Shoot this down

Our view : Democrats ought to resist Swift boat attacks

July 01, 2008

There was something eerily familiar about retired General Wesley K. Clark's ill-chosen words this past weekend regarding Sen. John McCain's military experience. It was all too reminiscent of the disgraceful attacks four years ago against Sen. John Kerry's decorated service in Vietnam.

Let's nip this right in the bud. When Mr. Clark told Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation, "I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president," he was being far too glib about Mr. McCain's harrowing ordeal as a prisoner of war.

Mr. Clark's words were a great deal more gentle than the dishonest attacks of the 2004 Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (earlier in the same interview, Mr. Clark even referred to Mr. McCain as a hero and said that he honored Mr. McCain's service). But it's also reasonable to assume the former NATO commander's purpose was not only to defend Sen. Barack Obama's rather slender national security record but also to bring down the Arizona senator's heroic stature a notch or two.

The McCain camp gave the predictable response, looking past Mr. Clark to complain that the Democratic nominee was using surrogates to attack the Republican presidential candidate's war record. "The lowest form of politics," was the phrase used by Mr. McCain's campaign manager.

No doubt a lot of Democrats felt the same way when President Bush did nothing as Senator Kerry was dragged through the mud during the last presidential contest. His silence helped secure Swift boating's place in the nation's lexicon as a synonym for an orchestrated political smear.

Perhaps Mr. Clark's flip answer was merely a slip of the tongue and isn't a sign that Democrats intend to pursue such a strategy. Mr. Obama shouldn't countenance that kind of mudslinging. Certainly, it wouldn't be consistent with his message of change - as it's all-too-familiar territory.

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