Why The Swift Boat Vets Won't Go Away
First of all, the Swift Boat Vets will continue to be a (well-deserved) thorn in John Kerry's side until Election Day for three reasons:
- They've got money now
- They've got their man on the run
- They're telling the truth about who they are and what they're doing
Small donations are rolling in to fund more commercials, and the blogosphere is abound with delight about John Kerry's reaction to the ads. But the third factor is the most relevant and something I've become more and more convinced about.
The more I see these veterans opposing Kerry on TV, the more I'm convinced these guys are telling the truth. A number of things ring true with me. Exhibit A is the pressing of Swift Boat Vets, both on the infamous Michelle Malkin Hardball episode and the 8/22 Fox News Sunday, for documentary evidence showing that John Kerry wrote all his after-action reports putting himself in for medals. It seemed extraordinarily important to the questioners that government documents supported Kerry and that his challengers could only speculate he wrote them instead of offering proof he did.
Now, the charge against these guys is that they're out to "smear" Kerry (see the fight between the Power Line guys and Jim Boyd.) But it seems to me that if you were out to smear Kerry, you'd be media savvy enough to anticipate this question or at least be alarmed when you couldn't offer proof or a diversionary question. I mean, if Karl Rove types are supposed to be behind this whole thing, they already know about the media's document fetish (how they treat legal documents, especially governmental documents, practically as holy writ; it's almost cute how excited they get). Not to have documentation or be hinting darkly at "secret" documents seems to me a rookie mistake if you're trying to manipulate the media in smearing your opponent.
But if you're just a veteran who's telling the world what he remembers, he doesn't particularly care that there's no paper trail. Normal people (as opposed to journalists) hate paperwork and don't often trust what's in it.
More significantly, lawyers are used to rebutting claims made in official documents (while seizing on those claims when they support their side). One of the significant elements of this story is that John O'Neill is a lawyer, as are many of the bloggers who've done such a great job of examining the case. I think one of the reasons that this story continues to thrive in the blogosphere is because the big-time bloggers' brains don't turn off when they discover there's an "official" account. That's part of the charge: John Kerry gamed the system, and consequently outputs from that gamed system do not trump the eyewitness accounts. Journalists just don't think like this.
(For a timely essay that makes this point in passing, see Instapundit's essay on media meltdown on TechCentral Station.)
Exhibit B is Lisa Myers' interview with Admiral William Schachte. (Incidentally, I have been quite impressed with the Lisa Myers pieces I've seen lately on the controversy. She's among the fairest I've seen.) Some excerpts:
Myers: …What proof do you have that you were actually in that boat that night?
Schachte: Well, my report back to the division commander, the fact that we had officers in those boats, the fact that I was in the boat for those that we did up to and including that evening. And what I saw.
Myers: But, there's no documentation. [slarrow: again the documentation thing]
Schachte: No, listen, we're in a wartime environment. We didn't write up doctrines and stuff. We made the necessary reports – if you had a Casualty Report, After-Action Report, Operational Status of the Boats [Report], whether they were combat ready or not. I was responsible for all that as the operations officer. But, those are the kinds of things that we kept record of, records of.
Myers: And there would not have been any damage report on that...
Schachte: Correct, there was none-- yeah.
This rings true to me: we're in the middle of a war, and we don't have time for unnecessary paperwork. In fact, if he DID have documentary proof, I would be suspicious. It's too pat.
Myers: You think the two enlisted men are just making it up?
Schachte: I don’t-- I can't tell you anything about their motives. The only thing I can tell you is what I know, who I talked to about it – after the incident and-- and that's all I can say…
Myers: Admiral, how can you be certain that John Kerry did not deserve that first Purple Heart?
Schachte: Well, other than the fact that I was in the boat with him when he fired this M-79 round too close to the boat and got nicked by it, I can't give you much more than that…
What convinces me here is Schachte's steadfast insistence on telling only the truth he can verify and keep from taking a cheap shot at those who dispute his account. To date I've yet to see a Swift Boat Vet take a potshot at a Kerry supporter. (I have, however, seen it work the other way.) It bolsters his and others' claim that this is a matter of personal honor.
Myers: …So you're not calling John Kerry a liar?
Schachte: All I'm telling you is what I know happened that night and who I told about it and what- not… I'm not into name-calling. I just want to tell you what I knew that happened that night.
Myers: In your mind, John Kerry showed courage just going out on the mission.
Myers: So you're not saying that John Kerry was, quote, ‘unfit for command?’
Schachte: Listen, who is fit for command in the context of Commander-in-Chief is up to the American people to decide…
Myers: You said you are not a member of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
Schachte: I admire them, but I'm not a member.
Myers: Okay. But you do support their cause.
Schachte: I support men that are willing to stand up and put up with what they've been putting up with just to tell the truth – of what they know to be the truth. And this is America. I mean that's what we do here.
Again, this has the ring of truth to me. The admiral will stand only on what he knows to be true, will not brand Kerry as a liar even though that is the logical consequence of the statements, and does not impugn Kerry's character even though the basis of the disagreement gives him ample cause to do so. That sounds to me like the behavior of an honorable man.
And people like Jim Boyd call this a "political smear"? If so, it's the most straightforward, honest, and accountable smear I've ever seen.