Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

The Bush campaign and truth ...

Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman: "The fact is this campaign is unprecedented in our praise of our opponent's service during Vietnam."

Apropos of Mehlman's Orwellian remark, who sent Bob Dole onto the Sunday shows today?

Dole doesn't make such appearances not under direction. He's a party man, a partisan.

There's nothing wrong with that. But that means he doesn't freelance. But who gave him his talking points?

It answers itself. The White House sent him out.

Needless to say, it's not a question that occurred to Blitzer to ask. But someone should. One of the biggs should ring him up.

Today Bob Dole suggested that one or more of John Kerry's Purple Hearts may have been fraudulent in some way because they were for "superficial wounds."

Dole knows better.

In a 1988 campaign-trail autobiography, here's how Dole described the incident that earned him his first Purple Heart: "As we approached the enemy, there was a brief exchange of gunfire. I took a grenade in hand, pulled the pin, and tossed it in the direction of the farmhouse. It wasn't a very good pitch (remember, I was used to catching passes, not throwing them). In the darkness, the grenade must have struck a tree and bounced off. It exploded nearby, sending a sliver of metal into my leg--the sort of injury the Army patched up with Mercurochrome and a Purple Heart."

As long as reliving what we did in the late 1960s is all the rage, here's a thought.

Ben Barnes was the Speaker of the Texas State House back in 1968. And he was the one who pushed young George W. Bush to the head of the Texas Air National Guard queue after dad's friends came calling. Remember, dad was a congressman from Houston.

Back in 1998, wrote Mike Isikoff in Newsweek in July 2000, "concerned that Barnes might go public with his allegations, the Bush campaign sent Don Evans, a friend of W's, to hear Barnes's story. Barnes acknowledged that he hadn't actually spoken directly to Bush Sr. and had no documents to back up his story. As the Bush campaign saw it, that let both Bushes off the hook."

Now, as fate would have it, Ben Barnes is a Democrat. Was then, is now. And he supports John Kerry.

But he's never really spoken openly about how he helped Bush hop in front of everyone else or other aspects of the president's abbreviated military service, about which he is said to know a great deal.

Maybe now would be the time?

Texas politics is different from Washington politics. Dems and Republicans are often tight. And I believe Barnes' is a state lobbyist nowadays. So while supporting the Dem nominee may be an acceptable deviation, nailing the president on the Guard issue in what is now a Republican-dominated state probably wouldn't be good for business.

But maybe now's the time for him to step up to the plate ...

Can't we get Molly Ivins or some other worthy to put in a call? Maybe just ask him what he thinks of the Swift Boat business.

It seems like there might be another vet who's coming forward vouching for Kerry's and Kerry's crewmates' version of events on the day the Rassman incident happened.

There was a letter to the editor to a local daily paper in Telluride, Colorado on Friday, August 20th -- that's the paper's weekend edition. The letter writer identifies himself as Jim Russell and says he was "assigned as Psychological Operation Officer for the Swift Boat group out of An Thoi, Vietnam, from January 1969 to October 1969. As such, I was on No. 43 boat, skippered by Don Droz ..."

Now, the demand for folks who were on that piece of water that day must be pretty intense at the moment. And it would seem odd that anyone at this point has yet to be contacted and chatted up by the press.

I have no way of knowing whether this guy was where he says he was on that day. And it could be a hoax. But I did call the editor of the paper, Suzanne Cheavens. She says she knows the guy (small town, I guess), knows he's a Vietnam vet, and vouched for his credibility.

Some reporter should see if they can track this down and confirm or dispute that he was there on the day in question.

On the front page of the Washington Post website, the headline for Michael Dobbs' piece on the Swift Boat controversy reads: "Both Sides Flawed on Swift Boat Accounts: Kerry's critics and supporters offer incomplete version of war episode."

(I let my subscription to the WaPo electronic edition lapse because the interface is so poor. And I'm not in DC; so I don't know if that's how the headline on the print edition read too.)

But I have a hard time reconciling that headline with what the article actually says. To me, the headline implies that both camps are telling only partial versions of the real story and in some way thus tilting the story in their favor.

In other words, noone is telling the whole truth and the Post is here to give it to you straight.

But after reading the piece, I don't know what that's based on. The article shows that there are two camps (one pro- and one anti-Kerry). They agree on some points and disagree on others about the incident in question. The heart of the disagreement is whether Kerry was under fire when the incident with Rassman happened. Everyone on Kerry's boat says, yes. Several people in the same five boat flotilla say, no. (The Post found another sailor, not on Kerry's boat, who also remembers being under fire, and thus supports Kerry's account.)The available naval records (from after action reports and award citations) also say there was hostile fire.

The anti-Kerry folks say those reports were either written by Kerry or influenced by him -- a charge for which they provide no evidence and for which there appears to be evidence to the contrary.

(What also come across clearly, if never explicitly, is that this whole episode happened more than thirty years ago to a bunch of men who were either teenagers or in their early twenties. All of them were gunned up with adrenaline, thinking they might be about to get killed. And thus, none of the accounts are precisely the same.)

That's pretty much the story, and the nature of the conflicting accounts, as we've already understood them. But I read the whole thing and couldn't find where either side was holding back key details. What Dobbs seems to be referring to is the fact (noted in the graf that begins "Some of the mystery ...") that there are documents -- diaries and logs, mainly -- which both sides have not yet made publicly available, or at least didn't make available to Dobbs.

That seems worth pointing out. But it hardly seems to merit the headline -- which, as it so often does, ends up shaping the reaction to the story. Perhaps I missed the points the headline refers to. If you think I have, please drop me a line.

From the Boston Globe's Sunday editorial .<$NoAd$>..

IMAGINE IF supporters of Bill Clinton had tried in 1996 to besmirch the military record of his opponent, Bob Dole. After all, Dole was given a Purple Heart for a leg scratch probably caused, according to one biographer, when a hand grenade thrown by one of his own men bounced off a tree. And while the serious injuries Dole sustained later surely came from German fire, did the episode demonstrate heroism on Dole's part or a reckless move that ended up killing his radioman and endangering the sergeant who dragged Dole off the field?

The truth, according to many accounts, is that Dole fought with exceptional bravery and deserves the nation's gratitude. No one in 1996 questioned that record. Any such attack on behalf of Clinton, an admitted Vietnam draft dodger, would have been preposterous.

Yet amazingly, something quite similar is happening today as supporters of President Bush attack the Vietnam record of Senator John Kerry.

Read the whole thing.

A thought about the follow-up on the Swift Boat ads.

Today at a rally, John Edwards said, among other things, "This is a moment of truth for George W. Bush. We're going to see what kind of man he is and what kind of leader he is. ... We want to hear three words: Stop these ads."

Okay for today. But no more of this.

We already know what kind of a man he is. He's got a track record.

I'm tempted to say, if we didn't, why run against him? But of course political differences between good men are more than adequate justifications for a presidential contest -- consider Clinton v. Dole in 1996.

But that's not the case here. So, to be frank, this line has some element of disingenuousness.

Far more important, it's whining. Begging. At a minimum, it can come off or be characterized that way. And it sounds weak. This is about hitting back, not flaunting high-mindedness.

If the president's behavior is really as bad as the Kerry-Edwards team is saying it is, then it's really past the point of asking him to do the right thing and redeem himself.

The excellent ad the Kerry campaign put out today -- the one with McCain confronting Bush -- ends with the line "America can do better."

It doesn't say, "George W. Bush, please stop" or "George W. Bush should do the right thing." It says "America can do better" or, in other words, he's shown us what kind of person he is and he shouldn't be president.

No need to be nasty. "America can do better" says all that needs be said. Drive that point home and move the debate back to the president's failed record at home and abroad.

Try "George W. Bush is back to his old tricks because he doesn't want to talk about X (his bad record on jobs), Y (his failed policies in Iraq), Z (you get the idea.)"

A few days ago the Kerry campaign put together a new ad with Jim Rassman, the guy who Kerry plucked out of the water under fire three decades ago. Given all that's happened, it was probably necessary to put the eyewitness in front of voters to rebut the charges of the Swift Boat group. That said, I didn't find it a terribly effective ad. Okay, but not great.

That's certainly no fault of Rassman's or even necessarily the Kerry campaign. But to the extent that this whole bundle of issues has become an issue, it's not going to be won by divining whether there was hostile fire in the air when this one incident happened. It's necessary to validate Kerry's good faith recollection in order not to lose, but it's not sufficient to win.

Today, though, the Kerry campaign came out with a very powerful ad, one which in its tone and focus is exactly where the Kerry campaign needs to go.

It's called Old Tricks and the entire ad is a brief exchange from a debate from February 15th 2000 (which the political junkies among us probably remember) in which John McCain -- then in the thick of Bush's smears -- told Bush to his face to stop getting others to smear him over his war record. He ends by telling him he should be ashamed. The camera focuses on Bush and catches him not knowing how to respond, with what I think even his supporters would have to agree is a callow, trapped look on his face.

I say this is exactly where the Kerry campaign needs to go because it very powerfully captures a truth about President Bush -- namely, that he's a coward who truly lacks shame.

I don't say he's a coward because he kept himself out of Vietnam three decades ago. I know no end of men of that age who in one fashion or another made sure they didn't end up in Indochina in those days. (I quickly ran through both hands counting guys I talk to on a regular basis.) And they include many of the most admirable people I know.

He's a coward because he has other people smear good men without taking any responsibility, without owning up to it or standing behind it. And when someone takes it to him and puts him on the spot to defend his actions -- as McCain does in this spot -- he's literally speechless. Like I say, a coward.

As I said earlier, this is vintage Bush. And it's also a subtle nod to all the ways that Bush is someone who's always gotten by with help at all the key moments from family friends, retainers and others similarly hunting for access and power.

There's another element to this ad that we'd be remiss not to note too. It puts McCain on the spot and pulls him right back to the center of this battle. Given the fervor of his words, he can hardly disavow them or complain of their use. But there's something else too. If you listen to the ad you'll see McCain hangs his demand for an apology on a letter signed by five senators, each Vietnam vets, calling on Bush to apologize for his smears against McCain.

The five, as reported by the Times on February 5th, 2000: Senators Max Cleland of Georgia, Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, John Kerry of Massachusetts and Charles S. Robb of Virginia, and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.

From The Chicago Tribune ...

The commander of a Navy swift boat who served alongside Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry during the Vietnam War stepped forward Saturday to dispute attacks challenging Kerry's integrity and war record.

William Rood, an editor on the Chicago Tribune's metropolitan desk, said he broke 35 years of silence about the Feb. 28, 1969, mission that resulted in Kerry's receiving a Silver Star because recent portrayals of Kerry's actions published in the best-selling book "Unfit for Command" are wrong and smear the reputations of veterans who served with Kerry.

Rood, who commanded one of three swift boats during that 1969 mission, said Kerry came under rocket and automatic weapons fire from Viet Cong forces and that Kerry devised an aggressive attack strategy that was praised by their superiors. He called allegations that Kerry's accomplishments were "overblown" untrue.

"The critics have taken pains to say they're not trying to cast doubts on the merit of what others did, but their version of events has splashed doubt on all of us. It's gotten harder and harder for those of us who were there to listen to accounts we know to be untrue, especially when they come from people who were not there," Rood said in a 1,700-word first-person account published in Sunday's Tribune.

Rood's recollection of what happened on that day at the southern tip of South Vietnam was backed by key military documents, including his citation for a Bronze Star he earned in the battle and a glowing after-action report written by the Navy captain who commanded his and Kerry's task force, who is now a critic of the Democratic candidate.

Rood's previously untold story and the documents shed new light on a key historical event that has taken center stage in an extraordinary political and media firestorm generated by a group calling itself the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

Here's <$Ad$>the article from which that passage comes. The 1,700 word account apparently comes in tomorrow's paper.

As I said, I think the Kerry campaign is right to go aggressively on the attack against the president for running his campaign this way and seeking to profit politically from this garbage. But that's not enough. Kerry's surrogates have to go aggressively on the attack against the president on all his many points of vulnerability, which are legion -- his dishonesty about his own gap-ridden service in the Texas Air National Guard, his White House's on-going efforts to cover up the Plame leak, the endless record of deceptions tied to the Iraq invasion, all of it.

Counterattacking on the president's shameless behavior on the Swift Boat matter is necessary, but hardly sufficient. To be successful, Kerry and his team and his surrogates (you know, the folks he's on a first name basis with but doesn't know from Adam and can't control in any way) need to place the president on the defensive across the board.

This whole Swift Boat episode is entirely in keeping not just with the record of George W. Bush, but, to be frank, his whole family. Think back to the 1988 and 1992 presidential races. Partly, it's in the their political DNA. But it's also in the nature of blue bloods trying to ape populist politics -- for the key example, see the 1992 GOP convention in Houston and the sad antics of Bush family retainer Rich Bond.

I said a few days ago that it was ridiculous to compare the ads run by Moveon to the Swift Boat ones. And it's true -- they're very soft soap in comparison. But that's a mistake. They should be hitting much harder.

The president has chosen the ground on which he wants to fight this campaign. And as per usual he's mobilized friends and family retainers to do the fighting for him. The president is playing tackle football, not touch or flag. If the Dems keep up with the latter they'll lose.

Back in the primaries John Kerry would say that if the Bushies thought they could pull a Max Cleland on him, he'd say, "Bring it on." Well, it's on.

My sense of Kerry is almost entirely defined by watching his 1996 race against Bill Weld up close. So I think he has it in him to fight. But now's when we find out.

Apropos the Bitch Slap theory, see these coordinated comments from the Bush campaign, reported in this article in the Post ...

Underscoring how personal the dispute has become, Bush's campaign chairman, Marc Racicot, went on CNN and said the Kerry campaign has come "unhinged," and that Kerry himself "looks wild-eyed." Earlier yesterday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Kerry is "losing his cool." In 2000, the Bush campaign used similar language to portray rival Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) as potentially too unstable to run the country.

It's the same cowardly rich-boy viciousness we've seen so many times from this guy and his family. But the Post piece gives some sobering signs about how effective it's been.