As this is written, with a deadline looming, I have not heard Barack Obama's acceptance speech at Invesco Field and have not learned who is John McCain's choice for vice president.
You know more about these things than I do. So I will write about something I may know more about, and which has been the subject of some concern at the Democratic National Convention: the Democrats' charge that Republicans make illegitimate attacks on their candidates, attacks that imply that they are far out of the American mainstream. The two examples they cite are the "Willie Horton" ads against Michael Dukakis in 1988 and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads against John Kerry in 2004.
But both attacks were well within the bounds of fair political comment. Dukakis supported for 11 years a policy of granting weekend furloughs for prisoners sentenced to life without parole. Willie Horton, one of those furloughed, fled and committed another violent crime.
There's a reasonable argument for granting weekend furloughs to prisoners scheduled to be released in six months or so. Voters may not agree, but few will consider the policy outrageous. But there is no rational argument for letting loose a prisoner who is supposed to stay behind bars the rest of his life. Democrats now criticize Dukakis for not fighting back. But what argument could he have made?
As for Kerry, I listened respectfully to the majority of his boatmates who said that he acted heroically and to the majority of the larger squadron who said that he did not. They were talking about events that happened long ago, in sudden violence, and I found myself unable to say those on either side were lying.
But I also saw Kerry's campaign abandon his claim -- that he said on the Senate floor in 1986 was "seared, seared" in his memory -- that he was in Cambodia at Christmastime 1968. And I never heard him repudiate his 1971 Senate Foreign Relations testimony -- featured in the ads -- that our soldiers committed "crimes ... on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command."
I used to be a Democratic campaign consultant. In that capacity, I would have advised the Dukakis campaign to admit early on that the furlough policy was a mistake. I would have advised the Kerry campaign to go before a veterans' group early on and apologize for the Foreign Relations testimony. Voters understand that candidates sometimes make mistakes and that young men say outrageous things that in time they come to regret.
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