Friday, August 27, 2004

Final Word on Swift Boat Vets...Really

Guest Post by a friend we'll call "Capitol Hill Insider guy":

What is most shocking about the belated Kerry reaction to SBVT? Day-to-day response was supposed to be top Kerry advisor Bob Shrum's strong point.

For years, Democratic insiders have complained that, while Shrum was the country's premiere speechwriter and brilliant counterattack specialist, he lacked the ability to craft an effective meta-message that both fit the candidate and summed up the candidacy. Regardless of a candidate's background, record, or voice, the Shrum meta-message was always a variation on 'the people versus the powerful' rant that was so ill-suited to Al Gore's record, temperament, and the campaign of an eight-year New Democratic incumbent.

With Kerry, Shrum finally seemed to realize the need to craft a message that suited the candidate and the times. A decorated veteran running during a war when the United States is dangerously isolated from its allies? How about "stronger at home, more respected in the world." While some will claim it sounds simplistic bordering on the insulting (how about "I Like Ike!"), it strikes the right balance of toughness for middle America and anti-Bushism for the East and West Coast liberals.

While Bob Shrum was patting himself on the back this August, along came the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (a group John Stewart correctly characterized as "neither swift nor truthful" - it's frightening, but The Daily Show provided more informative coverage of this story than any "legitimate" news organization - Ed Murrow is turning over in his grave). Who could have counted on this group of folks still being angry at John Kerry now nearly 30 years after the fall of Saigon? Well, just about anyone should have.

John O'Neill has been stalking Kerry ever since the candidate got off PCF-94. First, he was a hired hand of Nixon, attacking Kerry and Vietnam Veterans Against the War as unpatriotic for not supporting the president and the war (sound familiar?) and O'Neill has dogged Kerry ever since. Make no mistake, John O'Neill is a very angry man. But is it because he really thinks that Kerry didn't earn his medals? No, it comes down to the divide that still remains over the Vietnam War: was this a fight that could have or should have been won? On one hand, you have O'Neill and others who will likely claim until their dying days that they and their brothers-in-arms could have defeated North Vietnam if it wasn't for all those meddling liberals in Washington, DC who wouldn't let them take the gloves off. On the other, you have John Kerry and Vietnam Veterans Against the War who believe that winning the war would have required tactics too brutal to contemplate and that the South Vietnamese regime was corrupt, incompetent, and not worth the lives of more young Americans. It's a debate that could still easily lead to fisticuffs at any Legion hall or Fox News set.

So Shrum should have seen it coming. He should have hit back on the very first day. He didn't, and now John Kerry is paying the price. It is not likely a fatal blow, or even a glancing one, but it's been two solid weeks of awful coverage, no chance to talk about Kerry's winning issues, and now we're headed into a week of what will likely be solidly positive Republican converage. It's positive momentum for Bush going into the only two months that will truly matter in the campaign. Even with that said, Kerry still has an edge. But should Shrum fail in Kerry's next major test and Bush's momentum continue, pundits will look back on these two weeks and say, 'That was when John Kerry lost the war.'


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