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View Diary: Worst Political Mistakes? (74 comments)

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  •  I Listed Two in This Comment (20+ / 0-)

    ... in my last weekly diary.  Take your pick.

    "I Can't Believe I'm Losing to This Guy"

    One of the lasting images of the 1988 Presidential Campaign was a Saturday Night Live skit which featured a debate (read the transcript) between Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis (played by Jon Lovitz) and his Republican opponent Vice President George H.W. Bush (played by Dana Carvey). As historical background, Dukakis had left the 1988 Democratic Convention that year in July with a 17% point lead over Bush in a Gallup Poll.  It would not last very long.  For the remaining weeks of the summer, his overconfident campaign made a fatal mistake by taking the high rational and moral ground and deciding not to respond to personal and racist attacks by the Bush Campaign.  That disgraceful campaign by many Republican operatives like Lee Atwater was eerily reminiscent of Richard Nixon's Southern Strategy from two decades earlier.

    As the SNL "debate" progressed, Dukakis got increasingly frustrated by softball questions lobbed at Bush -- whose inane answers added to Dukakis being flustered by them -- whereas he (Dukakis) had to answer really tough questions about his "technocratic" and detached style of leadership.  At one point during the exchange, Dukakis responds to a Bush answer -- in which Bush proved that English was always a second language for the Bush Family and one which made no sense -- by muttering to himself, "I can't believe I'm losing to this guy."  

    In the 2004 Election, a decorated war-hero and one who risked his life to serve in the Vietnam War (John Kerry) was politically torn to shreds by the use of disingenuous tactics by the same people who destroyed Dukakis while defending his opponent, a draft dodger by the name of George W. Bush.  How could this possibly happen?  A group of highly nationalistic Vietnam Veterans -- calling themselves Swift Boat Veterans for Truth -- disseminated blatant lies about Kerry's war record and absent a forceful response from the Kerry Campaign for several weeks, the narrative defined Kerry and probably made the difference between winning and losing.

    The above episodes highlights an (often) fatal flaw in the Democratic Strategy to counter Republican lies, innuendo, and misinformation -- often involving race and the "Un-American" quality of Democratic leaders and candidates.  Instead of fighting these smear campaigns, we Democrats tend to act cool by saying, "Who is going to believe such lies?,"  "The truth will absolve our policy positions," "We are above responding to slimy tactics like these," and some such rational nonsense.

    •  Nice article, but one quibble (0+ / 0-)

      In Kerry's case he did answer completely in the way that would have worked in any prior election.

      Just as Obama did in response to Corsi's book on him, Kerry and his team gave the media 36 pages pointing out lies - where they documented the truth within one day. They also gave the media proof of links between the B/C campaign and the SBVT including sharing a lawyer (Ginsberg), donors, and the B/C campaign pasing out SBVT fliers in FL.

      Kerry also had his entire naval record, except the medical reports on his web site. I assume the main reason was not the use someone on the K/E blog made of it - to definitively answer what color eyes he has. All the fitness reports were there - many signed by SBVT. All glowingly positive with absolutely no negatives. Had the media bothered to seriously cover the fitness reports, they showed a serious, creative, thoughtful young man who quickly gained unusual loyalty from his men in each of several assignments. This would have been an excellent counter to many long term RW smears of Kerry going back to 1971.

      Here's an easy question the media never asked either themselves or those SBVT - were they lying then, where there is no conceivable motive or lying in 2004, when an organization gave them the heady role of affecting an election? Not to mention, the records show that before Kerry left Vietnam, they applied for the higher security clearance that he needed for the Brooklyn job he was going to. I assume they had to attest to his good character. Lying on that would be a security violation.

      Look back to Clinton's vaunted war room. Their goal was to get a response out to counter something in the same cycle. Here, the records were already out and Kerry's team caught the SBVT in a huge number of lies on day 1. That far exceeds the war room standard. (Remember any Clinton issue and look at what his replies were. The first response rarely answered everything - and he often had to make a series of responses, sometimes ending up conceding part of what was charged.)

      So, what was the difference. As well documented by Eric Boehler's book, "Lapdog: How the press rolled over for Bush", the broadcast media gave the SBVT hundreds of hours of free airtime. They also treated everything had equivalent credibility. Thus a SBVT, already caught in several lies, was considered the equal with the official NAVY record. In addition, Kerry's official response - a categorical denial of the SBVT charges directling people to the Navy record - that was given before the firefighters' convention was not given much airtime on the same cable stations that gave lying SBVT nobodies hundreds of hours. They also never mentioned that it was the SBVT who disputed the official record, not Kerry - and they were not asked for a shred of proof. It was NEVER the SBVT's version vs Kerry's. It was the SBVT's version vs the official Navy record.

      This is actually unprecedented. Imagine the press had given the birthers equal credibility. That would actually be similar - in both cases the right attacked well documented events.

      Now, you might say that had Kerry, ignoring that he would be short money in October, launched a series of strong ads it could have had an effect. But, wouldn't that depend on the various "news" shows giving them the free attention they gave the SBVT? (Unlikely, they didn't do that with the excellent ad Kerry did have with his men. I am not from a swing state - so I only saw it on Not to mention, wouldn't it look even more like he said/they said - if both were using advertisement to argue the issue? Wouldn't most people say that if nothing were there the media would have squashed it?  Not to mention, then Kerry would have been guilty of spending too much time on Vietnam and people would have explained the loss as Kerry's vanity causing him to waste money fighting things no one believed.

      The fact is that the broadcast media as a whole was guilty of character assassination. Nice repayment for a privileged young man, who did not use his connections as others did to avoid risking his life.

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