The two stages of the Swift Boat attack
The following line from the latest MoDowd column clears up something that has been bothering me:
The Kerry camp knows the Swift boat snipers are hurting the Democrat and fears the Bush oppo campaign will soon move from tarnishing Mr. Kerry's war record to dwell on his days as a shaggy-haired antiwar spokesman. The White House must tear down his heroism before it can tear down his patriotism.
The thing that has bothered me is why the Swift Boat crew went first with an ad questioning Kerry's heroism when it is obvious that their real beef with Kerry, the heart of their second ad, was his later testimony before Congress about atrocities in Vietnam. I may be risking apostasy here, but I think the second ad is a much more effective and legitimate attack on Kerry. It is effective because it is not as questionable in its accusations (Kerry did testify about those atrocities). It is legitimate because the question of what went on in Vietnam is not something that should be brushed under the rug and Kerry's comments on the matter did cause many veterans a great degree of pain.
If they had run with just the second ad then the Swifties would be part of a much more legitimate and important debate. So why run first with an accusation that is so bogus on the surface?
Dowd hits on the reason: Kerry's main defense against the second accusation is the very heroism that the first accusation is attempting to destroy. As long as Kerry could hold up the shield of his heroism, claims of unpatriotic behavior on his part would have considerably less impact.
It was thus essential for the Bush campaign to destroy that image of heroism if it were to make the attack on his patriotism effective.
The only defense Kerry has right now is the one he is using: turn the tables on Bush and make his family's history of using scurrilous smears the issue before the damage from the first accusation weakens Kerry's defenses against the second. The web only ad that the campaign released today goes a long way towards doing just that. It uses McCain as a surrogate for Kerry. It reminds people of what Bush has done in the past and it makes it clear that attacks on Kerry's heroism are no better than attacks on McCain's heroism.
If Kerry manages to turn the tables on Bush then the second accusation will be buried even more effectively. Kerry will have not just the shield of his heroism but the very long spear of Bush perfidity as well.
(By the way, the sheer calculated nature of this one-two punch from the Swifties is just another indication that they are more than just some guys who got together to dispute Kerry's history. If that were all they were then they would have gone with just the second ad. The first ad, its execution and its reason for existence, is pure Karl Rove.)