McGovern Continues the Revenge 'Swiftboating' of McCain

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Apr 22, 2008 1:15 PM

I was talking to someone last night about the Democrats' commandeering and utter misuse of the word "swiftboating." To "swiftboat" a candidate, in lib parlance, is to call into question some facet of a candidate's character or record that the Left deems unquestionable, and to do it in some dastardly and dishonest fashion. Alternate definitions also include the words "noise machine."

Of course, to those of us who thought the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth brought up some legitimate points-- like the fact that John Kerry lied about being in Cambodia, and ticked off a bunch of honorable veterans by lumping them in with those "reminiscent of Genghis Khan"-- "swiftboating" means raising totally legitimate questions about the centerpiece of a candidate's campaign using his own words, eye-witness accounts, and the testimony of acquaintances to bolster the arguments. The very fact that the Left would rather leave those questions unasked is what makes the process of "swiftboating" dastardly in their eyes.

At any rate, as much as Obama the Wimp and Hillary the Wronged will whine about "swiftboating" throughout this interminable campaign, it's John McCain that's ending up on the wrong side of the dastardly and dishonest attacks.

There's the Hundred Years' War distortion, for which Obama was quickly and effectively shamed thanks to push-back from Camp McCain and the Right blogosphere. There was the distortion of McCain's economic remarks. But those are sort of run-of-the-mill campaign trail fudges of facts.

What's really nasty is the Rockefeller-style attack, questioning McCain' war record and accusing him of malfeasance or callousness in his Vietnam service.

And, we've got another one today from a Democratic surrogate. This is George McGovern being, well, a jerk (emphasis Jim Geraghty's):

Let me tell you what I would say to John McCain: neither of us is an expert on national defense. It's true that you went to one of the service academies but you were in the bottom of the class. It's true that you were a pilot in Vietnam, that you were shot down and spent most of the war in prison and we all sympathize with that and honor you for your courage. But you and I both had these battle experiences, you as a Navy fighter plane, I as an army bomber. I am not going to criticize your war record and your knowledge of national security but I don't want you criticizing mine either.

If I'd be allowed just one little dig at Senator McCain, since he gave me. I would say, 'John, you were shot down early in the war and spent most of the time in prison. I flew 35 combat missions with a 10-man crew and brought them home safely every time.'

Is this really the line of attack they want to try? McCain's war record is certainly not off-limits. It's the centerpiece of his campaign and character much as Kerry's was, though I'd argue McCain is making a much clearer connection between his battle-scarred past and his battle-ready future than Kerry ever did.

Democrats are welcome to talk about this issue, but they should be much more circumspect about it than this. McCain comes off as a much more natural and authentic war hero than Kerry ever did, and is therefore much harder to assail in this manner. Democrats also have much less leeway in attacking military service because the Left wing of their party is openly hostile to it in a way no Republican constituency is (see Code Pink's castigation of "Bush's Death Pimps"). When Republicans were questioning Kerry's war record, let's just say "questioning their patriotism" was much harder than it would have been had they been left-leaning Democrats.

I think the POW card can be overplayed by McCain, and Republicans need to be wary of making the argument that because he was a war hero, he's automatically qualified to be president. That was the exact weakness of Kerry's argument (plus he managed to Upper-Class Twit himself into disfavor with half the country), and we shouldn't wish to repeat it, even with a much more qualified war hero.

But Rockefeller's and McGovern's comments smack of revenge "swiftboating." The Left, scarred enough by the Swiftboat Vets' small but successful attacks on Kerry to make the word into a verb, seems to be hankering to return the favor. It will not play well with the American people, it will remind them that "questioning the patriotism" of elements of the Left is not always a pointless endeavor, and it will give McCain the chance to highlight an honorable war record that plays to his persona as a strong, loyal, courageous leader.

In the end, the counterproductive psychosis of Bush Derangement Syndrome will lead the Left to sink its own ship. They can't win an election in 2008 fighting the battles of 2004.