Jim Rassmann: A Swift-like attack
From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Jim Rassmann: A Swift-like attack
By muddying the waters, the smear merchants hope to sink a decorated patriot -- John Murtha
Friday, January 20, 2006
Before 2004, I'd never been involved in politics and considered my duty done at the ballot box. My memory of a man I served with in combat in the Mekong Delta -- Lt. John Kerry -- became my sole reason for coming off the political sidelines in the last presidential election. Watching the assault on his military record by partisan operatives armed with falsehoods was a shock.
Perhaps I was naive. Watching those same tactics used against another decorated Vietnam veteran, Rep. John Murtha of Johnstown, has been a reminder of not just why I felt compelled to get involved, but why I must remain involved. I can't in good conscience remain silent in the face of the "Swift Boating" of Jack Murtha for daring to challenge President Bush's policy in Iraq.
Today I see that the very same smear tactics the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" used against John Kerry are now being unleashed against Rep. Murtha, a retired Marine colonel who served in Vietnam.
The radical right Web site Cybercast News Service, formerly the Conservative News Service, has attacked Mr. Murtha, claiming he was fraudulently awarded Purple Hearts for wounds received during two tours in Vietnam.
Since it is unseemly for a leadership that never served its country to attack the patriotism and veracity of decorated soldiers and sailors who did, this administration has returned to its proven tactic of finding surrogates to do its dirty work. Today, neoconservatives are hoping that by muddying the waters of Jack Murtha's military record they can neuter another of their most passionate and sincere critics.
It's an all too familiar pattern. White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan once described Rep. Murtha's stance on the war as "endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic Party." Republican Rep. Jean Schmidt quickly followed in lockstep with the White House by saying on the floor of the House, "Cowards cut and run, Marines never do." Copying the administration's change of tactic, Rep. Schmidt almost immediately reversed herself and gave Rep. Murtha several apologies.
It was clear to most observers that the Republican strategy of ad hominem attacks failed -- seeing the danger in attacking a hawkish Democrat like Rep. Murtha, the White House quickly followed suit with perfunctory praise from President Bush who described him as, "a good man who served our country with honor and distinction as a Marine in Vietnam and as a United States congressman." Vice President Cheney referred to Rep. Murtha as, "a good man, a Marine, a patriot."
How laudable. This rapid reversal by the White House appears, at first glance, to be remarkable given their penchant and near universal insistence for uniformity of message. It isn't at all remarkable though. I believe it was engineered in the same way as the Swift Boat attacks on Kerry during the 2004 election campaign -- attacks are made, the public's attention is captured, the White House offers platitudes, the surrogates press on with the administration's covert support.
Now, like the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the Cybercast News Service is taking up the underhanded attack that the president and his henchmen can't afford to be caught doing themselves.
Like the attack last year on John Kerry's service, this administration has shown yet again that it is not above crude tactics for disseminating its message on the sly. The trouble is in so doing they attack the very military institutions that they've put in harm's way. If Jack Murtha's military record -- which the Republicans loved to tout when, for example, he was an advocate for the first Gulf war or higher defense budgets -- is now fair game for scurrilous attack, then who's next?
John Kerry and Jack Murtha both love their country and proved their patriotism in the crucible of war and on the battlefield of public service. But far more is at stake than even these good men's reputations. They have the honor of their service, as do the hundreds of thousands of Americans in uniform in harm's way today, and that's enough. The health of our democracy, the integrity of our debate, the voice of our free press and the true meaning of patriotism are under assault if a new generation of Swift Boat style smears are allowed into the public sphere today unchallenged.
For my country's sake, I hope brave Americans of good conscience will speak up and make it clear that we will not tolerate such smears today, just as we shouldn't have tolerated them in 2004.