John Kerry defends Specter against 'swiftboating' charge

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) defended Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) against charges he used swiftboat-style attacks against his Democratic primary opponent's Navy record. 

"I have known Arlen for 25 years and I know his character and the quality of his service to Pennsylvania," Kerry said. "He's a fighter and a friend, and I am proud to vouch for his character."

Four years ago, Kerry was an early supporter of Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), Specter's rival for the Democratic Senate nomination. Kerry called him a friend, but he sided with his Senate colleague over the former Navy admiral amid charges that Specter was "swiftboating" Sestak.

"I cannot serve as a referee," Kerry said in a statement Monday. "That's an issue for the candidates to address and the media to investigate."

The term "swiftboating" entered the political lexicon in the 2004 presidential election, when a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth launched a series of TV spots that attacked Kerry's service in the Vietnam War. The ads featured veterans who had served on the Navy's swift boats saying Kerry was "unfit" for the presidency. "What troubled me most about the 2004 smears was that lies were permitted to pollute the public dialogue even after they were thoroughly and publicly disproven by the Navy's own records," the former Democratic presidential nominee said.

Specter released a TV ad last month that said Sestak was relieved of duty at one point for creating a "poor command climate." Sestak accused the five-term incumbent of "swiftboating" his military record. Still, the two-term congressman ignored repeated requests from reporters to release his Navy service records.

Kerry said he hoped "swiftboating" would become a thing of the past.

"I'd like to see us get to a better place in politics where the word swiftboating is retired from the political vocabulary," he said.