What Can Kerry Do About The Swift Vets?
After the Republican National Convention, there will be 60 days until the general election. What will the Swift Boat Vets For Truth do? All indications are that they will do more of the same: conduct interviews on websites and talk shows, produce television commercials and run them in battleground states, and generally be a thorn in the side of John Kerry.
What would stop them? I don't think it will be a lack of money; not only are donations rolling in, I suspect their success will attract big-money investors (Progress for America Voter Fund, maybe?) if coffers begin to run dry. A legal challenge? I don't see that happening; it only keeps them in the news while the suit progresses, and I don't believe action could happen fast enough to shut them down. A media lockout? Again, I don't think so; the hostile gatekeepers aren't powerful to shut them out, and independent stations not only like the money, they probably couldn't afford the stigma of "censoring" them (yes, the "censor" word would pop up even though they're private businesses.) Will they be intimidated? Um, these veterans? They're responding to assaults on their integrity in the first place; I don't think the threat of scandal or personal destruction will do anything but stiffen their spines. Will they lose their will or soften their hearts? It's not likely; their honor has been insulted, they're telling the truth, and they think John Kerry would be a dangerous president. (More on this below.)
What would their impact be in the final 60 days? Probably the same as now: they would drive Kerry's negatives up. The effect will be to dispirit the hardcore Bush-haters, depress the pure-Democrat vote, and push those who have been disappointed in Bush back into his column as the safer pick (independent of Bush's own prowess in making the case for his reelection.) The hoped-for backlash the Democrats are trying to manufacture will not materialize, I think, because backlash votes rely on the populace having some sympathy for the target and thinking he's being treated unfairly. But the content of the ads--especially the ones highlighting Kerry's treatment of his ribbons and his testimony before Congress--undercut making John Kerry a sympathetic figure. In addition, his whole Vietnam gambit was to make him appear strong enough to be commander-in-chief; he would need to play the victim card to garner the necessary sympathy to create a real backlash, and that destroys his major trust-me theme. (I mean, really: "I'm tough enough to beat back the terrorists but keep these mean-spirited veterans from picking on me?")
What can John Kerry do? Presume for the sake of argument that the Swift Vets just keep pouring on more of the same for the last 60 days. As I see it, Kerry has three options. He can ignore them and hope they go away and that people stop listening to them. While the MSM is eager to help him do that, the new bloodhound media won't let up until the charges have been satisfied. (An aside: some have criticized the Swift Vets for challenging Kerry's medals first instead of emphasizing his anti-war activities where the facts were not in contention. But by putting the Purple Heart controversies first, they caught the noses of the Bloodhound Media--with its many lawyers who are good at spotting inconsistencies--and created the momentum to carry the rest of the story through.) Furthermore, the ads will still be running, Unfit For Command will still be sold and discussed, and the unanswered questions will dog Kerry's trail, no matter how many times he avoids the questions.
The second option is for Kerry to continue attacking them directly, himself or through surrogates. This has been shown to be a political loser; not only does it disseminate the story far and wide, it keeps Kerry from talking about what he wants to talk about. The story dominates his campaign, and all the nasty things it's doing now continue to work against him. This approach isn't working now, and I don't know why it'd work then.
The third option is to mollify the Swift Boat Vets by apologizing for or recanting his behavior from when he returned from the war. First of all, I think it's too late for that; his initial attack in August will have burned that bridge, and they won't believe him now anyway. But the killer is that any apology sufficiently strong to mollify them would anger Kerry's left-wing, Howard Dean-loving base that coincidentally provides the most money for the Bush hit squad. Without their efforts and their votes, Kerry is a dead duck, and it cascades down the ticket.
When you're trying to sail along with a leg on two boats and the boats start to drift apart, you are in bad shape. Soon Kerry will need someone to come along and fish him out of the river.
UPDATE: The Swift Vets have published a letter stating what must be done to mollify them. If Kerry were to do what they ask, it would establish him in his own words as an opportunist who pumped himself up and illicitly caught an early plane out. It undermines his credibility, his strength, and his "principled" position as he basically would have to admit every attack he's made over the past three weeks has been dishonest. The price is too high, I think, and he can't pay it now. (Hat tip to Palooka)