The Campaign Spot

Remembering What the Swift Boat Vets Actually Said

I’m not the first to make this point, but it seems the attacks on John McCain’s war service stem from prominent Democrats completely misreading what happened with the Swift Boat Vets for Truth. The Democrats’ conventional wisdom is that A) everything the group said was a lie and B) they attacked Kerry’s wartime service.

Go back and reread what they charged. (Take a walk down memory lane from the Kerry Spot here, here and here and Byron’s assessment of the impact here.) A lot of their stories came down to their word against John Kerry’s. Some of the points of contention were inconclusive, and some of the reactions their comments triggered, like convention delegates wearing “purple heart band-aids” on the floor of the convention, were crass. But they scored several major points. The first was when they pointed out the impossibility of Kerry’s story of “Christmas in Cambodia” that was “seared, seared” into his memory. When one of Kerry’s oft-cited war stories had such a glaring impossibility at its heart (Richard Nixon wasn’t president, and thus couldn’t be denying bombing in Cambodia, on Christmas 1968) it raised doubts about all of his other accounts of the war.
Second, no Kerry supporter could dispute the candidate’s postwar “Genghis Khan” testimony before Congress, which many Vietnam veterans saw as a betrayal. When it became clear that Kerry was referring to secondhand accounts, and had not himself seen soldiers cutting off heads and ears, many veterans saw that as reckless at best and most likely slander. I’d argue that this was the Swift Boat Vet argument that really gained traction, and I suspect many voters saw it as a situation that revealed Kerry’s character.
Third, there were about 200 members of Swift Boat Vets for Truth. Maybe some of them had faulty memories, or were down-the-line Republicans, or just plain didn’t like Kerry. But all of them? Many Americans looked at the sheer volume and detail of their stories of Kerry, and concluded that where there was smoke, there was most likely fire.
If we see hundreds of men who served with McCain come out and denounce him, the American people will reconsider their opinion of him, as well. But I would not hold my breath waiting for that to happen…

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