Swift Slime

MediaMatters has posted an analysis of the current brouhaha about “Unfit for Command”, comparing it to an earlier book on Bush.

In 1999, St. Martin’s Press published a book by author James H. Hatfield called “Fortunate Son: George W. Bush and the Making of an American President.” The book, which contained allegations that then-candidate George W. Bush had used cocaine in the 1970s, received barely any media coverage — until Hatfield’s own past came into question, at which point Hatfield, not the allegations in his book, became the media’s primary discussion topic during the story’s short life.

I heard Hatfield interviewed by Amy Goodman on the Pacifica network radio show ‘Democracy Now’ about six months ago. A transcript is posted here. It was a rather haunting interview, as it was aired after his suicide. He must have been an unstable character, having been convicted of trying to hire someone to kill his boss, and then killing himself after this fact came out in the press. Of course this doesn’t reflect on the merit of his allegations about Bush. Personally I think if Bush has committed drug felonies, it needs to be exposed, to expose his hypocrisy, if nothing else.

But comparison of “Unfit for Command and “Fortunate Son…” reveals more illuminating similarities than differences. I was shocked to learn that Hatfield was in some sense seduced into this story. He was contacted by others. Sources were open with him who were not open with others. And why is that? Hmmh. It seemed that none other than Karl Rove had picked the messenger, in this case. It appeared that Rove understood that the message would be discredited by the flaws of the messenger. Who better to break it to the American public that brutish Bush was a former cokehead, than someone whose own flaws would make any tale they told impossible to believe.

In other words: “Fortunate Son…” was plotted by the Republicans, in order to insulate Bush from his own sleazy past. “Unfit for Command” was also plotted by Republicans, in order to turn Kerry’s asset, his war-hero sheen, into sleaze.

What have the Democrats plotted?

Such cynicism and manipulation the Kerry campaign must prove itself equal to. At this point they are stuck in a sort of dog paddle of name calling and defensiveness. What is the strategy? It is not enough to poke holes in the other guys argument. That just won’t cut it in this election, I fear. Kerry has to demolish Bush, period. Morally, politically, intellectually, economically.

Right now the Kerry campaign is trying to stay positive. They are not flinging political slime. That means no political slime will stick to Bush. Is that going to defeat Bush?

Look at the ‘Swift Veterans’ campaign, especially at its network of advisors. This was very well planned. They’ve trotted out spurious charges, in a format that makes them hard to dismiss. When one person makes a statement which is false, or that contradicts his previous statements, it is easy to dismiss that person. When you get a herd, such as that pack of ‘Swift Veterans’, one’s first impulse is to say, Well they couldn’t all be lying. That first impulse might be enough to deliver a close election. Of course what really happened is the Texas political sleaze machine worked those Veterans very carefully. They were ‘handled’ by the masters, who gave the vets a chance to revenge themselves on the anti-war movement.

This incident has really shown what kind of machine Kerry is dealing with. I hope plans for a counter-attack are in the works. This kind of insinuation, that is staged more than argued, that corrupts the climate of opinion despite the fact that the claims are false, may require a response which is intended to slime — to morally obliterate — Bush.