There were arguably fair reasons for the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign waged against John Kerry in 2004. There are no such arguably fair reasons for questioning McCain’s service, though it appears some on the left are going to be intent on doing so.
But farther to the left—and among some of McCain’s conservative enemies as well—harsher attacks are circulating. Critics have accused McCain of war crimes for bombing targets in Hanoi in the 1960s. Sunday, a widely read liberal blog accused McCain of “disloyalty” during his captivity in Vietnam for his coerced participation in propaganda films and interviews after he’d been tortured.
The only “fair” argument I can imagine is one where McCain misrepresents himself or exaggerates his leadership experience, something I doubt will happen but cannot be ruled out. A dark horse could be if something in his service record (which has not been completely released) comes up, but that is even more doubtful and its unlikely those will be fully released.
Will John Kerry stick up for McCain the way McCain spoke out against the attacks on his service in 2004?
The conventional take on the racial accusations that have been traded by the Clinton and Obama campaign over the past week (culminating in a detente of sorts from both candidates yesterday) is that both sides are at fault, or perhaps that the Obama campaign gave in to its inherent contradictions on race.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The prospect of black Americans voting for Obama (evaporating a highly valued constituency of the establishment Democratic candidate, Clinton) by great margins has been grudgingly accepted by the Clinton campaign in the past few weeks. They have responded by making a play to lock him into the status as the “black candidate” and reduce his appeal to whites and (most importantly of all) Latinos. Historically, Latino voters have not been supportive of black candidates for office. Obama’s cross-racial appeal and his strong support from the youth of the party and independents threatens to upset that conventional wisdom.
To prevent this from developing into a trend that could defeat Hillary in California, Texas, Colorado, Nevada and perhaps even her state of New York, the Clintons had to reduce his appeal and constrain him as the candidate of black concerns and most importantly, black politics (with the near-constant touting of the suffering of blacks and the racism of the system claimed by the Al Sharptons of the world).
Listening to black radio and browsing black issue websites and blogs over the past week, one can see the long-term stupidity of this strategy for Clinton. She’s threatening to suppress the very black vote she’ll desperately need to win the White House if she is the nominee. No candidate with the kind of extraordinarily high negatives she has among the public will be able to win without the complete support of their political party. If many blacks view the Clintons with disdain after the events of the past week (and God knows what the Clintons and their surrogates are going to be pulling in the next two-three weeks over Obama’s drug use, racial politics, the radical church he belongs to, etc.), they are likely to not vote for her in November and may even vote for her opponent, especially if it is Mike Huckabee or John McCain.
To assume, hold and control the reins of power at any cost. That has been the standard operating procedure of the Clintons since 1992. Such a mantra may be one of the key reasons for their embarrassing defeat in November 2008.
(A quick note on “code”. Black voters know all about it. Whether fact or myth, it has been widely believed that in a number of political campaigns and debates over the past 4 decades, the use of “code”, i.e. the tone and attitude of politicians intent on disparaging or downplaying black concerns in the country in an era of politically correct discourse. Bill Clinton came across to many blacks as particularly condescending with his criticism of Obama’s Iraq views as a “fairy tale”, especially considering that many people know full well how utterly contradictory Hillary’s statements, claims and versions of her Iraq policy have been. Ditto for Bob Johnson, the BET founder who insinuated Obama was doing cocaine in his 20′s while Hillary was out doing big things for black people. Given his prior role in the TV network that disparages black women in its music videos and glorifies the “thug” life, as well as the fact that many people know Bill Clinton was smoking pot while draft dodging and Hillary was crafting odd feminist views and papers in their 20′s, this also counted as “code”.)