Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Of Crosses and Swiftboats

I wanted to smack around the folks who seem obsessed with trying to prove John McCain's story about a Vietnamese prison guard drawing a cross in the dirt was stolen from Alexander Solzhenitsyn, but Tom Maguire has a head start by mocking Andrew Sullivan. Byron York piles on nicely as well. Sister Toldjah stops by for a spell. And Maguire hits Sullivan one more time, and this one's worthy of a quote...

Let's see if I get Sullivan's argument - McCain's memory of a cross in the dirt is not a story about his courage or in his military record, and he may or may not have invented it in 2000 for political purposes; therefore, critics are not engaging in "Swiftboating" when they pick at it.

Well, then, what about folks, including the Swiftboaters, who questioned Kerry's
"Christmas in Cambodia" story? That incident was not in Kerry's record (since it never happened!); he had not received a mdeal for it; and he seemd to have invented it for political purposes (e.g., in a Senate speech in 1986 Kerry's point was that he had special moral authority to denounce a secret Iran-Contra war since he had been a participant/victim of Nixon's secret war in Cambodia in 1968. Please ignore the fact that Nixon was inaugurated in January 1969.)

By Sullivan's new standard the Swiftboaters were not Swiftboating Kerry on this topic, since they were only questioning a politically motivated story and not "real" conduct in Vietnam. A fine distinction - can we call this "Sullyboating"?

Pretty complicated! In my world, if a politician wants to run on his record, critics should be free to examine it, and take the consequences. In Sully's world, the rules are less clear, but let me guess at a summary - it is OK to attack Republicans.
For the record, this would only qualify as akin to the Swifties' perfectly legitimate attack on John Kerry if it were his fellow veterans questioining McCain's actions because they were in the same prison cell, and if a number of their claims were actually proven true. After that, the mainstream press would need to ignore the matter entirely for months, until McCain responded, and the press than parroted McCain's response. But this attack does qualify as similar to the left's definition of "Swiftboating", which seems to mean "unfair attacks against a political candidate, particualrly focused on tearing down their status as a war hero."

Is this whole debate stupid for Obama fans? Yes, mostly because it re-emphasizes who McCain is -- a war hero. The only questions it could raise are about the depth of McCain's faith in God and his truthfulness about it, and there's no way to prove it to be incorrect. The reason the Swift Boat veterans were so devestating to Kerry is that it undercut his stance as a war hero (which was his only redeeming feature, based on how his campaign positioned him), and they could prove it.

Perhaps the best summary of Sullivan and his ilk tilting at windmills comes from his colleague Megan McArdle...

What, exactly, is the point of this exercise? Gulag Archipelago was published in 1973, the same year that John McCain was released from the POW camp. There is no way of proving what the bloggers hope, which is that no mention of this story was made until after the book's publication. And even if that were the case, all it would prove is that John McCain didn't tell this story until after the book's publication, not that it didn't happen. Vietnam is a country with pretty rich Catholic tradition; tracing a cross in the dirt at Christmas is not something so unthinkably bizarre that it could only have happened in one communist dictatorship.

The only way this would actually hurt McCain is if you found a signed letter from him saying that this never happened. Since it's very unlikely that such a letter exists, the very best that this effort will achieve is sowing seeds of doubt in a few minds, making themselves look desperate to almost everyone else (and thereby making people wonder what's wrong with Obama, that they're this desperate), and outraging a number of people that you would call McCain's honor into question with absolutely no evidence, or hope of obtaining same.
Actually, McArdle's other point - dealing with the silly allegations that McCain cheated when he "won" the Saddleback forum on Saturday night -- is also pretty good. Meanwhile, Ace has a list of other quotes stolen from Solzhenitsyn as well.


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