In 2004 Republicans had a strategy: turn John Kerry’s biggest strength into an electoral liability. Democrats nominated Kerry largely because of his decorated military service in Vietnam, believing that Kerry’s Purple Hearts would insulate him from Republican attacks on national security.
Kerry’s military service was indeed an asset, until the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attacked both his combat experiences in Vietnam and his antiwar activism after.
Now what Wesley Clark said about John McCain is being compared to what the Swift Boaters said about John Kerry. I can’t imagine a more ludicrous comparison. Clark, a retired four star general and former commander of NATO, was offering his opinion about whether McCain is supremely qualified to be commander-in-chief. As my colleague Ari Melber wrote today, others who wore the uniform have made similar points (including McCain!), without inciting the least bit of controversy.
The Swift Boat campaign, on the other hand, was based on outright lies and distortions. That’s why McCain himself quickly denounced them as "dishonest and dishonorable."
But McCain seems to have had a change of heart. On his campaign "truth squad" yesterday was none other than Colonel Bud Day, a prominent member of the Swift Boat Vets in 2004.
Via Ben Smith, here’s what The New Yorker wrote about Day in 2006:
Day was also prominently featured in ads prepared by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which attacked Senator John Kerry’s Vietnam service last year. In one commercial, Day addressed himself to Kerry, asking, "How can you expect our sons and daughters to follow you when you condemned their fathers and grandfathers?" When McCain defended Kerry and denounced the ads, Day was upset with his old comrade. "Something that made Bud such an ideal leader in prison was his tunnel vision," McCain told me later. "That makes him behave on the outside-well . . . " He trailed off, chuckling."
Tunnel vision is an apt metaphor for the McCain campaign of the moment. McCain has accepted over $70,000 in campaign contributions from Swift Boat donors, second to only Mitt Romney in the GOP primary. As John Kerry told my colleague Chris Hayes in January:
"I’m surprised that the John McCain I knew who was smeared in 2000 and thought so-called Swift Boating was wrong in 2004 would feel comfortable taking their money after seeing the way it was used to hurt the veterans I know he loves."
McCain is milking the Clark "controversy" for all it’s worth, while surrounding himself with the very same people who slimed Kerry’s military service. That’s the real scandal.