Plot to destroy John Kerry kicks into high gear

Get ready to witness one of the most insidious, calculated and choreographed smear campaigns ever, as a group of Vietnam vets prepares to denounce Kerry as a coward and a liar who is unfit to serve. This is a replay of a similar scheme from three decades earlier, with the same cast of characters leading the charge.

John Kerry’s old nemesis – a fellow Vietnam vet picked by President Richard Nixon to discredit Kerry 30 years ago – is resurfacing today to declare him “unfit to be commander in chief.”

John O’Neill, who succeeded Kerry as commander of the same Navy Swift boat, will announce the formation of a new political group called Swift Boat Veterans For Truth, dedicated to undermining Kerry.

O’Neill says he has a letter signed by hundreds of Navy vets, including many who served with Kerry, saying he is not commander-in-chief material. O’Neill’s main beef is Kerry’s charge that U.S. troops committed atrocities in Vietnam.

“Our mission is to provide solid factual information relating to Mr. Kerry’s abbreviated tour of duty,” he wrote.

Kerry campaign spokesman Chad Clanton said, “The group behind this is the same group that smeared Sen. John McCain of Arizona in the 2000 Republican presidential primary.”

The new attack comes as Kerry launched $25 million in new ads stressing his Bronze Star and Silver Star and featuring a veteran whose life he saved.

Bush has spent $40 million on ads tagging Kerry as soft on defense, and Republicans have orchestrated a wide-ranging attack on his Vietnam record – including questioning the three Purple Hearts that sent him home early.

While it may seem counterintuitive to go after Kerry’s war service, the tactic worked against McCain. Sources in Bush’s 2000 operation said the idea was never to sway voters but to infuriate the candidate.

McCain reacted furiously in 2000, helping to derail his campaign. Kerry, meanwhile, was reduced to angry stammering when challenged about his medals on ABC last week.

O’Neill, a Houston lawyer, is emerging to spearhead the new attack, just as he did for the Nixon White House in the 1970s.

Nixon’s secret tapes captured him fretting with aides about the political threat Kerry posed and plotting to “destroy” him. O’Neill, an articulate young vet who had criticized Kerry’s anti-war speeches, was invited to the White House in 1971 and encouraged to debate Kerry.

“Give it to him, give it to him,” Nixon told O’Neill.

O’Neill says he is not coordinating with the White House this time around.

This is a brilliant tactic, in a depraved sort of way. Don’t go after the enemy’s perceived weakenesses — no, instead go straight for his perceived strengths and then cut him off at the knees.

Kerry’s trump card is his stellar military service, which cannot be questioned. Well, it can be, but only with the most scurrilous of methods: Having compulsive liar Karen Hughs say how “troubled” she is by quetstions of whether Kerry threw down medals or ribbons in protest of the Vietnam War 30 years ago; raising asinine questions about whether he deserved his purple hearts; accusing him of betraying his fellow soldiers when he did no such thing, etc.

Despite the wave of assaults, Kerry’s record cannot be so easily blackened. So you’ve got to hit harder, meaner, in a way that gets the message across to voters. What better way than having a group of other Vietnam vets all stand together and rip Kerry’s record, denounce him as a man and as a leader, and declare him unit for office? These guys were all eyewitnesses to Kerry’s incompetence. How can they all be wrong?

Or at least that’s what they’ll try to convey. They’ll do it well. They’ll all be “on-message,” as Karen Hughes and Karl Rove have taught them to be. It will be a gang bang the likes of which we’ve rarely seen in American politics. And it will illustrate once more just how low the Bush campaign people can go, and how free of moral scruples they are. And tragically, it just may work. (Never mind that so many other vets have described Kerry as a true leader and hero.)

Too bad that this type of character assassination is status quo for Bush & Co.

McCain must hate Bush with a fierce passion. I would love to see him jump ship and join Kerry, impossible though it may be. Then we’d have an election campaign for the books.

UPDATE: I just saw the latest Kerry campaign ad, and it cleverly points out how Kerry worked with John McCain to find out the fate of US POWs and MIAs in Vietnam. Brilliant, in several ways.

The Discussion: 11 Comments

So if Kerry is not fit for commander-in-chief, who is? Bush? We’re talking about a guy who doesn’t even know what war is, might as well fought in one.

Granted, Kerry might not have the cleanest record for a Vietnam vet, but at least he fought galantly in the war. And as far as I’m concerned, I would at least have a legitimate war veteran be the commander-in-chief as opposed to a ‘chicken hawk’ whose foreign policies are shaped by two pro-military fanatics (Cheney and Rumsfeld).

May 4, 2004 @ 1:04 pm | Comment

We’re talking about the difference between having a conscience and obliterating one.

May 4, 2004 @ 1:17 pm | Comment

Granted, Kerry might not have the cleanest record for a Vietnam vet, but at least he fought galantly in the war

But Kerry does have “the cleanest record.” He never abandoned or doublecrossed his men. He spoke out to criticize The War, not the soldiers. And he spoke out against what war does to people. Looking at Iraq today, I wonder why we aren’t all praising Kerry for his prescience and insight. Instead, the Bush goons will make sure he is totally slimed.

May 4, 2004 @ 1:20 pm | Comment

I think Karl Rove’s gameplan of going against Kerry’s war record is doomed to fail. Largely, because as long as the conversation is on Vietnam, per se, and not on the more general Leadership, the media will continue to examine Bush and Cheneys records. Just this weekend were three articles on why Cheney got 7 or 8 or however many deferrals.
The tactic worked against Wes Clark (remember the parade of generals on Fox News saying he wasn’t a team player?) but Kerry has both a better war record AND a team of vets who stand on the stage next to him each time.
Now, the Leadership issue will have more traction because that is where they can go with the “wishy/washy/flippy/floppy” while Bush makes up his mind like a pit-bull and never lets go.

May 4, 2004 @ 3:59 pm | Comment

“This is a replay of a similar scheme from three decades earlier”

You don’t need to look that far back at all.

Just look at the last presidential campaign. There are still plenty of Americans who believe that Al Gore claimed to have invented the Internet. In fact, he never said that, although he championed the Internet’s development long before most in congress had ever even heard of it.

It’s the same old GOP lie-and-smear campaign.

May 4, 2004 @ 8:19 pm | Comment

Absolutely correct, Slim. The GOP knows how to smear, and then to make it stick. Fallacy becomes Truth, and the lie becomes embedded in the nation’s psyche. It is pure character assassination.

May 4, 2004 @ 10:27 pm | Comment

Wonderful work, Richard.

It will not be easy, but those of us who are old enough to remember, who had very real experiences with the inner conflict all young American males dealt with in those days, must AGAIN fight the good fight.

This time there is even more at stake than how the dominos would or would not fall in Southeast Asia.

May 4, 2004 @ 11:30 pm | Comment

I think that the worst of it is, not that the GOP is able to make utterly false accusations stick, but that the American public is free and willing to take them up as banner causes.

Why is the American public resistant to believing that the GOP is out to slaughter ethics and human rights?

May 5, 2004 @ 12:50 am | Comment

“He spoke out to criticize The War, not the soldiers.”

You don’t consider calling American soldiers war criminals as well as confessing to commiting atrocities himself to be an attack on the soldiers or a detriment in a commander and chief?

And for the record, no I’m not a republican, and yes I am a veteran, although I missed Vietnam by a few months.

May 5, 2004 @ 4:17 am | Comment

Look at what you said. He condemned his own behavior as well as that of other soldiers. Had he simply gone to Congress and condemned his fellow soldiers, I may not be so appreciative. He was making the point that a bad war was turning good men bad. That was very selfless of him, getting up in front of America and admitting what he had seen and what the war had done to him, and to others.

May 5, 2004 @ 9:11 am | Comment

I am so pissed. Where was Kerry’s bump after the convention? And now the GOP is going to screw him with Vietnam crap. I am sorry guys. This does not look good. Did any of you see Drudge today. This is not good…

August 5, 2004 @ 9:31 am | Comment

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