Jewish World Review August 26, 2004 / 9 Elul, 5764

Zev Chafets

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Bush pulls a Swift one: He has Kerry caught in a dilemma on soft-money attack ads | Everybody knows President Bush is a bass fisherman. But the President has spent most of August reeling in a more exotic specimen: the Giant New England Slack-Jaw.

Years from now, when tales of the catch are told around GOP campfires, small boys will marvel at how the supposedly intelligent Kerryfish swallowed Bush's bait, hook, line and sinker.

Slack-jaw season started in January, when John Kerry won the Iowa caucuses with help from a band of Vietnam character witnesses. At the time, Bush realized three simple truths:

1) Kerry would be his Democratic opponent. 2) The theme of Kerry's campaign would be his heroic military service. 3) Kerry would fund his campaign largely with so-called 527 soft money put up by anti-Bush billionaires who until then had been flirting with Howard Dean.

On May 4, a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth held a press conference in Washington, denouncing Kerry. It is possible Bush was taken by surprise by this. It is also possible the moon's made of blue cheese.

Still, it is highly doubtful that Bush put the Swifties up to their attack. He didn't need to. They obviously hate Kerry's guts. All the President had to do was sit quietly and watch. Patience is the fisherman's friend.

Some of the Swiftie charges against Kerry's war record are highly debatable. Others - that Kerry invented a "life-changing" experience in Cambodia or that he slandered U.S. troops when he came home from the war - are matters of public record.

Either way, one thing is indisputable: The allegations have done Kerry a great deal of harm.

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It took him a surprisingly long time to realize that. When he did, he tried to get off the hook in awkward ways - dispatching lawyers to scare TV stations into censoring Swiftie ads, pressuring bookstores to ban the Swiftie bible, "Unfit to Command," even appealing to the toothless Federal Election Commission to make his erstwhile comrades-in-arms shut up. But to no avail.

Finally Kerry demanded that Bush himself step in and silence the Swifties. It was a moment Bush had been waiting for.

On Monday, down in Crawford, Tex., Dubya hitched up his jeans, sauntered out to a press conference and allowed as to how he'd be glad to help his worthy opponent. But, just to be fair, he said, let's shut down the negative campaigning by all 527 groups. Goodbye, Swifties. So long, MoveOn. Just say the word, Sen. Kerry, and we'll take all the nasty dollars out of politics.

But Kerry hasn't said that word. He probably can't. His entire campaign finance structure is predicated on 527 money. Of the top 10 soft donors, nine are Kerry supporters. Combined, they have already raised more than $100 million for the Democrats. The Swifties, by contrast, have raised much less than 1% of that. For Bush, soft money is just a dab of Texas perfume; for Kerry, it's oxygen.

So, the President comes off as the champion of upright McCain-Feingold reform, while Kerry is stuck with George Soros & Co. If the senator cuts off his billionaire backers, he suffocates. If he sticks with Soros, et al., he's stuck with the Swifties, too. That's a hook Kerry can wriggle on until Nov. 2. Then Bush will throw him back.

The 43rd President is often said by his critics to be a dunce. Maybe. But in politics, as in fishing, you don't have to be a genius. You just have to be smarter than the fish.

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JWR contributor Zev Chafets is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

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