accept, for the sake of argument, President George
W. Bush's insistence that his campaign has had
nothing to do with the veracity-challenged slime
machine that calls itself Swift Boat Veterans
all, as Sigmund Freud might have observed, sometimes
a venal disinformation campaign waged by sewer-dwelling
apparatchiks with longtime ties to senior Bush
campaign officials is, well, just a banana.
even if we accept the president's claims as true
-- and honestly, what reasonable American could
deny this White House the presumption of good
faith? -- the Swift boat controversy raises an
honorable candidates for public office have a
moral obligation to defend their opponents against
soft-money slander, even if they are only innocent
beneficiaries of someone else's lies?
conventional wisdom among those who practice politics
for a living is that a candidate has no such duty,
especially if the third party making scurrilous
claims against one's opponent is genuinely beyond
the candidate's control.
veterans behind the current million-dollar mud-fest,
Bush's defenders point out, were spewing anti-Kerry
venom long before W came along.
the Swift boat snipers out now, the Bushies reason,
would serve only to bolster the charge that the
White House bears ultimate responsibility for
a slander campaign that dates to the early '70s.
problem with this impeccable cost-benefit analysis
is that it flies in the face of the moral absolutism
that is both the signature of Bush's presidency
and his central argument for re-election.
the post-9/11 world, the president has repeatedly
argued, there's no room for neutrality and no
such thing as an innocent bystander; you're with
us or against us. Allies who dither on the sidelines
are as morally culpable as the enemies plotting
of all, in Bush's moral universe, are those nabobs
of nuance who suggest that some of the terrorists'
grievances may be legitimate, even if their methods
are out of bounds.
the Gospel according to W, motives are irrelevant.
Methods are what distinguish the good guys from
"the evil ones."
who bomb buses for personal advantage and those
who bomb them out of a sense of messianic mission
are the same in God's eyes, or Dick Cheney's.
above the fray in such a black-and-white world
is problematic. When your whole presidency has
been about drawing lines in the sand, straddling
the fence isn't really an option.
reasonable voters are asking: Where does Bush
he believe his opponent fabricated the accounts
of his own valor in combat, as the Swift Boat
Veterans group has asserted?
he believe that slander is an evil that debases
the political process itself?
does he make a practical distinction between slander
campaigns that boost his re-election effort and
those that abet his opponent's?
speaking, Bush doesn't have to take sides. He
didn't produce the Swift boaters attack ads, and
he can continue to argue, as his subordinates
have thus far, that it's up to the voters to decide
whether his opponent's detractors are credible.
that would be so agile, so nuanced -- so French.
Is that any way for a straight shooter like W
Posted: August 30, 2004