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Is the Swift boat hoax backfire beginning?
by Jules Siegel
August 21, 2004

As more evidence pours in that the Swift boats attack ad is a hoax, the damage has yet to be determined. Now that Kerry's fighting back, the stunt could blow up in the Republicans' faces. In the latest development, William Rood, the other surviving commander of the Feb. 28, 1969 operation, has come out on Kerry's side with resounding force. Meanwhile Ken Cordier, one of the anti-Kerry Swift boat veterans turns out to have been a Bush campaign operative, a member of their Vietnam Veterans Steering Committee until August 19, when his name disappeared from the Bush campaign site.

By removing his name, the Republicans have implicitly acknowledged that the Swift boat 527 is hardly some grassroots, independent uprising. Although the typical voter has already pretty much chosen sides by attacking the ad, Kerry consolidates his image with his base. He shows that he's a tough guy who knows how to throw a punch. He also forces the Bush campaign to the defensive and makes them explain their position over and over again, in the course of which they say things that further anger Kerry's base, such as Racicot's "wild-eyed" comment.

Much of Bush's base will believe the ad no matter what, but many of the persuadables are going to see it as a cheap trick that failed. These voters are the key to the election. If the ad is shown to be a fake and also another nasty Texas-crony and Rove fake, the Bush campaign not only loses a whole line of attack, but is also are wounded with voters it must get in order to win. Bush's credibility with persuadables goes down another big notch. One of his biggest liabilities is that he's perceived to be a liar. He's also looking like a bully. Kerry is showing that he's no wimp. Even when the Swift boat accusers turn to his repudiation of the Vietnam war they will only futher demonstrate that his honesty and integrity. A lot of voters were on Kerry's side of the Vietnam argument, even if they never heard of him at the time. Now they get to see what he said in the most dramatic terms.

If it's proven that the Bush campaign people broke the rules, they won't be able to run the ad at arm's length any more. Kerry will have shown that he can kick Bush in the groin and knock him down. Even if the FEC refuses to take down the ad, Kerry will have had many new opportunities to show that it's a fake, and that it is a Bush trick, not an independent outburst of indignation. When Bush counter-attacks by challenging the pro-Kerry 527s, they will be able to argue that they are pure and innocent. It's kind of difficult to argue coordination when Kerry is on record as saying MoveOn was wrong. It's also a little difficult to explain away a few rich Republicans in Texas by comparing them to the many thousands of MoveOn contributors.

Kerry is now throwing a whirlwind of punches. He's showing that he's a fighter. Bush has little to gain in this, because no matter what he says, the story is always that Kerry was under fire in Vietnam while he was in Alabama being a political playboy. Maybe Kerry's wounds weren't all that serious, but he did shed blood for his country, and he did rescue Jim Rasmussen, and all his superiors praised him in the richest terms. All the guys in his boat loved him except for one guy he apparently reamed out who has carried a grudge ever since. Are independents really going to take the word of Bush's surrogates over the men who were there with him in an aluminum boat under enemy fire?

Let's remember something. Kerry did kill that Viet Cong kid with the rocket launcher. In the testosterone environment of today's kick-slam politics, that is a key fact in his favor. He has shown that he was a decisive and brutal killer, not a preppie button pusher sending other people's kids to die and be maimed. Pacifists may not find that admirable, but on the unconscious level it has very significant appeal to the rest of the voting public. Schwarzenegger is a Hollywood terminator who played the role all the way to the governor's office. Kerry is the real thing. Never underestimate the political value of sadism.

Maybe the noise machine just shifted to the Kerry side.

Jules Siegel is a writer and graphic designer whose work has appeared over the years in Playboy, Best American Short Stories and many other publications, most recently in Library of America's "Writing Los Angeles."

Posted: August 23, 2004


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