Larry Schweikart: Kerry's Swiftly Being Buried by His Friends

Roundup: Historians' Take

Larry Schweikart, in a communication to HNN (Aug. 27, 2004):

The Swiftboat vet story is now in day 23 and counting, with no indication whatsoever of disappearing anytime soon. The fact that Unfit for Command has now reached #1 on the bestseller lists is itself a fact to be reckoned with. But there are larger currents swirling around the swiftboat controversy---currents that go straight to the heart of a liberal---and arrogant---media.

Evan Thomas has flatly admitted the "mainstream" media is on board Kerry's little boat. Except there is a problem: both Kerry and his media buddies suffer from the same condescending, know-it-all, smug, arrogance that makes them loathe to accept advice or seek help from anyone. This means that, unlike what the Kerry campaign is whining about with the Swiftboat vets and the Bush campaign, there was in fact probably very little collaboration between Kerry and his media buddies. There didn't need to be: they have a "conspiracy of shared values." This, however, meant that when the media leaped to Kerry's defense, first by trying to tar all the fine vets in the book, then next by trying to tie Bush and Rove to the ads, they inadvertently poured nitroglycerin on a small fire that now none of them can put out.

It works like this. When you were in school, perhaps playing softball, and were called out at second, you complained that the second baseman cheated. He "got in my way." The teacher's ruling stands, and you are out. But you continue to complain, and whine, and become obnoxious. The teacher's decision never changes----but the rest of the classmates' opinion of you does! Kerry's initial whining, now picked up by the liberal media, is slowly convincing millions of Americans that he is not a leader, and, for at least some who hear about the controversy, they now say, "what ads? What book? Why is he unfit?" Increasingly, it may not be that people even believe the evidence in the Swiftboat vets' book (which, if I may say, is incredibly powerful and damning). But that's irrelevant: it has now erased two years' worth of Democratic ground-laying with the 9/11 commission and the "Bush lied about WMDs" claims. In just over three weeks, Kerry and the media have leveled the playing field, at the same time removing Kerry's only serious credential for arguing that he would wage an effective war on terror.

The most amazing thing is that even today, the media is back at it, covering the Max Cleland fiasco and Kerry's latest legal maneuvers. This was to be expected when an arrogant press allies with an arrogant candidate. Polls out this week show Kerry getting hammered across the board---everywhere from state polls in OH, FL (where he now trails), MI (where his lead is down to 3%), IA and WI (where he is only tied or trails), and AZ (where he is on the verge of being blown out. Investor's Business Daily has analyzed the strength of his support, and found that his "strong" support is only 2/3 that of Bush's, meaning these "voters" ain't gonna be there on election day. Now, today, the LA Times (which has undersampled Republicans even in this poll) and, a few days ago, Gallup both have Kerry down by 3% nationally.

And the best news is that two other unintended consequences have come, or will come, out of the Swiftboat ads: 1) We are finally debating the justification of the Vietnam war and the rationale for opposing communism (and Kerry's position is losing once again); and 2) the media has suddenly decided that campaign finance reform isn't so great. Look for Congress to reassess CFR, and possibly repeal it next year, after Bush wins handily.

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