Smear and 'Boating on the Campaign Trail 2008

Never mind that the challenges to John Kerry's Vietnam war record were largely made up. They did huge damage to the Massachusetts senator, who was so taken aback by their brazen dishonesty that he was left gasping.

That mugging by George W. Bush henchmen was so successful that it introduced a new term into the political lexicon: "Swift-Boating.”

But let's call this what it is. It is a smear campaign. It doesn't matter that it's based on fabrication. It has worked.

That was good enough for Bush, and it's apparently good enough for his fellow Republican, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

How else can we explain the latest effort by members of the McCain Gang to challenge Sen. Barack Obama's (D-Ill.) patriotism? They're basing that on Obama's cancellation of plans, while speeding through Germany, to visit injured servicemen in a U.S. military hospital.

True, the matter was badly handled and the Obama campaign should be embarrassed. This was definitely not slick. In an organization smug about its success to the point of hubris, being unslick is a mortal sin.

However, this was clumsiness, not a lack of patriotism. And for John McCain and his supporters, to suggest otherwise signals a decision to utilize the thuggish smear tactics that served their Swift Boat soulmates so well the last time around.

The danger is that he fritters away the honor he earned vis-à-vis his courage while a POW in Vietnam. The good will from his past heroism can be consumed by a growing perception of present-day nastiness. McCain cannot afford to come across as bitter. It's a good thing to be considered a tough campaigner. Looking mean is not.

This is a major match between political heavyweights. What we should hope for is a campaign slugfest. But hitting below the belt should not be allowed. If either one insists on doing so, that should be reason enough for him to be disqualified, not by any referee, but by those watching — the voters.

There's still time to get off that Swift Boat. This time it might sink, taking everyone onboard down with it, including a certain former Navy captain.


Visit Mr. Franken's website at www.bobfranken.tv.