Tuesday, February 26, 2008

McCain and the Swift Boaters

Today’s events offered an early indication of how McCain will treat Swift Boat-type attacks on his general-election opponent. He’ll squash them. A conservative talk-show host went off on Obama, using his middle name “Hussein” three times among other gratuitous smears. (Note that by “Swift Boat-type attacks”, Polprint refers to nastiness based on innuendo and/or falsehoods that have nothing to do with the issues. The more serious attacks may take the form of TV ads backed by big money.)

McCain, when he heard about the comments, immediately denounced them, saying, "I will certainly make sure that nothing like that happens again." Obama’s camp approvingly followed up. It was all (sorry, Hillary) rather gentlemanly.

Polprint is not surprised by McCain’s quick response, since he has ample integrity. He denounced the 2004 Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attacks on John Kerry, a fellow veteran, as "dishonest and dishonorable". He has also suffered from similar scurrilousness, particularly during the South Carolina primaries—in 2000 and again in 2008.

But today’s episode serves as a reminder that "What will the Swift Boaters do next?" is one of the great questions of the campaign. Polprint wonders specifically:

1) How strongly will Swift Boat types--murky lot that they are--support McCain? He is not exactly the conservatives’ candidate of choice; and the attacks of 2004 seemed to come from "ends justify the means" die-hards.

2) Will McCain be able to control the Swift Boaters? George Bush made only a half-hearted effort to steer them off of Kerry in 2004. McCain will be different, Polprint believes; but will it matter? By law, the 527s operate fully outside of the campaign. McCain can call on them to stop; but there is no guarantee that they will pay heed.

Then, of course, there are the Democrats. Having seen John Kerry dynamited four years ago, there may now be a flotilla of Democratic Swift Boaters-in-waiting. Who knows.

(Polprint recommends, by the way, a Texas Monthly profile from a year ago of the little-known Texan homebuiding magnate who was the biggest donor to the Swift Boat organization. The story,"Bob Perry Needs a Hug", is sadly behind a pay barrier, but persistent readers may find it elsewhere.)

No comments: