EMAIL OF THE DAY II

“The ‘Email of the Day’ you posted, about the Swift Boat people, is horrifying. It is, perhaps, the most eloquent example I have yet seen of how coarse and vile our political culture has become. The President’s supporters are so twisted with hatred of their opponents that they cannot even acknowledge the simple fact that John Kerry put himself in harm’s way, fought with courage, bled for his country. He could so easily have been killed — that’s a very strange way to plan your political future. Dozens of Swifties died on the rivers of the Mekong Delta, including Kerry’s close friend and fellow Swift commander, Don Droz. He was ambushed and killed just a few weeks after Kerry shipped back sateside. It could just as easily have been Kerry. They patrolled side by side countless times. Like Droz, Kerry exposed himself to enemy fire to save men’s lives. That anyone would begrudge Kerry taking the three Purple Hearts and the right to go back home that came with them is truly depraved.”

My feelings entirely. I notice, however, that now that the smears have taken their toll, the talking point from the GOP is that the real issue is Kerry’s 1971 testimony. That indeed is a completely legitimate issue. But if these vets had just started with that, would they have gained traction? No – they had to challenge Kerry’s medals in order to get the media attention that would allow them to refight the Vietnam war. What galls me is how people like the elder Bush and Dole and Gillespie and Novak and others now refuse to back up specifics impugning Kerry’s medals but ask open-ended questions like: “Could they all be liars?” Or: “There are inconsistencies,” – without having the balls to say what they are (because the most reliable records refute Kerry’s critics on all but one trivial count). This is a classic smear tactic. But it’s no use complaining, and Kerry was wrong to hope the media would ignore the smears. What worries me is what happens if Bush wins the election and a huge swathe of blue America concludes it was because of this swift boat business. The rancor that we have seen already could metastasize into something even more bitter and divisive. I cannot see how that benefits anyone in the long run.

DONE BLOGGING

One blogger throws in the towel. The major reason? Endless emailed abuse and criticism. I’m tempted to say: deal with it. But after over four years of the same, I see his point. It’s especially brutal now. Give Kerry any credit for anything, and the hatemail pours in. Ditto for Bush. The space for anything but hatred for either candidate gets smaller and smaller. And the constant personal abuse (in my case, larded with constant homophobic slurs) gets to you after a while. I’m used to it. But it does have an effect. And one effect is to leave the commentary to the Eric Altermans and Sean Hannitys. No way.

EMAIL OF THE DAY

“I had hoped that your August break would help you to regain perspective and clear your thinking. From your recent comments in your blog, I believe that did not happen.

I am particularly struck by your simultaneously overly-naive and overly-cynical treatment of the Swift Boat Vets issue. You are the man who inspired me to see “Shattered Glass”, that excellent, horrifying portrayal of the fabulist Stephen Glass, and on other occasions you have repeatedly (and rightly) bashed the far Left for its outlandish, malicious conspiracy theories. Yet you now seem incapable of grasping that John Kerry is a fabulist — an empty, manipulative, fabulist — just as much as Stephen Glass was. And with regard to the 254 decorated veterans (including Admirals) who are bravely pointing that out to all of us in the face of enormous “mainstream” media smears and personal attacks against them — you indulge the shallowest conspiracy theories of the left: that, just because they have taken some money from individual Republican donors and their sincere actions will ultimately benefit the Bush campaign, they “must” be mere creations of Karl Rove.

Are you unaware that their main spokesman, John O’Neill, is an Independent who voted for Al Gore in 2000? and is a great supporter of John Edwards, just as you are? and is a plaintiffs’ lawyer in Houston who files lawsuits against big corporations on behalf of the elderly and disabled? Is it really SO inconceivable to you that John O’Neill might be acting from a personal principle? — a sincere horror at John Kerry’s fabulism over the years and at Kerry’s early, horrific slanders of those who serve in America’s military which Kerry has never adequately retracted nor apologized for?

The truth which the Swift Boat Vets are speaking will eventually be absorbed and acknowledged – whether or not Kerry wins in November – and when that happens, you will find your own apparent gullibility in buying Kerry’s fabulism and in joining your “mainstream” media colleagues in trashing and dismissing the Swift Boat Vets to be most embarassing.” – more tough feedback on the Letters Page.

MOCKING THE MILITARY

Hey, if it helps beat John Kerry, who cares? These Purple Heart bandages are plain sickening. The mindset that enables them is depraved. Both sides have their extremists. And it’s good that the GOP hierarchy has disowned these gimmicks. But it also tells you something about what motivates some of the Republican base.

“WINNING” THE WAR

Looking at the context of president Bush’s remarks yesterday on the Today Show does not undo the weird gaffe. Here’s the conversation:

LAUER: You said to me a second ago, one of the things you’ll lay out in your vision for the next four years is how to go about winning the war on terror. That phrase strikes me a little bit. Do you really think we can win this war of ter–on terror? For example, in the next four years?

Pres. BUSH: I have never said we can win it in four years?

LAUER: No, I’m just saying, can we win it? Do you say that?

Pres. BUSH: I don’t–I don’t think we can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that the–those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in part of the world, let’s put it that way. I have a two-pronged strategy. On the one hand is to find them before they hurt us. And that’s necessary. I’m telling you it’s necessary.

The odd thing is that this really does sound like a parody of Kerry. And if Kerry had indeed said that, we would be hearing nothing else for weeks. And indeed, every time I hear the president talk extemporaneously about the war – his interview with Tim Russert last February was a classic – he does seem to have almost no conceptual grasp of what he’s talking about. Back then, he seemed flummoxed by the very concept of a distinction between a war of choice and a war of necessity. Now he seems to be parroting a Council on Foreign Relations confab on the permanence of terrorism. We’re all told that the president knows what he believes about this war and today he corrected himself. But the issues here – how to fight Islamist terror, what constitutes success, the necessary blend of military action, diplomacy, police work, etc. – are not minor. You have to be impressed by this president’s resilence in the war and his aggression. He also deserves enormous credit for shifting U.S. policy toward democratization in that part of the world. But there are times when you have to wonder whether he really understands this issue as deeply as he needs to; and whether that limited grasp has led to some of the calamitous “miscalculations” that even he has now acknowledged.

THE GOOD SENATOR

Last night in New York was a shrewd and, to my mind, often effective attempt to recapture why so many of us admired George W. Bush’s leadership during the dark days after 9/11 and the precarious, nail-biting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It still seems to me that no one will ever take away the power of those days – or the soaring rhetoric of Bush’s speech to Congress that lifted him to a new level of leadership. John McCain’s speech struck me therefore as ultimately about character. It was not a complete endorsement of everything Bush. Far from it. Here’s a passage that struck me as an implicit rebuke to Bush’s hubris after the fall of Baghdad:

We must not be complacent at moments of success, and we must not despair over setbacks. We must learn from our mistakes, improve on our successes, and vanquish this unpardonable enemy.

McCain also avoided harsh partisan name-calling; and you can easily see why an honorable man like this would recoil from old soldiers trying to besmirch the medals of others. Nevertheless, he made a strong case for Bush as a solid leader in wartime, and, more importantly, for the nobility and importance of taking out Saddam. His point about the foolish notion that we could somehow have left Saddam in power in a stable status quo is one I’ve made before and critical to a serious defense of the decision to go to war. It was also delicious to watch this genuine hero go after that dishonest charlatan, Michael Moore. I only wish it didn’t make Moore feel even more important. The only flaw in McCain’s speech was the delivery. It was oddly flat, almost drained. McCain seemed tired. But he gives me hope that the GOP is not doomed to become the reincarnation of the Dixiecrats, that it can avoid the rancid recesses of its own fears, that it can rise to the occasion of this war.

THE FEISTY MAYOR: Giuliani was on fire. He spoke so easily, so amusingly, and so emotionally that for long passages, you forgot he was giving a speech and felt he was talking with you. His iconic status is oddly a problem for him, because it has tended to obscure his street-smart, clear-eyed chattiness – the kind of thing a New York mayor can use from time to time. But it was on display last night to great effect. Again, Giuliani spoke to Bush’s emotional intelligence after 9/11, his genuine attempt to do what he believed was best for the country at a time of terror, and to Bush’s personable nature. You just cannot imagine a story in which a huge, ham-handed construction worker would ever give John Kerry a big, warm bear-hug. Or that John Kerry would answer a long disquisition from a man in a hard-hat and feel satisfied to respond with two simple words: “I agree.” Again, Giuliani reminded us of why we tend to like George W. Bush. (Personally, I’d rather have pins stuck in my eyes than endure a conversation with John Kerry, but I’d love to hang with Bush.) All of this matters. A president in wartime needs to be able to connect with people. Bush can. Kerry can’t. It also matters that Bush does seem to have faith in what he is doing. The problem is that he seems to have too much faith at times, and not enough skepticism. You need skepticism in war to second-guess your intelligence sources, to doubt the efficacy of a war with too few troops, or an occupation easily derailed by insurgent forces you greatly under-estimated and failed to foresee. Giuliani’s gamble, however, is that, if you have to pick between faith and skepticism in a war president, the former is more important. If the choice between Bush and Kerry can be conveyed as such a choice, then Bush wins easily. It is, of course, much more complicated than that. But the point of last night was to reduce complication to simplicity. It worked, in so far as anyone saw it.

THE SHIFTING CAMPAIGN: In all this, you can almost feel the election swinging Bush’s way a little. The swift boat smear was important in jolting the conversation, in changing the dynamic that was pointing to a Bush defeat. But Kerry’s weaknesses are also at play here. I don’t believe his convention was wasted. He had to emphasize national security. But it’s domestic policies that will win him the election, if he does win, and he hasn’t yet made them the focus of the battle. Maybe he will. But the bottom line is that Kerry is a deeply weak candidate, and it took McCain and Giuliani, almost by simple contrast, to remind us why. Bush still has a case to make – defending his record deficits, his errors in the war in Iraq, his vast new spending, his refusal to tackle entitlements, his protectionism, his anti-gay amendment, and so on. But he’s ahead on the leadership front, even before he gives his acceptance speech. Not bad.

FIRST, McGREEVEY …

Now, Schrock. A conservative Republican congressman in Virginia drops out of his re-election race, after being “outed” by a website. Ed Schrock’s district includes Pat Robertson’s Regents University. It’s another unpleasant tale of our divisive and emotional times. And I fear it will only get worse.