Swift boat vets will likely be "shadowy" at RNC

By Geraldine Sealey
Published August 26, 2004 10:45PM (EDT)

Heading into Bush's convention, the war rages on in Iraq and soon will take its 1,000th U.S. soldier. New reports on Abu Ghraib this week exposed again the Pentagon's pathetic planning for the war and Iraqi insurgency -- and the consequences. The Census Bureau announced that more than one million Americans plunged into poverty in just the last year. And a majority of voters say they're queasy about the direction of the country and that Bush's policies have made things worse. Not much there for Republicans to celebrate.

But thanks in part to the vets who filled the maw of lazy August's news hole with fabrications of John Kerry's service in Vietnam, President Bush is now just slightly ahead in a new national poll. Most Americans may believe John Kerry served honorably in Vietnam, but the ads and the hype over the ads have, over the last month, subtly eroded the public's view of Kerry's honesty, experience and ability to be commander-in-chief.

So, we're wondering, when's the gala dinner for the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth at the Rainbow Room? Surely, these gentlemen deserve to be squired about town, treated to the finest champagne and caviar for all they've done for Bush and Cheney. But we won't hold our collective War Room breath. We may see the Swift Boat vets on cable TV shows, where they've been warming seats for nearly a month now. Maybe they'll even show up to hawk more books. But don't expect them to be celebrated guests sharing a box seat with Lynne Cheney at Madison Square Garden.

Sure, there's a sticky web connecting the Swift Boat vets and all things Bush. But so far, the campaign has maintained an image of distance from the Swift Boat vets while reaping the benefits of the group's efforts. Bob Perry, a long-time friend of Karl Rove and key money man for the Swift Boat vets, was listed as a sponsor on the invitation for a GOP fundraiser at Tavern on the Green during the RNC. But after a reporter got to him, he said he wasn't even coming to New York next week. It took just hours after the story broke that lawyer Ben Ginsberg was advising both the Bush campaign and the Swift Boat vets before he stepped down. And while Bush won't denounce the Swift Boat group, he does call them "shadowy" -- his blanket description for every 527 organization, equating the dirty Swift Boat tactics with those of groups like MoveOn.org. Now he's even using John McCain to legitimize his campaign against all 527s as an adequate response to the Swift Boat ads.

This strategy of staying unsullied and steps removed from the dirty work, while not standing in its way, is a hallmark tactic of the Bush political dynasty. As CBSNews.com columnist Dick Meyer wrote,"This old family has traditions -- horseshoes, fishing, bad syntax and having the help do the dirty work in campaigns as well as the kitchen. And they are very good at getting jobs done without leaving fingerprints, without compromising their patrician image and their alleged character." So far, the trick has worked.

Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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