I'm referring primarily to the public uproar surrounding the new book "Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John F. Kerry," in which a group of swift boat officers who served alongside John Kerry in Vietnam tell a devastating story that, if true, annihilates Kerry's image as a war hero.
Part of me -- the cautious and pragmatic part -- wishes that this would just go away. After all, this could easily backfire and make Republicans look desperate and petty.
One thing we learned from the Clinton era is that ironically, public officials can benefit -- to a point -- from the outrageousness and sheer volume of their library of scandals. The more outrageous the rumors that circulated about Clinton were, the less believable even the routine scandals became -- though I personally believe that even some of the outrageous ones were probably true (Juanita Broaddrick).
After a while, the public completely numbed to the scandals. Clinton could have been captured on videotape impersonating a police officer and beating Rodney King with a nightstick and James Carville and Hillary Clinton would have deflected it as "old news" fabricated by the vast right-wing conspiracy.
Some of the adverse reaction to these claims against Kerry arises from our culture's justifiable elevation of war heroes and the sacrosanct nature of one's honorable military -- especially wartime -- service. You just can't go there.
But think about it. What if the allegations are true? What if Kerry truly did self-inflict, lie about, or embellish his wounds and other aspects of his reputed heroism? What if he did videotape himself reenacting combat scenes, all with an eye toward his future in politics? What if he did actually participate in atrocities as he said he did? (He?s gotten a complete pass on this.) Would these things matter? Should they matter?
Sure, I would prefer that all elections be decided on the issues, after a thorough debate and adequate public deliberation. But have we become so jaded that a presidential candidate's character is no longer an issue -- even when it may directly bear on how he would perform in office?