Thursday, August 26, 2004

Bush Pitches a Swift Wedge

The latest ad from Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (sic) is simply another attempt by Bush to exploit a sensitive wedge issue in American politics. Vietnam is portrayed very differently by the two sides of a cultural divide running down the middle of America.

On one side - John Kerry’s side - Vietnam is the war that should never have been. It was an aimless waste of life, inevitably stained by war crimes and atrocities as meaningless as the war itself. In this Vietnam, the peace movement were heroes who stopped a crime of global scope. The lives of the American men a women who died in Vietnam were wasted by a criminally stupid political leadership who failed to understand the nature of the Vietnamese nationalist movement. The war was a betrayal of the American people.

On the other side - George Bush’s side - Vietnam is the war that American service men and women were not allowed to win. The objective, to save a people from Communism, was unquestionably right and altruistic, in this view. There may have been problems, but they were no different than with any other war - war is hell. In this Vietnam, the peace movement were not heroes; they were traitors. They were a fifth column who turned public opinion against the war and made victory impossible. The lives of those nearly 60 thousand soldiers were lost in vain, not because our political leadership lacked direction and insight, but because the peaceniks lacked patriotism. The peace movement was a betrayal of the American people.

It is this conflict of viewpoints to which the Swiftians second ad is pitched. This is largely the same demographics to which ‘family values’, homophobia, ‘right to life’, and the GOP’s other wedge issues are pitched; people who would be voting with the Democrats were it not for a cultural disconnect with values of the left. People who are voting to slowly kill themselves economically in order to express outrage at outpourings of the cultural watershed of the 1960’s.

Only time will tell how well Bush’s kulturekampf politics will work in the context of the Vietnam war. The supposed consensus that many thought had definitively consigned Vietnam to a historical pigeonhole labeled ‘mistake’ is being contested. In the long-run that many even be a good thing. Greater perspective may allow a wider consensus about that war to grow and this Presidential season’s attack may be the germ around which that new alignment forms. My instincts tell me that Bush has made a significant error. His recent, somewhat ambiguous, agreement to call for the ads’ withdrawal is a sign that Rove senses a backlash against their scheme.

The ugliness at the heart of Bush Swiftian strategy is his willingness to rip open 30 year old wounds and exploit a fraternal argument among Vietnam vets for his own political gain. The blunt fact that Bush avoided service in Vietnam, yet is using this wedge in a naked attempt to divide those who did, speaks volumes about his character to any Vietnam-era veteran. There will be a backlash in response to the fundamental disrespect this tactic demonstrates.

That disrespect is also visible in many exploitive things this Administration does to politically leverage the military. The catalog of budget cuts and policy slights to our active-duty soldiers and veterans by this Administration will be set against the insulting sops, symbolic gestures, and presumptuous identification with the military this Administration affects. Bush’s desperate imposition of a back-door draft, violating the trust of our citizen soldiers, is the final betrayal. Stop-losses and inactive recalls laid bare Bush’s contempt for our military personnel, their families, and their futures. The Swiftians attacks will be salt in that wound.

Our military personnel and vets are patriotic and self-sacrificing, but they are not blind to tyranny or injustice, nor are they blindly loyal to the office of the President despite how they are treated. Few Presidents have treated our military with greater disdain and hypocrisy than Bush. A price will be paid for Bush’s blatant exploitation of the Swiftian wedge on top of all the other insults he has rained down upon a long-suffering military. Bush has compounded his errors with his insulting treatment of Vietnam heroes like McCain in 2000, and more recently, his shabby handling of Cleland’s visit to Bush’s Crawford Estate. There is a backlash brewing and Rove can smell it. It won’t be long before BushCo is hanging the Swiftians out to dry, trying to salvage the damage this campaign has caused.

Many veterans, faced by Bush’s two-faced treatment of the military, and his vilification of veterans who opposed the Vietnam war through Kerry, are likely to reconsider who is best to lead the military through the aftermath of Iraq. Will they prefer Bush, who manipulated the military with lies, exploited them with campaign appearances and mummery shows, such as his landing on Lincoln, is even now actively repressing the truth about Abu Ghraib and other potential war crimes, and himself avoided the draft? Or will they prefer Kerry, who himself has paid the political costs of telling the truth about the horrors of war, who has championed veterans issues throughout his career, and takes pride in his stellar record of voluntary military service? Veterans know that the only disinfectant for the disease of war is the truth. There is no one who is better suited to the task of leading the military through the coming traumas than John Kerry. As the full scope of the dishonor Bush has brought to the military by his policies these last 4 years continues to come to light, veterans and soldiers are likely to turn away from Bush’s lies and exploitation, toward Kerry’s empathy and truth.

Kerry has turned his campaign into Bush’s Swiftian attack. With a backlash against Bush’s tactics powering his counter-assault, it is only a matter of time before he overruns Bush’s position.


At 9:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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