Although the term isn't used, it's clear that the Obama campaign sees itself and their candidate as victims of a vast conspiracy of right-wingers.
Going all the way back to the 1988 presidential election, Obama's "Fight the Smears" chart (featuring the campaign's new sort-of "presidential seal," replacing the one that was "dropped," at the top left) purports to tell us "Who's Behind These Lies."
If the page's historical starting points are any indication, to paraphrase Jerry Lee Lewis, there may not be "a whole lotta smearin' goin' on" among the current "smearing" parties it identifies:
(Notes: The "exposure" and "gamma" of the original Obama web page were modified to make the connecting lines easier to see; the red box at the bottom was added by me; no other changes were made.)
The Obama display provides yet another chance for Old Media to set the record straight about the fundamental truth of supposed past "lies." I don't expect that, so I will do it here instead.
Willie Horton Ad
Unbeknownst to most, a Massachusetts newspaper, the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune, won a 1988 Pulitzer Prize in Journalism for its 1997 "investigation that revealed serious flaws in the Massachusetts prison furlough system and led to significant statewide reforms." Willie Horton was among the furloughed prisoners the paper profiled in its 175 stories. The last paragraph of this April 2003 Associated Press story at Boston.com about the additional Pulitzer the paper won that year confirms this, saying that the 1988 investigation addressed "Gov. Michael Dukakis' furlough of convicted murderer Willie Horton, which sparked a firestorm in his presidential campaign against George H.W. Bush."
But even before the Bush campaign used the truth of the Horton furlough and its aftermath against Dukakis, presidential contender Al Gore had attacked the furlough program in April 1998 in an attempt to derail Gov. Dukakis's march to the Democratic nomination. When asked during the 2000 Democratic primary about what happened in 1988, former Dukakis campaign director Susan Estrich said that:
..... it didn't matter whether Gore used Horton's name because "he had become the symbol of the furlough problem well in advance" of that April 1988 debate.
"In political terms, it's fair to say the Willie Horton issue was the furlough issue and the furlough issue was the Willie Horton issue. And, it had such racial overtones and was so divisive, frankly we were surprised when he raised it in the debate."
It's thus fair to say that Republicans finished the job Democrat Al Gore had started. It's also completely fair to ask why Al Gore's name isn't on the "Smears Inc." chart, and what Team Obama thinks has to gain by bringing up the patently false "Willie Horton was a Republican smear" meme.
Clinton 1992 Campaign
Although there were others, the two principal "smears" against Bill Clinton in 1992 concerned his affair with Gennifer Flowers and how he avoided the Vietnam-era draft. Both "smears" are actually "truths."
Flowers, with whom Clinton had denied having an extramarital affair in 1992, was vindicated six years later when, "while giving a deposition Saturday in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case, Clinton acknowledged under oath that he had had an affair with Flowers ....."
As to the draft-avoidance/draft-dodging charges, no one has ever refuted Col. Eugene Holmes's statement on the matter. Holmes's September 7, 1992 open letter and affidavit to the American public called Clinton "a draft dodger," saying that the candidate had engaged in "purposefully defrauding the military by deceiving me, both in concealing his anti-military activities overseas and his counterfeit intentions for later military service." A complete timeline of Clinton's draft-avoidance/draft-dodging efforts is here.
Then, of course, there was the Clinton claim that during 1992 the country was experiencing "the worst economy in 50 years." Economic growth in the three full quarters before the election averaged just over 4%.
It would seem unwise for Team Obama to expose their candidate to questions about why his campaign considers those who have told the truth about these and other items that were issues in the 1992 election campaign to be authors of "smears."
Of the four impeachment charges brought against Clinton in 1998, two were adopted by the House of Representatives: that he lied under oath when he testified about the details of his extramarital affair with Monica Lewinsky in front of Ken Starr's grand jury, and that he obstructed justice by tampering with witnesses and taking other steps to cover up his affair with Ms. Lewinsky. Although he was not convicted by the Senate, the majority of those who voted not to convict claimed they did so not because Clinton had not done what was alleged, but that what he had done was not serious enough to warrant removal from office.
Clinton made a de facto acknowledgment of having committed perjury when he accepted and did not challenge Judge Susan Webber Wright's April 1999 contempt of court ruling "for giving 'intentionally false' testimony about his relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky in the Paula Jones lawsuit." In January 2001, in the wake of Independent Counsel Robert Ray's final let-go of the Clinton Era, Nat Henhoff of the Village Voice wrote what everyone knew: "Clinton did commit perjury and obstruction of justice ...."
Given the full history, it's remarkable that Team Obama would want to bring up the Clinton impeachment again. John McCain voted guilty on both counts. It seems odd that Team Obama might want to argue that Bill Clinton was really innocent or, alternatively, that lying under oath and obstructing justice aren't big deals, especially given what their candidate has said about Scooter Libby.
Swift Boat Veterans
The Obama chart is referring to a series of ads and a book produced by the Swift Vets and POWs for the Truth during the 2004 presidential campaign that criticized Democratic nominee John Kerry's Vietnam War record and his post-war protest activities.
The first FAQ at the now historical-record Swift Vets site indicates that:
Overall, more than 250 Swift boat veterans are on the record questioning Kerry's fitness to serve as Commander-in-Chief. That list includes his entire chain of command -- every single officer Kerry served under in Vietnam. The Kerry game plan is to ignore all this and pretend that the 13 veterans his campaign jets around the country and puts up in 5-star hotels really represent the truth about his short, controversial combat tour.
The term "Swiftboat" has been popularized by the left as a verb that is supposed to mean "not telling the truth." Though Old Media insists on mischaracterizing what the Swift Vets extensively documented as partially or completely untrue, the fact is that the Swift Vets' claims made in John O'Neill's book Unfit to Command, particularly Kerry's post-Vietnam War assertions without any verifiable evidence that most soldiers in that war committed unspeakable atrocities, stand virtually 100% unrefuted.
If Team Obama wants to reopen discussion of the Swift Vets, it may be in for some nasty surprises. I suspect that their candidate would rather not be put in a position to defend so many John Kerry howlers, including the hysterical "Christmas in Cambodia 1968" story. In August 2004, Michael Novak at National Review Online wrote:
Kerry has publicly presented (Christmas in Cambodia) some 50 times as a turning point in his life. Although records show that Kerry was at least half-way across Vietnam from Cambodia at that point — 55 miles — he has often said that that Christmas day was "seared — seared" into his memory. That's because he remembers President Nixon saying there were not Americans in Cambodia at that time. But there Kerry was.
The Swift Boat Vets write that the trip didn't happen — indeed, couldn't have happened.
Reluctantly, the Kerry campaign has conceded that the Cambodia trip was not at Christmas (Nixon was not yet president). They have also had to back off from their first, second, third, and fourth accounts of how Kerry made that mistake. The Kerry campaign at this time refuses to give a date for that event.
One would think that in putting together a "Fight the Smears" effort, one wouldn't go about using truthful items as prime examples of "smears." But you now know that this is exactly what the Obama campaign has done. How this helps their cause is a mystery. It instead seems to be a group of grudge-holders bitterly clinging to their long-discredited version of the past.
A responsible and inquisitive media would be questioning whether a campaign that would so brazenly use true stories as examples of falsehoods might be committing additional factual errors in describing the actions and efforts of 2008's supposed vast right-wing conspiracy. Don't count on that happening.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.