Kerry campaign spokesperson Stephanie Cutter unwittingly but unmistakably endorsed the motivation, if not the message, of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, although she was explaining Kerry's decision to attack the Swiftees:
"When somebody's attacking your military record, you reach a boiling point, and he reached a boiling point last night," Ms. Cutter explained. "When you go and fight in a war, when you spill blood for your country, your instinct is to fight back and defend your record."
As the new ad from the SBVT makes clear, these veterans did not like it when John Kerry described them to the US Senate in 1971 as war criminals and rapists who operated like an army of Genghis Khan. And they still don't like it.
Real Clear Politics explains why this plot twist is not good for Kerry. Kerry air-brushed his anti-war activities out of his biography as presented at the Democratic convention - presumably, "I was a war hero before I was a war protestor" seemed too nuanced a position to appeal to swing voters.
On the other hand, Kerry really did say those things. He tried to open a bit of distance between himself and his past when Tim Russert asked him about this in April, but how can he repudiate his anti-war days without antagonizing a significant portion of his base? This is a straddle-flip-flop that would stymie Paul Hamm.
For their part, the Swiftees have moved the argument to what seems to be their real objection to John Kerry - his medals may gall them, but it is his anti-war testimony that really lights their fire, as this 1971 debate between John Kerry and John O'Neill makes clear. (The debate is worth reading just for the staggering ineptitude of Dick Cavett's segues to breaks).
Before I resume radio silence, I have a personal plea to the Captain, Roger Simon, Hugh Hewitt, and anyone who might be in contact with the Swiftees: as this post explains, it has been widely reported that Kerry was honorably discharged prior to becoming a war protestor. Not So! When Kerry was meeting with the North Vietnamese, accusing his fellow officers of war crimes, and meeting with a group that discussed the assassination of US Senators, he was an officer in the Naval Reserve. This was only acknowledged by the Kerry campaign in May of this year, correcting a phony [strike "phony", insert "misleading"] Harvard Crimson interview from January 1970. Readers of the NY Times, the LA Times, and the Boston Globe are in for a surprise.
MORE: The smell of fear at the NY Times: from Adam Nagourney - "Kerry Might Pay Price for Failing to Strike Back Quickly:
In fairness to Mr. Kerry, his aides were faced with a strategic dilemma that has become distressingly familiar to campaigns in this era when so much unsubstantiated or even false information can reach the public through so many different forums, be it blogs or talk-show radio.
Matt, Glenn, Hugh, and Rush are breaking hearts at the Times - bring back the Responsible Big Media filter!
And from Glen Justice and Jim Rutenberg, "Kerry Is Filing a Complaint Against Swift Boat Group:
...some Democrats said privately they feared that this ad would have even more impact than the last, whose charges have not been substantiated.
"It's not something that can be easily or successfully discredited,'' said one party strategist, who requested anonymity because he did not want to be seen as undermining Mr. Kerry's campaign. "It's guys talking about how they felt and you can't discredit someone's description of his own feelings.''
And this excerpt from the ad is punishing:
The new commercial that the Swift boat group introduced on Friday features veterans who say that Mr. Kerry's antiwar statements in the early 1970's, when they were being held as prisoners of war by the Vietcong, aided their captors.
"John Kerry gave the enemy for free what I and many of my comrades in the North Vietnam prison camps took torture to avoid saying,'' says Paul Galanti, identified on screen as a prisoner of war from January 1966 to February, 1973.
Bring it on.