Lies Lies Bush Lies Lies -- How Chimp Goes Negative on Kerry Using More Lies -- Bush: "I approved this ad."
Wednesday, June 23, 2004
Everybody says American politics were dramatically changed by the 9/ll attacks, bringing an era of accountability and moral seriousness. Sometimes I wonder what everybody’s been smoking.
In my travels to promote "The Hunting of the President," the documentary film based upon Joe Conason’s and my book of the same name, people ask the same two questions: Did failing to remove President Bill Clinton from office teach Republicans anything about the "politics of personal destruction," and how should Democrats respond? The short answer is that the operatives who put together the most successful Republican dirty-tricks campaign ever don’t think they failed. Who ended up running the country? If Clinton’s acquittal on impeachment charges denied his antagonists the joy of taking him down, it spared the GOP nominee’s having to run in 2000 against an aroused electorate and an incumbent President Al Gore. Then there’s the press. Seemingly frustrated by their inability to topple Clinton, the same organizations that promoted Kenneth Starr’s sham Whitewater investigation spent 2000 publicizing nonsensical tales about Gore, like the ridiculous claim that he bragged about "inventing the Internet." Candidate George W. Bush, meanwhile, received a virtual free pass. His preposterous budget numbers, to cite only one example, went largely unexamined.
What the GOP learned from the anti-Clinton crusade is that given a compliant news media and an easily distracted public, lowdown personal attacks work. So far, Bush’s campaign against Democratic Sen. John Kerry has consisted of little else.
Bush has already spent $85 million on a series of TV ads attacking Kerry’s character. An incumbent president going negative so early hints at desperation. But what’s really noteworthy about the GOP ads is their contempt for the truth, not to mention for the gullible masses in TV land to whom they’re addressed.
Bush approved the message that Kerry voted for higher taxes more than 350 times. Bush’s spokesmen repeat the claim incessantly. It’s pure hokum. OK, maybe Kerry takes exaggerated credit for his vote approving Clinton’s budget-balancing 1993 tax bill. (All 51 Senate votes were equally critical.) But for sheer disingenuousness, the Bush ad takes the prize.
According to Brooks Jackson of FactCheck. org, among the 350 votes cited were many in which Kerry merely voted against repealing existing taxes. In 1987, for example, he opposed dropping a "windfall profits" tax on oil. No increase. Seventy-one times, Kerry voted for the smaller of two tax cuts. "Thus," notes Jackson, "the Bush campaign counts some votes for tax cuts as votes for ‘higher taxes. ’"
The real question, of course, is how the government pays for its obligationsnot something Bush wants voters thinking about.
Then there’s Kerry’s supposedly "troubling" record on national defense, dramatized by another bogus ad about votes to limit weapons funding. So guess who sponsored the cuts Kerry backed. President George H. W. Bush, after the Soviet threat vanished. Poppy’s secretary of defense was Dick Cheney. According to The New York Times, in 1990, "Cheney’s first budget canceled, among other things, production of the M-1 tank and the Bradley fighting vehicle, and made big cuts in the F-18 fighter"—the very weapons George W. Bush’s ads chide Kerry about.
But just because the Republicans are dealing off the bottom of the deck in broad daylight doesn’t mean they’re neglecting secretive smears. Remember Alexandra Polier, the Associate Press" intern" falsely labeled Kerry’s mistress in the "Drudge Report"? Writing in New York magazine, Polier said the rumor originated with" a woman whom Drudge had called my ‘ close friend’ [who] worked for a Republican lobbyist—Bill Jarrell, who runs a firm called Washington Strategies, gives money to Bush and had been a top aide to [House majority leader] Tom DeLay. "
Then there’s the lowest blow of all: an outfit called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Backed by Merrie Spaeth, a Texas political operative who, among other duties, helped rehearse Starr for his Clinton impeachment testimony, its job is to discredit Kerry’s Vietnam war record. Private eyes have been trolling among his former shipmates looking for dirt. Yesterday, I talked to Fred Short of Little Rock, who served under Kerry in Vietnam. Short doesn’t recognize the individuals now questioning his commander’s valor. But he was there when Kerry plunged their boat into a hail of enemy fire and took shrapnel, using his uninjured arm to haul a wounded soldier aboard. The action earned Kerry one of his three Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star for valor. (He also earned the Silver Star.) Short recalls the boat deck slick with Kerry’s blood, and resents bitterly those who question his honor—less on Kerry’s behalf than for" some very good friends of ours whose names are on the [Vietnam Memorial] wall who can’t speak for themselves. " Short shows Democrats how it’s done: Speak the truth—hard.
• Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and recipient of the National Magazine Award.