Jewish World Review Sept. 3, 2004 / 17 Elul 5764
Jay D. Homnick
Justice Swift and poetic
I have been approached from many quarters, even the occasional dollar, to append an analysis of sorts to the controversy surrounding the ads by Swift Boat Veterans For Truth. The thing has been progressing through ensuing stages of absurdity to the place where such terms as truth and falsehood, integrity and hypocrisy, have long since shed the suit of their original meaning before jumping into the pool of rhetoric. And I'm talking about the deep end of the pool.
For visitors from the planet Zrqx, here are the highlights so far. 1) The new McCain-Feingold law signed by President Bush does not allow political parties to advertise for their candidates anymore. 2) Democrats find a loophole where a group that has no affiliation or contact with either party may run ads if they don't say to vote for one candidate. In other words, these almost have to be attack ads against one candidate, since they can't be supporting the other one overtly. These groups come to be known as 527s, 3) One such group, known as MoveOn, receives huge sums of money from one of the wealthiest men in the world, George Soros, who announces that the defeat of Bush will be his Number One Priority this year, exceeding in its global significance such things as his family and fortune.
4) MoveOn runs ads on its website comparing Bush to Hitler, and moderately tamer ones on radio and TV. To quote the UPI reporter, their ads "savaged" the President. 5) Republicans learn the game, and a small trickle of their 527s emerge. 6) Among these is one called Swift Boat Veterans For Truth, which runs ads featuring veterans who served with Kerry, claiming that the candidate lied about or inflated details of both the injuries and the heroics that earned him his medals. 7) Regnery Publishing releases Unfit For Command, a book in which over one hundred veterans who served with Kerry criticize his behavior first as a soldier and then as an anti-war protester and advocate. The book is hard to find; book store clerks deny hiding it and just say that copies are being sold as quickly as they can be stocked.
8) Kerry and his cohorts demand that Bush intercede to get the ads stopped. John McCain breaks party ranks to join this protest. 9) The President's spokesmen remind people that by law, neither candidate may advise or instruct the 527s in any way. 10) President Bush calls for an end to all 527s and their attack ads, says that Kerry served admirably in Vietnam and should be proud of his service; that he would like this campaign to be about issues; that he would like to see us look forward rather than backward.
The idea of truth emerging from this cesspool seems about as likely as Cher winning the Nobel Prize. Yet while a great deal of blameworthy activity has gone on, and dirty hands are leaving fingerprints everywhere, no one is an innocent victim. Undeserved criticisms may have been ladled out, but on the receiving end of the critiques a sort of poetic justice evolved.
Let's look at Kerry first. Is it appropriate to challenge his medals? His service? His heroics? His injuries? The answer must be a resounding No. Even if there were some inaccuracies in the original reports, some padding of achievements or exaggerating of wounds, these are the official recorded histories accepted by the U. S. Army. It would be madness to undermine the credibility of the entire system just to take pot shots at a disliked candidate.
And even if purism was the catalyst more than partisanship, it is absurd to use reminiscences proffered after three decades to impeach contemporaneous reporting. Let the filed reports stand without casting even a shadow on their authenticity. The man volunteered, he served, he fought, he was hurt, he stood up heroically under pressure and saved some of his men. End of discussion.
Is there any poetic justice in his being tarred, if unfairly? Definitely. His behavior as a war hero was impeccable, but his behavior as an anti-war hero was utterly reprehensible. He came back and lied through his teeth about atrocities, playing to the camera in place of conscience. He falsified Congressional testimony and besmirched the men whom he had fought alongside. Hence, he does not deserve to cash in on his loyal heroics in combat. He abrogated them later with disloyal cowardice in the public arena. Put another way: if he threw his medals away then, he cannot reclaim them now.
A similar verdict applies to Bush. Is it fair to blame him for the ads done by people who are willing to fight for his victory at all costs? Why should he be held to a different standard than Kerry, who never criticized MoveOn for ads about the Bush administration with footage of Nazi rallies in the background? Isn't it true that every leader or popular figure has some fans who cross the lines of fair play and good taste in support of their guy? Perhaps so. Let us be absolutely fair and agree that there is no proven link between the President and the ads, and that by law he may not attempt to shut them down.
But is it poetic justice that he is being hurt by this charge? Absolutely. It was his terribly destructive act to sign the McCain-Feingold Bill, an obviously unconstitutional power grab that silences political speech. It was designed to shut people up so that candidates would not have to hear awful things about themselves. But in it are the first seeds of the police state where dissent is forbidden.
So now he is being unfairly blamed for his overenthusiastic supporters crossing the line. Well, isn't that just too bad?! Serves him right. Had this ugly legislation not silenced the parties trying to introduce their own candidate, we would not be reduced to the ironic spectacle of a legal Bizarro world in which only an ad attacking a candidate is legitimate, because praising your candidate is illegal advocacy.
Yes, everyone is guilty. No, no one is innocent.
In memory of my mother, Ruth Homnick, on the 36th anniversary of her passing.
JWR contributor Jay D. Homnick is the author of many books and essays on Jewish political and religious affairs. Comment by clicking here.
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© 2003, Jay D. Homnick