there's no documentary evidence to back up their stories, the only thing going for them is their own personal credibility.

And that seems pretty thin, doesn't it?

It does, indeed. In fact, I'd say they're about as credible as George W. Bush.