“I can’t believe they’re doing it again, and getting away with it.”
So said a Republican strategist not keen on George W. Bush, referring to the attack being waged against John Kerry. “The Bush gang did it to John McCain four years ago. They’re doing it now to Kerry. They’re like the mob.”
Moments earlier, as delegates filed into Madison Square Garden for Night Three of the GOP convention, I encountered several Republicans who had worked on the McCain campaign in 2000 during the South Carolina primary. It was there that pro-Bush forces mounted the foulest political battle of recent years. McCain had cleaned Bush’s clock in the New Hampshire primary. The South Carolina primary was do-or-die for Bush. So desperate Bush-backers did whatever it took. They spread vile rumors about McCain and his family. A Bush supporter who headed a marginal veterans group accused McCain of selling-out and abandoning veterans. “I tell people that if you weren’t there you cannot believe what they did,” one of the McCainiacs told me. Another said, “Never, never have I seen such a thing.” A third exclaimed, “They were like the mob.” See a pattern?
The McCain folks’ remarks were timely, for on this evening the Bush campaign further exploited the ongoing attacks on Kerry’s Vietnam record; and it did so like the mob. The campaign sent for a hit man from outside the family: Senator Zell Miller, a supposed Democrat from Georgia. Miller, who has been a functional Republican for years, picked up where the so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth left off. He did not repeat the discredited charges of the Swift Vets about Kerry’s service in Vietnam, but Miller–ignoring McCain’s Monday night call for civility and respect–further developed the Kerry-is-a-traitor theme that the Swift Vets have been promoting. The Swift Vets have claimed that when Kerry returned from Vietnam and led the charge against the war, he betrayed his fellow GIs. Speaking with the zeal of a convert–Miller is the political equivalent of a Jew for Jesus–the faux Democrat maintained that Kerry and his fellow Democrats are destroying the country for partisan gain. In a loud and angry voice, he said:
“While young Americans are dying in the sands of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan, our nation is being torn apart and made weaker because of the Democrat’s manic obsession to bring down our commander-in-chief.”
Reviving the role of the Southern demagogue, Miller put forward acartoonish depiction of Kerry and the leaders of the Democratic Party (yes, he still calls himself a Democrat for some bizarre reason:” In their warped way of thinking America is the problem, not the solution. They don’t believe there is any real danger in the world except that which America brings upon itself through our clumsy and misguided foreign policy.”