Much has been made lately of the group calling themselves the “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” (SBVT) and their little slander campaign against John Kerry. Kerry initially tried the old “I won’t dignify that with a response” tactic, but in doing so dramatically overestimated the intelligence of the electorate (I mean, come on, when has that one ever worked?) This tack might work okay if a majority of the public actually thought about what it sees on TV, but we don’t live on that planet, do we?
So now Kerry and Edwards are working up a little smackdown for Dubya, with Edwards calling Bush out in public appearances and Kerry filing a complaint with the Federal Election Commission.
I’ve been watching this whole thing develop, and have wondered for a few months what BushCo was going to do about the prospect of a Democratic challenger who was verifiably more credible on the military front than he was. After all, we’ve grown accustomed to the GOP owning national security – will we ever get the image of silly little Mike Dukakis riding around in that tank out of our heads? I assumed the worst, of course, but looking back I don’t think in my wildest nightmares I conceived of a strategy as brazenly corrupt and dishonest as the black op the GOP is running under the guise of the SBVT.
So now that I have a few spare minutes, I’m going to examine these folks and their relentless campaign against common sense.
The Truth About the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth
First, let’s examine who these old boys (and girls) really are. The claim they’d like you to believe is that they’re honorable, non-partisan (seriously, their Web site uses this word) military vets who are desperately concerned about the integrity of the US armed forces. In truth, they’re, well… Let’s just go to the record, shall we?
First, there’s Jerome R. Corsi, a man who has spoken out forcefully on other issues of public concern in his career. For instance:
- Corsi on Islam: “a worthless, dangerous Satanic religion”
- Corsi on Catholicism: “Boy buggering in both Islam and Catholicism is okay with the Pope as long as it isn’t reported by the liberal press”
- Corsi on Muslims: “RAGHEADS are Boy-Bumpers as clearly as they are Women-Haters – it all goes together”
- Corsi on “John F*ing Commie Kerry”: “After he married TerRAHsa, didn’t John Kerry begin practicing Judiasm? He also has paternal grandparents that were Jewish. What religion is John Kerry?”
- Corsi on Senator “FAT HOG” Clinton: “Anybody ask why HELLary couldn’t keep BJ Bill satisfied? Not lesbo or anything, is she?”“On FreeRepublic.com, Corsi has, among other things, said that “ragheads” are “boy buggers”; referred to “John F*ing Kerry”; called Senator Hillary Clinton a “Fat Hog”; referred to her daughter as “Chubby Chelsie” Clinton; referred to Janet Reno as “Janet Rhino”; called Katie Couric “Little Katie Communist”; suggested Kerry was “practicing Judaism”; and expressed the wish that a small plane that had crashed into a building in Los Angeles had instead crashed into the set of NBC’S The West Wing, thereby killing actor Martin Sheen.
And how about this one: “Mullah Ali’Gore-ah is very proud of his new Bin Laden beard and he hopes others in the Democratic Party will follow his lead. Hell-ary is disappointed she cannot grow a beard, but her press secretary reminds us she can still enroll in flight school.” (Source: MediaMatters.org)
In fact, I strongly encourage you to read this entire page. It says more about the character (okay, absolute and complete absence of character) of this man than I ever could. I have seen worse spew on the Net, but only – and this isn’t hyperbole in the least – only in places like white supremacist hate sites. And some of them aren’t this bad.
How about Larry Thurlow, who actually was there when some of the events Kerry was honored for took place? Well, lately he’s been swearing up and down that Kerry was never under fire and that he doesn’t deserve his medals. This testimony is directly contradicted by…his own testimony. Yup. Some Washington Post reporters used the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to get at his military records, and in them he talks about:
“’enemy small arms and automatic weapons fire’ directed at ‘all units’ of the five-boat flotilla. Thurlow won his own Bronze Star that day, and the citation praises him for providing assistance to a damaged Swift boat ‘despite enemy bullets flying about him’.”
So, was Thurlow lying then to get a medal he didn’t deserve (that is, was he being precisely what he’s now accusing John Kerry of being?) Or is he lying now because there’s Big GOP Money to be made? Hard to say for certain, although given all we know from the vast majority of eyewitnesses in Vietnam, the smart money is on the Big Money. (Washington Post)
Then there’s the real ringleader, big time Houston lawyer John O’Neill (former admiral Roy Hoffman is the nominal chair, but it looks to all appearances like he’s there because of his rank – more on him in a second). O’Neill is a long-time Texas GOP activist with longstanding ties to George W. Bush. As Salon.com’s Joe Conason notes:
In the media, O’Neill is often described simply as a Vietnam vet still enraged by the antiwar speeches Kerry delivered more than 30 years ago. That was when O’Neill first came to public attention as a clean-cut, pro-war protégé of the Nixon White House’s highest-ranking dirty trickster (aside from the late president himself), Charles Colson.
Ah, Chuck Colson. Arguably the dirtiest son of a bitch who ever played the game (at the time, anyway – latter-day weasels like Lee Atwater and the current crop running the dirty tricks op for Dubya have learned all the master had to teach and have since passed him by, in much the same way current US swimmers who revere the legend of Mark Spitz are now swimming laps ten seconds faster than he ever did). Had Colson had these folks to call on Tricky Dick Nixon wouldn’t have been impeached, he’d have been made Emperor-for-Life. And it’s worth noting that Colson himself was after Kerry as early as 1971, with the help of… John O’Neill. (MSNBC)
But O’Neill has no connections with the Bush White House, right? Errr, well, his law firm sure does a powerful business with the energy industry, a sector that’s thick as thieves with the Bush family. Check this:
With an oil and litigation practice focused on the defense of major energy and industrial firms, the dozen partners in Clements, O’Neill, Pierce, Wilson & Fulkerson have clout that exceeds their firm’s small size. Their corporate clients include Exxon Mobil, General Electric, Reliant Energy, Koch Industries and Eastman Kodak. More important, among the name partners is Margaret Wilson, the former general counsel to George W. Bush during his second term as Texas governor. (She succeeded Alberto Gonzales, who currently serves as White House counsel.) (Salon)
There are other players, as well, including “corporate media consultant and Texas Republican activist Merrie Spaeth, who is listed as the group’s media contact…and retired Rear Adm. Roy Hoffman, a cigar-chomping former Vietnam commander once described as ‘the classic body-count guy’ who ‘wanted hooches destroyed and people killed’.” (Conason) Hoffmann has become a pretty serious critic of Kerry, obviously, but who knows what the hell to make of him, really, because at the time of the events in question he actually composed a memo praising Kerry (Rood).
As an aside, it’s ironic that Dubya’s folks have spent so much effort painting Kerry as a “flip-flopper,” and yet they’re just fine with folks like Thurlow and Hoffman changing their stories when it suits them, huh?
We should also note, in the interest of “truth,” that both O’Neill and Spaeth “are officers of Gannon International, a St. Louis conglomerate that does lots of overseas business in, of all places, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.” (Salon) Gannon’s CEO is one William Franke, who also turns out to be on the SBVT board. If you’ve been following closely, you probably realize that “socialist” is a euphemism for “communist,” and you might remember from above that at least one member of this little clique has a serious, almost pathological problem with commies. At least, he has issues with commies like Bill and Hillary and Katie Couric. Perhaps he has a softer spot in his heart for commies that are putting money in his pockets. Hard to say. But since he’s part of an organization devoted to “truth,” we can only assume that there is a distinction and that it’s noble. In any event, it appears that these folks have a tremendous interest in ethics and principles, so long as it’s somebody else’s ethics and principles that are being examined.
There’s more, way more, and I encourage you to follow up on the stories linked here. But hopefully a portrait is now emerging of the SBVT. For the most part, they’re established GOP activists, well connected to Dubya, and none of them seems terribly committed to a full disclosure of these facts (odd for an organization devoted to truth, but what do I know?) It has been reported that they pulled their operation together on a relative shoestring – I heard a network shellac-head the other morning suggesting that they had less than a million dollars to work with (maybe he was referring to the petty cash account?), but it ought to be brutally apparent by now that we’re talking about the Money Boys. George W. Bush’s friends. True believers with wads of cash.
I also strongly encourage you to read the account of the other surviving Swift Boat officer who was there that day, respected Chicago Tribune journalist William Rood.
Law & Order
For fun, let’s pretend this is a court case, and that John Kerry is on trial for fraudulently claiming to be a war hero. The prosecution can pretty much call one witness – Thurlow. He tells his story, and we’re off and running. Then the defense attorney stands up, hands him a copy of the files uncovered by the Washington Post’s FOIA request, and asks him to read the sections quoting what he said 30+ years ago. Then he’s asked “so, were you lying then or are you lying now?” And as the camera pans across the faces of the jurors, then cuts to the prosecutor sitting with his head buried in his hands, you can tell the case is in trouble already.
None of the other folks bearing witness against Kerry – O’Neill, Corsi, Spaeth, etc. – are allowed to testify. See, they weren’t there. Best I can tell, Thurlow is the only person who was there who disputes the official record. So the prosecutions rests. Kerry’s lawyer then parades 15-20 honest-to-god eyewitnesses to the stand and reminds the jury of the inadvertent supporting testimony provided by the prosecution’s only witness, and if the jury is out longer than it takes to say, “all in favor say aye,” it’s a miracle.
This is the real truth about the SBVT. It’s a well-financed put-up job, a malicious, cynical character assassination that only proceeds because Dubya trusts that the public will be too stupid to connect the dots. And if the dots are connected for them, he knows nearly half the electorate will, out of hand, dismiss it as a fabrication of the “liberal press.” Or maybe he doesn’t know any of this, but Karl Rove and Dick Cheney know it, and that’s sufficient.
It’s the same pack of roaches who in recent years have laid the mouth on other true blue war heroes like Sen. John McCain and former Congressman Max Cleland. I have my issues with McCain, but in my worst fit of frustration with him it would never occur to me to question the heroism and his patriotism of a man who pulled time as a Vietnam POW. As for Cleland, these gutless bastards questioned his patriotism after he lost three of his four limbs in service to his country. Think about it. If John McCain and Max Cleland aren’t safe from Bush’s disinformation machine, who is?
PT Barnum is purported to have said that nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the public, and this we arrive at the damnedest three-ring political travesty I have ever personally witnessed. It’s kind of like an old Garfield strip I remember. Garfield is trying to blame something he did on his teddy bear. Jon says, “it’s not his lying that bothers me so much as it is the credit he’s giving my intelligence.” Right. That’s how I feel these days. War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Black is White, Up is Down. Ignorance is Strength. (Ministry of Truth)
But you can’t lay all the blame on the corrupt, forked-tongue whores running loose in the halls of our government buildings. After all, we have an obligation to do our part, too. And ask yourself – when was the last time any politician in any party had any reason at all to say, “no, we can’t do that, because the public is too smart to let us get away with it”?
I promised you a part two, and it’s entitled…
The Truth About George W. Bush
George W. Bush never served. He was rich and connected, and connected rich boys don’t go to war unless they just want to. Not in this America.
Now, let me be clear – there is nothing inherently wrong with the fact that he never went to war. I never went to war, nor did hundreds of people I have the utmost respect for. And where Vietnam was concerned, there was certainly no disgrace in ducking the damned thing if you could. Bill Clinton did, and I don’t think less of him for it (although Dubya and his people seem to). If I had been old enough and had been drafted, I very well might have done all in my power to avoid going to Vietnam – I don’t know for sure what I would have done, but there’s that possibility, and I’ll be honest about it.
So if Dubya’s position were, “hell yes, I used my daddy’s stroke to avoid getting blown to hell in an immoral war,” I could accept it. Absolutely I could, so long as the rest of his public stances were consistent with it. But that’s not what’s happening, is it?
Dubya was enlisted in the National Guard (again, nothing inherently wrong with that at all), and claims to have served (although, again, they’re having a hard time finding anybody who saw him serving, and there don’t seem to be any records proving it, either). Now, I know where I was when I was that age, and there are witnesses (unfortunately, in some cases), and I imagine the same is true for most of us who are past a certain age.
In no case, whether he actually fulfilled his duty in the Alabama Air Guard or not, did Dubya do a percent of what the man whose record he’s questioning did. Nonetheless, George Bush has become one of the biggest, baddest, swaggering hawks in DC. He talks a big fight and by god backs it up by sending our troops to impose his will. Now, it’s one thing when a guy puts his money where his mouth is, but as a culture we historically have precious little respect for somebody who talks a lot of smack from behind his mother’s skirts. We have a word for the men (and women) like this among our nation’s misleadership. We call them “chickenhawks.” “Hawk” because of the hard-ass game they talk, and “chicken” because of the actual courage they lack. It’s a clever term, and an apt one.
So here we are, watching our draft-dodging, chickenhawk president casting aspersions on the courage and heroism of a man who volunteered to do what he himself was apparently afraid to do (and not for the first time, either – go ask McCain about the 2000 campaign). These are the voyages of the USS Spinterprise, folks, boldly going where no hypocrite has gone before, and conservatives should be as worried about it as I am. Our soldiers and veterans must now understand that nothing they do in battle – nothing – establishes their heroism in a way that is above question.
Do you know a war hero, somebody who has served the country nobly? If you answered yes, no you don’t. You may think you do, but cross George W. Bush and find out what the “truth” is.
Q: What do Sgt. York, Peter the Great, Erwin Rommel, Francis Marion, Dwight Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur, and the millions upon millions of men and women who have died fighting for their homes, their families and their countries have in common?
A: Bush and his cronies would attempt to smear all of them as spineless cowards if they were running against him.
Hell, these people would try to paint Patton as a commie-loving pansy if he turned up on the Democratic ticket.
I’ve tried as hard as I can to imagine a more brazen, shameless campaign tactic, and I can’t come up with anything that would quite parallel this SBVT dreck. I tried to put together a scenario that went something like this: what if Clinton had some of his old boy cronies muster up a series of ads that accused Bob Dole of being an adulterer? That would be close, I guess, once you got past the fact that in most marriages you don’t have to risk your life to remain faithful to your spouse. But even that pales in comparison to the SBVT.
The truth about the SBVT is, if I haven’t yet fully articulated it, that they’re a pack of amoral, distempered curs who place nothing ahead of their greasy-jowled deathgrip on power. Not morality, not common decency, not the best interests of their nation, nothing.
And the truth about George W. Bush is that he’s willing to hide behind them, sanctioning their slanders by his refusal to condemn them. (And now, all of a sudden, there are new questions about a more direct Bush campaign role with SBVT than was previously admitted). When someone speaks in your name or on your behalf in a context such as a political campaign, you’re responsible for that endorsement. If it comes from people you don’t yourself endorse, or if they speak in a way that you don’t approve of, it is your responsibility to say so and, to the extent that is possible, control their activities. It’s similar to other campaigns we’ve seen, when parties or candidates find themselves endorsed by extremist elements. GOP candidates have, for example, been supported by radical white supremacist organizations who see them as the best real option on the ballot. When the Nazis say “you’re our boy,” you either respond by denouncing the Nazis or you accept their assertion that you have things in common.
In this case, Bush has a moral responsibility to denounce the SBVT ads and to put an end to them, just like John McCain has advised him to do. But Bush won’t do it, which means he is now fully aligned with them and their message.
To this end, we have no real choice but to conclude that George W. Bush endorses the hypocrisy of the group, the foaming-at-the-mouth hatemongering of Corsi, the under-the-table double-dealing of O’Neill, Spaeth and Franke, the bought-up dishonesty of Thurlow and Hoffman and so on.
I don’t know what manner of president John Kerry might ultimately prove to be, but it is hard to fathom that he’d be a man of less character and scruples than what we’re stuck with right now. The people behind the SBVT are fourth-rate human beings, and we’re well within our rights to look disapprovingly at those who tolerate them.
Yeats said, some decades ago, that “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” It’s time now for the best among us to stand up and generate some passionate intensity of our own, and one good place to start is by calling a lie a lie and a pig a pig.
Thanks to Mike Sheehan, who contributed some helpful resources to this piece.