Wednesday, September 15, 2004

The Truth Shall Set Us Free

Consistency is not one of Mark Hyman’s strong suits. Case in point (pardon the pun) is his most recent attack on John Kerry’s war record, this time for supposedly not earning his first Purple Heart.

All the Hyman hallmarks are here: the nameless “eyewitnesses,” the citing of discredited testimony, eliding relevant facts, the claim of having exclusive information that isn’t exclusive at all, and the cocky assertion that something has been proven when it hasn’t.

We won’t bother taking up space refuting each of Hyman’s assertions here. By now, you know where to go if you want objective, non-partisan information on Kerry’s war record. The best source is, an equal-opportunity debunker of campaign hype. If you follow
this link, you’ll come to their thorough evaluation of Kerry’s military service, including a description of the events leading to each of Kerry’s medals. The account of his first Purple Heart tells you everything you need to know about the incident in question, its aftermath, and the credibility of the “eyewitnesses” Hyman appears to refer to.

What’s more interesting than the distortions of fact (which are all too familiar to viewers of “The Point”) is that in questioning the first Purple Heart, Hyman as much as admits that the second two Purple Hearts Kerry received are legitimate (his claims rest on supposedly missing documentation of the first wound of the sort that exists for the second and third wounds). Apparently questioning one Purple Heart somehow discredits all of Kerry’s service.

Still more intriguing is Hyman’s (and other Bushophiles’) dwelling on military service records. As we’ve pointed out, no amount of distortion can negate the most basic divide between Kerry and Bush on this matter: Kerry volunteered and served, while Bush did not. This is why no matter how he bashes Kerry, Hyman will never actually draw a comparison between Kerry’s service and Bush’s. Even granting the most Bush-friendly arguments, Kerry wins in a walk.

Some have noted that a typical Karl Rove tactic is to attack your opponent’s strength. Thus, we had the disgusting slanders of war hero John McCain during the 2000 primaries, suggesting that he had been brainwashed while in captivity or had in some way collaborated with the North Vietnamese.

But we think the Rovian modus operandi goes a bit further. What seems to be going on is not only an attack on your opponent’s strength, but a preemptive attack on one’s own weaknesses, projected onto the opposing candidate. Bush is vulnerable both for his embarrassing non-service in the Air National Guard and for his leading of a war that’s bogged down and was fought based on false pretenses. Thus Bush attacks Kerry’s military record.

The Bush administration is also vulnerable on the war issue in that they sent far less troops to Iraq than military analysts said would be needed, and sent them in without important equipment such as body armor and armored Humvees. So, the Bush administration attacks Kerry for supposedly voting against weapons systems used in Iraq and not supporting the troops (even though such claims fail the giggle test).

More broadly, Bush is vulnerable for his shifting positions on any number of issues. The most obvious is the constantly shifting rationale for the Iraq war. Then there’s the No Child Left Behind program, which he touted during the campaign, then didn’t fund. He opposed a 9/11 commission, then supported it. He was against the creation of the Homeland Security Department, then he was for it. He was for free trade, then he was for steel tariffs, then went back to being for free trade. He said he was against nation-building, then did just that. The list is nearly endless, and many more examples can be found in
this article by Tom Raum of the AP.

So what do we get? Kerry is a “flip flopper,” based almost solely on his decision to support one bill for funding the Iraq operation while rolling back tax cuts on the wealthy in order to offset the costs, and opposing a bill that funded the conflict while keeping the tax cuts and driving up the debt.

This might seem an odd way to run a campaign, but there’s a twisted logic to it. By launching a preemptive strike on Kerry for precisely those points on which Bush is weakest, the Bush campaign anticipates Kerry’s attacks and makes them seem more defensive than they actually are. Charges against the president seem like “getting even” or “tit for tat” rhetoric designed to rehabilitate Kerry, making the Kerry campaign seem passive.

By bringing up the charges first, the Bush campaign also increases the odds that a confused electorate will simply declare those issues on which Bush is most vulnerable “a wash” and move on to other concerns. Even though Bush’s charges are not supported by evidence, while the charges against him are, the hope is that the cacophony of public blathering will cause people to simply write it all off as “negative campaigning” and not bother looking into whether one set of charges is more valid than the other.

We doubt Hyman has thought about his rhetoric in such terms. As we’ve seen for some time, Hyman’s editorials are basically exercises in parroting whatever the current Bush campaign talking points are, or else whatever bile is bubbling up on Newsmax or Freepnet. Subtlety is no more his forte than consistency. But he’s part of a machine that, while completely amoral, has the potential to be politically effective in a Machiavellian way.

The antidote? The truth, stated clearly, concisely, and loudly. Kerry served, Bush didn’t. Bush lied about evidence of WMDs. First president to lose jobs since Hoover. Tax burden shifted to middle class. No connection between Iraq and 9/11. 1000 flag-draped coffins brought home with no end in sight.

These statements are true. Simply and directly stated, they’re unspinnable. Stated confidently and repeatedly, they’re the death knell of the Bush administration.

And that’s The Counterpoint.


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