THE BLOG

John McCain and "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth"

07/10/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In 2004, the Republican Party's "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth," acting as a surrogate for the George W. Bush reelection campaign, launched the sleaziest, most despicable smears against a veteran's war record ever undertaken during an American presidential campaign. This well-heeled group of extreme right-wing Nixonians who were still smarting over John Kerry's work in the early 1970s with Vietnam Veterans Against the War, deployed a tapestry of lies and innuendo to make a mockery out of the United States Navy's decision to award Kerry the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts for his service in Vietnam. So caustic and over-the-top were the Swiftboaters' attacks on Kerry that both George W. Bush and John McCain were forced to squeak out tepid, half-hearted criticisms of the group. But only a couple of days before McCain gushed loving praise for Bush at the Republican National Convention, he blamed Kerry for eliciting the Swiftboat attacks himself because he had made his Vietnam record a political issue in the campaign. That's the way McCain showed his solidarity with a fellow navy vet who served in Vietnam.

The Swift Boat smears against Kerry were qualitatively light-years beyond anything ever cooked up even by Joseph McCarthy or Richard Nixon. The moment the group emerged the New York Times exposed its ties to the Texas GOP and to Karl Rove and the Bush campaign. But the mainstream press gave Bush a free ride to pretend he had nothing to do with his own surrogates.

"Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" was so abrasive and sleazy that the term "Swiftboating" has earned a place in our political lexicon denoting lies aimed at smearing an opponent in a political campaign. The right-wing Regnery publishing house produced the Swiftboaters' hatchet job on Kerry. John O'Neill, who had a 30-plus year grudge against Kerry from the time he worked for Nixon, made the rounds on ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, Fox News, and NPR pissing all over Kerry's war record while eager "journalists," including Jim Lehrer on PBS, lapped it up and dedicated weeks of "coverage" and commentary. The new meaning of the word "Swiftboat," for which we can thank Rove and Bush (and the media), has had a disparaging effect on the vast majority of real swift boat veterans who served honorably and did not agree with the Swiftboaters' methods or motives. "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" has forever tarnished these veterans' names, and ultimately their service.

At the 2004 Republican National Convention hundreds of people sported purpled band-aids on their fingers mocking Kerry's war wounds that earned him three Purple Hearts. The corporate media thought it was funny.

More than any other act of rank hypocrisy that we have grown accustomed to expect from John McCain his recent embrace of the Swiftboaters to help his presidential campaign is beyond astonishing, especially for someone who is running in large part on his Vietnam record. McCain's new love affair with the Swiftboaters should expose to the mainstream press once and for all that their man -- their father figure and "hero" -- their "maverick" -- is nothing more than a Karl Rove-George Bush clone, a human-political/animal hybrid who jettisoned his ethics and integrity the minute he realized he was poised to become the heir to the glorious Bush legacy.

John McCain has happily accepted large campaign contributions from the following Swifboaters: Bob Perry, T. Boone Pickens, Carl Linder Sr., Harlan Crow, Jack E. Caveney, Albert Huddleston, and Sam Fox. He has even recently added the prominent Swiftboater, Bud Day, to his stable of war veterans who are currently shilling for his campaign. According to the Federal Election Commission, McCain has raked in over $600,000 in cash from former members of "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth."

McCain is running for president largely on his "experience" that his Vietnam service gave him. But unlike the treatment his Swiftboating friends and allies dished out to Kerry in 2004 McCain wants discussion of his military record to be sacrosanct. He and his surrogates are whining about recent statements by Wesley Clark and Jim Webb about whether McCain should keep on beating Barack Obama over the head with his military experience. General Clark simply questioned whether the type of experience McCain had in Vietnam automatically qualifies him as an expert in foreign policy and gives him the judgment to be commander-in-chief. All Webb said was that McCain might want to "calm down" a bit his pounding away with his putative monopoly on patriotism and pointed out, correctly, that not everyone who serves (or has served) in the United States military is a Bush-McCain Republican.

If elected president, McCain will use the troops, as Bush has done for almost eight years now, as nothing more than elaborate stage props for his own political propaganda. His junkets to Iraq where he "strolls" in markets with 100 soldiers covering his ass have already shown that he's willing to put American troops in Iraq at risk to stage his own photo ops. That kind of exploitation to serve a right-wing nationalist/corporatist agenda, Bush has clearly shown, is not good for the United States military or for the country. McCain has once again exposed the fact that he is running for Bush's third term.

I guess the main difference between George W. Bush and John McCain is that if McCain becomes president the next time we see a televised "Mission Accomplished" spectacle on board an aircraft carrier he might even be able to really fly his own plane.