This piece originally appeared on The Patriot Project
Paul Galanti has earned the nation’s respect. He graduated the U.S. Naval Academy in 1962 and entered Naval flight training, where he became an instructor. In 1965 he was assigned to the USS Hancock, a carrier off Vietnam, and flew 97 combat missions before being shot down on June 17, 1966. He was captured and kept as a POW for almost seven years, released February 12, 1973. There are good write-ups describing some of his time as a POW and later career available online here, here and here, and the text of a Virginia Senate and Assembly Joint Resolution commending him is available here.
Following post-POW rehabilitation Galanti completed a Masters degree and went on to complete a distinguished career, retiring as Commander in 1983. His military decorations include the Silver Star, Two Legions of Merit for combat, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Bronze Star for combat, nine Air Medals, the Navy Commendation Medal for combat and two Purple Hearts. He was on the cover of Life Magazine in October, 1967 and Newsweek, February, 1973. His bio at the Vietnam POW site also notes that he:
"is a recipient of the Liberty Bell Award, the Outstanding Virginian Award and numerous other awards and citations for civic service. He is Past President of the Science Museum of Virginia Foundation, Past President of Nam-POWs, the national Vietnam POW Fraternity, a River Rat, POW Coordinator for the Skyhawk Association and an Elder at First Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Virginia. Additionally, he was President of his class at Annapolis."
Paul Galanti served with honor and endured a great sacrifice for this country. He stands as a model for overcoming the worst that can be thrown at a person, and honors all of us as Americans. Like his fellow veterans Paul Galanti has earned the respect of every American.
After his retirement from the Navy, Galanti became the first non-pharmacist executive director of the Virginia Pharmaceutical Association. Later he became CEO of the Medical Society of Virginia. These are Virginia trade associations with lobbying arms, similar to and associated with the kind of national lobbying associations that make up Washington’s notorious "K Street."
In 2000 Galanti joined with fellow-former-POW, Senator John McCain, becoming the Virginia Chair for McCain’s campaign for president. It was early in this 2000 campaign that a new kind of political operation was being perfected, and was test-marketed against John McCain in his South Carolina primary fight against George W. Bush. Facing questions about his own National Guard record – especially when running against veterans who served with honor and distinction – Bush’s strategists needed a way to turn the attention of voters in another direction. It was already a tried-and-true tactic of Bush’s strategist Karl Rove to use a smear for such purposes, and McCain became the victim of an escalation of this approach.
From Patriot Project’s The Swiftboaters Are Back in the Water:
"… Bush surrogates (several later involved in the Kerry swiftboating effort) skillfully turned McCain’s service record against him (thereby deflecting questions about Bush’s own service record.) They planted stories that the torture McCain suffered as a POW had brought about mental instability, including rumors that he had been programmed as a "Manchurian candidate" who "collaborated with the enemy." No longer could McCain use the fact that he had endured torture as evidence of dedication to serving his country."
In the 2000 South Carolina Presidential primary Bush surrogates circulated stories that McCain’s five years as a POW had made him "mentally unstable," gave him a "loose screw," that he "committed treason while a POW" and "came home and forgot us." The stories also called McCain "the fag candidate," called his wife a drug addict, said McCain “chose to sire children without marriage” and had "a black child" (the actual wording of that last smear from the flyers and e-mails that circulated is not printable here).
And when McCain responded by asking whether this kind of smear campaign showed that voters should think twice about trusting Bush, saying Bush was "twisting the truth like Clinton," Rove was able to turn that against McCain¸by accusing McCain of "going negative." Unlike Rove and Bush, McCain hadn’t understood the value of attacking with surrogates.
A former POW himself, how did Galanti respond to such attacks on his fellow veteran POW? The attacks were designed to turn honorable military service to the country from an asset into a liability. Surely Galanti well understood that McCain’s five years as a POW had seasoned McCain as a leader, not turned him into the mentally unstable "Manchurian Candidate" as the Bush surrogates claimed – for he himself had counted out the days, hours and minutes of seven years. But a few years later he joined with some of the same people who had been behind them, first in a very similar attack on another honored Vietnam veteran – John Kerry – and then in a series of similarly-conducted raids-on-honor, always siding with the conservative chickenhawks in their attacks on honored fellow veterans.
It was not an immediate migration from the McCain campaign into joining the conservative movement – in 2001 Galanti supported Democrat Mark Warner for Governor of Virginia. But then Paul Galanti became one of the infamous "Swiftboaters" during the 2004 Presidential campaign between George W. Bush and John Kerry. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth was formed by some of the same people and organizations who had participated in the 2000 McCain smearing, and was formed for the same purpose – to deflect voter attention from Gaorge W. Bush’s own service record. But Galanti joined the attacks on fellow veteran Kerry with the fervor of the converted, saying things like:
"Galanti joined … in attacking Kerry by accusing him of treason for "[a]iding and abetting the enemy in a time of war"
Paul Galanti went on to become a fixture in the far-right’s extremist attack structure, helping divide and weaken the nation in a time of war by accusing fellow Americans of treason. For example, in June of 2005, he joined the far-right’s coordinated and misleading PR attack on Illinois Senator Richard Durbin, writing a letter that was echoed throughout the farthest right of the far-right’s outlets:
"Your remarks comparing Guantanamo to the regimes of Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot are outrageous. I tried to think of why a rational human being could make such an outlandish statement but I keep coming up short. I thought I’d seen it all when Howard Dean performed his infamous scream in Iowa but your diatribe yesterday eclipsed Dean’s moment of Hannibal Lecter lunacy. And your moment of pique will be infinitely more damaging to members of our Armed Forces serving in harm’s way.
… You, sir, for having aided and abetted the enemy in time of war, have been relegated in my mind to the status of Jane Fonda and your colleague, John Kerry as contemptible traitors."
And now, most surprisingly, Paul Galanti has joined with LaCivita again, forming the organization Vets for George Allen. It is particularly surprising that Galanti is supporting Senator George Allen against former Reagan Navy Secretary Jim Webb, a Marine who served in Vietnam and was awarded the Navy Cross, the Silver Star Medal, two Bronze Star Medals, and two Purple Hearts. Previously Galanti had been a supporter of Webb, who resigned as Naval Secretary in 1988 after refusing to agree to a reduction of the Navy’s force structure during congressionally-mandated budget cutting. Galanti said in 2001:
"I had a great final three years in the Navy despite the devastation Carter’s policies had wrought on the military. My last Navy year was
under one of the finest-ever Commanders-in- Chief, who led the country out of Jimmy Carter’s unlamented and self-caused "malaise."
(An aside: current events in the Middle East make this an ideal time to revisit Carter’s "malaise speech.")
But now Galanti has turned against Webb, a fellow honored veteran., to support a candidate who skipped Vietnam for a "dude ranch,” a candidate who spots a dark-skinned man in an all-white crowd and starts addressing him with the racial slur “macaca,” and saying “welcome to America and the real world of Virginia.” (Ironically the man, S.R. Sidarth, was born and raised in Virginia, George Allen was not.)
In What Currency Is Galanti Paid To Attack His Fellow Vets?
Why does Paul Galanti lend his name and the honor he has earned to be used like this to attack his fellow Veterans?
Is it for money? There is a great deal of "Swiftboater"-type money circulating, but there is absolutely no evidence that money is Galanti’s price for selling out his fellow veterans.
Is it for position? Before attacking Kerry Galanti and fellow swiftboater Kenneth Cordier were appointed by the Bush administration to a Department of Veterans Affairs advisory panel – even though federal regulations bar advisory committee members from engaging in political activity while performing their committee duties. But he was also appointed to Virginia’s Department of Veterans’ Services by Democratic Governor Mark Warner and these are organizations in which Galanti certain has expertise to contribute. Certainly he would not sell out his fellow veterans for this.
Did his time as executive director of the lobbying organizations Virginia Pharmaceutical Association and Medical Society of Virginia somehow draw him into the lobbying/corruption machine that conservatives were forming in Washington? Again, there is no evidence of that.
Is it done for right-wing ideology? Probably not – Galanti is an American hero and in spite of some of his rhetoric, what kind of "American" ideology lends itself to favor the kind of high-level corruption the country is currently witnessing, or to be purchased by an anti-Christian, Korean/Japanese cult. Surely Galanti sees this occurring, so it could not be that.
So the question is, why does he do it?
Paul Galanti earned our respect. But he is lending his good name and allowing his reputation to be used to smear other veterans who also served their country. By allowing this he is squandering that respect in service of a cynical smear operation, and knowingly or not is used as a front for people who do not share the hard-won values of the American military, and he should stop it.
Dave Johnson is the lead blogger at Seeing the Forest and a Fellow at the Commonweal Institute, where he studies the conservative movement’s network of foundations and think tanks and the extent of their influence on American society.