Today's article by William Saletan in Slate, Being There, demonstrates exactly why the SwiftVets are dangerous to Bush, and why, immediately after the convention, he should specifically single them out as wrong and unhelpful:
For the past month, a group of veterans funded by a Bush campaign contributor and advised by a Bush campaign lawyer has attacked the story of John Kerry's heroism in Vietnam. They have argued, contrary to all known contemporaneous records, that Kerry was too brutal in a counterattack that earned him the Silver Star, and that he survived only mines, not bullets, when he rescued a fellow serviceman from a river. President Bush, who joined the National Guard as a young man to avoid Vietnam, has been challenged to denounce the group's charges. He has refused.
Now the Republican National Convention is showcasing Bush's own heroic moment. As John McCain put it last night: "I knew my confidence was well placed when I watched him stand on the rubble of the World Trade Center with his arm around a hero of September 11 and, in our moment of mourning and anger, strengthen our unity and our resolve by promising to right this terrible wrong and to stand up and fight for the values we hold dear."
Pardon me for asking, but where exactly is the heroism in this story? Where, indeed, is the heroism in anything Bush has done before 9/11 or since?
Nine-tens of battle is choosing the right ground -- of framing the right question. The SwiftVets, aided and encouraged by folks who should know better, have spent millions framing the wrong question: Is he a hero? I don't doubt that Kerry's has had trouble (and maybe can't) answer this question. That's bad. But, worse for Bush, I know that he has an answer to this question: his answer is "no." Smart, competent, bold, resolute -- perhaps. Personally brave? No. (At least, we've never seen it.)
Bush needs to put the SwiftVets behind him like they never were there. He's gotten some mileage out of them, sure. (At some cost: whether it's Vietnam-era war protestors or Swifties, I don't like to see folks spit on another's military service -- literally or figuratively. It's bad for the Republic.*) But the needle is about to swing the other direction. It's time to jettison the SwiftVets, and leave Col. Kurtz and crew alone and seething in their huts, far, far up the river.
UPDATE: In comments, Edward asks if I expect folks to start questioning Bush's bravery. No, I don't, per se. (Though Saletan did, and I expect other lefty pundits will.) But, being frequent witness to petty disputes (I'm a trial lawyer for large corporations, see), I can tell you that the human mind seems to abhor a single standard unfairly applied. If your opponent's courage is questioned, your courage is put on the line as well -- even where you're not necessarily the one doing the questioning.
In part, the issue boils down to: How will the story continue, if it is allowed to do so? We've pretty much heard whatever truth the Swifties may have. They've shot their wad, and their successive firings are each less impressive than the last. (BTW, I agree with Pejman, who observed on Redstate.org that the Swifties should have led with Kerry's far-more-damning '71 testimony.) The "Bush is behind it all" story is simmering, and, with the right event, may boil up. But far more appealing to the chattering classes is the meta-narrative revealed in Saletan's piece. That's the story that says something relevant about Kerry (he may have lied, but he served) at the same time it says something relevant about Bush (he may have lied, but he didn't serve). Once folks stop looking at Kerry in Vietnam, and start looking at Kerry and Bush in the Vietnam era, Kerry wins the beauty contest -- at least on this issue. In attacking Kerry's flaws, the SwiftVet's inadvertently draw attention to Bush's flaws as well. The sword is double edged -- though it may not seem to be at first. (Bush knew it was double edged fairly early -- see, e.g., his praise for Kerry's service and humility regarding his own.)
*On NPR this morning, I learned that I apparently have the temperment of a moderate, middle-aged Republican woman from a swing state.