Friday, August 20 2004
KERRY CAMPAIGN'S FIRST SERIOUS MISTAKE:
Yesterday afternoon I received a form email from John Kerry campaign manager, Mary Beth Cahill. It began:

Today marks the end of the dishonest and disgusting smear campaign against John Kerry and his crewmates from Vietnam. This morning on the front page of the Washington Post, one of the central figures in the effort to distort John Kerry's military service was completely discredited.

The Kerry campaign must have thought that yesterday's front page Washington Post story attempting to discredit one of Kerry's critics, coupled with Kerry's public engagement of the issue in his speech to a Boston firefighters union was going to be enough to put the story to rest. But by forcefully attacking the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth as ''a front for the Bush campaign" that is doing the President's ''dirty work," Kerry has forced the mainstream press to finally confront this issue which up until yesterday they had been, more or less, ignoring.

Admittedly, the Internet best seller Unfit for Command and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth had in many ways cornered the Kerry campaign and not left them with many attractive options. On one hand they could continue to ignore the issue, and hope the press refused to cover it in any meaningful way, and get through next week where the impending GOP convention would then act to change the subject. Or they could confront the issue and try to put the story to rest, which of course opens up the possibility of drawing more attention to a story they don't want covered in the first place.

Unless the Kerry campaign thinks this issue is playing well for them, or they think they can turn the issue around and create a backlash against President Bush, I don't understand yesterday's tactics. Because of Kerry's counterattack yesterday, they have provided a further opening for Kerry's opponents on multiple fronts. First as much as the liberal media wants the anti-Kerry veterans to be a bunch of ragtag, right -wing nuts, they don't necessarily come across that way. The more exposure and coverage they get, the more it will make it increasingly harder to discredit them. Mickey Kaus writes (link here):

Respectable big-time journalist friends who met with the anti-Kerry vets recently found them a lot more credible than expected.

John O'Neill graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and was first in his law school class at the University of Texas. He's very well spoken and makes a powerful case against Senator Kerry's Vietnam record. Another vet, Larry Thurlow, did more than hold his own on MSNBC's Hardball against a very combative and hostile Chris Mathews.

What is really problematic for the Kerry campaign is this will eventually segue into Kerry's antiwar conduct when he came home from Vietnam. And it is his post-Vietnam antiwar record, more than anything, that has the potential to do real damage to his candidacy.

Kerry's four-month stint in Vietnam is not only meant to provide foreign policy and national security cover for his dovish record in the US Senate, but it is also meant to provide cover for his antiwar crusade when he returned from Vietnam.

Kerry effectively used his Vietnam record to assist in getting the Democratic nomination, and he wisely played up his service at the Democratic convention a month ago. But from the Democrats' perspective, that is where they wanted and needed the story to end. That probably won't happen now that Kerry has publicly attacked the swift boat vets as a bunch of liars and a front for the Bush campaign.

Maybe the Kerry camp is counting on its friends in the press to spin their side (as the NY Times does on the front page this morning) in a way that limits the damage or even precipitates a backlash against President Bush. Nevertheless, by engaging on the issue they've provided a big opening for more coverage of Kerry's antiwar past and thus have given up, at least to some degree, control over the narrative of the central rationale for their candidate's bid for the White House. The risk-reward analysis doesn't seem to justify their decision. J. McIntyre 10:43 am Link | Email | Send to a Friend

 

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