It is impossible to overrate the rage and anguish Democrats feel at the success of the 2004 campaign 527 called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth; it would be silly to even try. When Democratic voters and establishment sheikhs chose John Kerry over John Edwards, it was in large part because Kerry served in Vietnam and returned to campaign against the war. They completely discounted the bitterness that conservatives and many vets still harbored against Kerry. They were caught flatfooted when Kerry's military record became a months-long campaign liability after the group of angry vets caught the attention of the mainstream media and started getting cash infusions from big-time conservative donors. In November, Bush beat Kerry by 16 points among military veterans. Nominating a veteran got the Democrats nothing.
This is why, when today's Democrats talk about John McCain, they can sound incredulous. After all the crap they took, why is he able to ride his Vietnam record to the GOP nomination? How could he enjoin the culture wars by bragging that he missed Woodstock because he was "tied up at the time" and get so much praise he started running TV ads on that theme? Why is he able to follow it up with an ad named for his Navy ID number (624787) and featuring video of him lying in POW camp? It's not… it's not… it's not fair! Thus, Wesley Clark.
I don't think Clark's comments can stand up to scrutiny; no experience, not even being a Joint Chief of Staff or Defense Secretary, can directly prepare someone to become commander-in-chief. McCain's occasional argument that his command of a navy squadron was executive experience is sort of risible, but not as much as when he claimed it would qualify him to manage the economy. His POW years are as relevant to his qualifications as any presidential candidate's experiences. Eight years ago, weren't we hearing about how George W. Bush's 20-odd years of sowing his oats turned him into a great leader?
So I'd like to agree with this Jamie Kirchick op-ed about the Obama team's smear-iness relative to that of the McCain team, but he does two things I disagree with. First, it's not just a talk radio host and Soren Dayton who've been accused of furthering anti-Obama smears. Georgia Rep. Jack Kingston called Obama "a man who will not say the pledge of allegiance," Iowa Rep. Steve King furthered the Obama-Muslim smear when he claimed terrorists would "read a meaning into" Obama's middle name. Second, Kirchick's complaint that the Democratic attacks allage "that McCain is an unhinged, mentally unstable warmonger who would deploy soldiers capriciously because he hasn't truly experienced the horrors of ground battle." Capriciously, no: I don't think any McCain opponents outside of the fever swamps think he'll be lauching attacks at random. But would President McCain look at military solutions for a crisis more quickly than President Obama would? Is McCain's long-held policy of "rogue state roll-back" more aggressive than Obama's vaguely Clintonian-Wilsonian internationalism? Yes, and it's not unfair or untoward to say so.
Both parties have the ability to make this debate without resorting to smears and counter-smears about service and patriotism. Will they? Ha, ha.