Four Months in Vietnam

Or how to misdirect public attention.

by Bruce S. Thornton

Private Papers

Everyone knows magicians use misdirection to make their illusions work. While one hand distracts us the other is pulling the egg or coin from its hiding place. Politics is no different, as the Kerry campaign and its shills in the media are demonstrating by their response to the Swift Boat Veterans, who have challenged Kerry’s war record in a best-selling book, Unfit for Command, in television advertisements, and on their web site (

The Swift Boat Veterans have raised several issues regarding Kerry’s service, the circumstances leading to his medals, and his claims to have been illegally in Cambodia in December of 1968. You would think that the media would be all over these claims, digging around for the evidence that either refutes or supports them. For example, on its web site the Swift Boat Vets claim that Kerry has not released all his Naval records: “These gaps include missing and incomplete fitness reports, missing medical records and missing records related to his medal awards.” Is this true or not? If it is true, has anybody in the media asked the Kerry campaign to release the records and so put to rest these presumably false charges?

But in the nation’s paper of record, the New York Times, this hasn’t happened yet. By far the bulk of its coverage has focused instead on the alleged connections between the Swift Boat Vets and the Bush campaign. When the issue of veracity does come up, as in a story on August 25, theTimes simply asserts that “almost all of the [Swift Boat Vets’] challenges to Mr. Kerry and his war record have been contradicted by official war records and even some of its members’ own past statements.” I think most of us would like to see evidence more compelling than merely the Times‘ assertions that the charges have indeed been refuted. Provide us with the specific evidence and let us come to our own conclusions.

In fact, the focus on the connections between Bush and the Swift Boat Vets at the expense of a detailed examination of the charges looks more and more like classic misdirection. After all, whether or not such connections exist says absolutely nothing about the truth of the allegations. And there’s a great deal of hypocrisy in the complaints from Kerry, amplified by theTimes megaphone, about the activities of a 527 group like the Swift Boat Vets (527’s are organizations that face no limit on fundraising but that are not supposed to coordinate their activities with campaigns or particular parties). After all, 527’s opposed to President Bush have spent so far over $60 million, and many of them are aided by people connected to the Democratic Party. Harold Ickes, for example, who sits on the executive committee of the Democratic National Committee, has helped organize America Coming Together and The Media Fund, both blatantly anti-Bush and pro-Kerry.

That’s why the President has called for an end to all 527 ads. But of course that’s not what the Kerry campaign wants, not when it’s getting so much political mileage out of its 527 hit-men, who continue to do the dirty work for the Democrats. Instead the Kerryites keep demanding that Bush instead take Kerry’s and the New York Times‘s word that the charges are false and condemn the Swift Boat Vets for exercising their First Amendment rights.

So the real question is, what is the Kerry campaign trying to keep us from seeing? I think the real illusion is not so much the details of Kerry’s war service–which ultimately isn’t as relevant as most people think — as his candidacy itself, which so far has been a Herculean effort at turning a political sow’s ear into a presidential silk purse. There’s a reason Kerry harps so much on those four months in Vietnam, thus making that service fair game for scrutiny. He hasn’t done much of anything else during 19 years in the Senate beyond being Teddy Kennedy’s minion. And his public record is full of equivocation and contradiction, with very little specific policy recommendations other than the usual liberal “eat our cake and have it” fantasies.

Right from the start all Kerry has had to offer is his wartime experiences and the fact that he’s not Bush. That’s not much of a recommendation for president at times as perilous as these, when our enemies are scrutinizing our resolve and praying for a return to the sort of appeasement that got us in this mess to begin with. So we all should be careful to keep our eyes on the real issue and not be distracted by all the prestidigitation in the media. The issue is not 527’s, Kerry’s medals, or George Bush’s National Guard service. The issue is which candidate is more likely to prosecute the war against terrorism with all the vigor and clear-eyed principle it demands. Based on what we’ve heard so far, that candidate is definitely not John Kerry.

©2004 Bruce Thornton

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