On Native Ground
THE GOP STRATEGY: ATTACK, DISTORT, LIE, REPEAT
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Here's the new definition of chutzpah.
One presidential candidate joins the Navy and volunteers to serve in Vietnam. He serves two tours. On his second tour, he volunteers for the most hazardous assignment in the Navy, commanding a swift boat in the Mekong Delta. In the space of a few months of duty, he earns a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts before he is sent home and goes on to become an eloquent opponent of the war.
The other presidential candidate has his father help get him into an Air National Guard unit that has no chance of being called to active duty in Vietnam. Even though he scores only one point above the minimum qualifying score on the flight school exam, he is accepted ahead of other qualified candidates. He honorably serves the first four years of his six-year enlistment, but his record of service becomes quite sketchy in the final two years. He is eventually granted an early discharge to go to Harvard Business School.
Logic would tell you that the candidate that didn't volunteer to serve in Vietnam and who has major, unexplained gaps in his National Guard service record wouldn't dare to attack the patriotism of the decorated war veteran. But logic hasn't been a part of American politics for decades, particularly in the Republican Party.
The spectacle of watching a political party filled with people who avoided military service during the Vietnam era attack the military record of a man who served heroically in the war now stands as the textbook example of chutzpah.
When it was time for Vice President Dick Cheney to serve in Vietnam, he sought several deferments and said that he "had other priorities than military service." That line of thinking was apparently also adopted by House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., Attorney General John Ashcroft, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Cheney's Chief of Staff Scooter Libby, foreign policy appararchiks Richard Perle, John Bolton and Elliott Abrams, Republican National Committee Chairman Mark Racicot and President George W. Bush's chief political advisor, Karl Rove - all of whom avoided military service during the Vietnam era.
(The definitive list of chickenhawks - defined as conservatives who are in favor of war, as long as someone else does the fighting - can be found at the New Hampshire Gazette's "Chickenhawk Database" at http://www.nhgazette.com. Read it, and it will make you wonder all the more why the GOP decided to attack Kerry's war record.)
Why are we still fighting over who did what during the Vietnam War era? Because it was the defining moment for an entire generation of men, the Baby Boom generation which is now in political power.
The war in Vietnam forced many young men to make choices. Bill Clinton opposed the war and avoided the draft, but tried to do it in a way that would preserve his political future. Al Gore served in Vietnam to preserve his father's political career. Others got into reserve units, faked physical ailments or stayed in grad school to get out of serving. Some went to jail, fled the country or became conscientious objectors rather than die in a war that many believed was immoral and wrong. Others who believed in the cause fought and died there.
What a man did and how he did it during this time speaks volumes. In this context, the contrast between men like Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, who took the easy way out, and a man like John Kerry, who did not, is striking. But in modern politics, the man who took the easy way out can demonize that man who did not and get away with it most of the time. Attack politics work, particularly if the candidate has nothing positive to offer and a record of failure and disaster that trails behind him.
The Republican campaign to smear Kerry diverts attention from President Bush's failures and forces Kerry to spend more energy responding to the attacks instead of outlining policy to potential voters. Even though the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" smear rapidly unraveled after exposure to the truth and President Bush was eventually forced into issuing a half-hearted apology, enough dirt has managed to stick to make the attack a success for the GOP.
What we've seen over the past couple of weeks illustrates the total moral bankruptcy of the Republican Party. We know that winning is the only thing that matters to the GOP.
Attack, distort and lie and keep doing it over and over again until your candidate prevails. Honesty and fairness are values only for suckers and losers. This is the only way President Bush can win the election. He certainly can't win based on his record. The GOP thinks the American people are stupid enough to believe the attacks, distortions and lies. It is up to us to prove them wrong on Nov. 2.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.