As many may remember, the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" made up stuff about John Kerry in order to call into question the veracity of his accounts of his naval service. As false as the stories were, the media couldn't get enough of the interesting questions such scurrilous accusations raised. Should the media, the media wondered, cover such obviously malicious and false accusations? There was an episode of Nightline in which Chris Bury (I think it was him) asked the viewers whether they found it to be an interesting fact that the media were covering this story. In other words–don't you find it interesting that I am writing this–I do. But most of all, people obsessed over what Kerry's response to the swift-boating said about him. Everyone knew in polite society that the charges were false, but Kerry seemed so powerless to respond to them, didn't he? Maybe that means the liar–the ones who make or refuse to dismiss such baseless charges, such lies (lies is the word I think for the things a liar says, I ask because I rarely hear it said)–has the advantage, that perhaps Kerry is weak and ineffectual. That, I think, is the thought of a profoundly warped mind.
A warped mind–very much like Richard Cohen:
What Obama does not understand is that he is being Swift-boated. The term does not apply to a mere smear. It is bolder, more outrageous than that. It means going straight at your opponent's strength and maligning it. This is what was done in 2004 to John Kerry, who had commanded a Swift boat in Vietnam. Kerry had won three Purple Hearts, a Silver Star and a Bronze Star and emerged from the war a certified hero. It was that record that his opponents attacked, a tactic Kerry thought so ludicrous that he at first ignored it. The record shows that he lost the election.
Cohen's point is not that the tactic of "Swift-boating" ought to be exposed for the lie that it is, but rather that Obama–the recipient–ought to learn to respond, because his response has been ineffectual so far:
"It's a real puzzling thing," Obama said matter-of-factly. And then he went on to recount his experience as a community organizer, ending with the observation that "I would think that that's an area where Democrats and Republicans would agree."
It is true that on the stump, Obama goes on the attack. But those are fragments — maybe 15 seconds on the evening news. It is with extended interviews, such as the Sunday shows, that we get to visit with the man — and that man, for all his splendid virtues, seems to lack fight. Maybe he's worried about how America would receive an angry black man or maybe he's just too cool to ever get hot, but the result is that we have little insight into his passions: What, above all, does he care about? The answer, at least to the Sunday TV viewer, was nothing much.
And this is the response the Swift-boater is looking for. It's a clever, but completely immoral tactic. But it only works as long as there are people like Richard Cohen, who cannot bother to care whether something is a lie. Instead of using his perch at the Washington Post, and his position as an alleged liberal commentator, to call a lie a lie and to talk about liars, he falls right into the trap.