Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Attack Of The Swifties

I see where Bob Kerrey has changed his mind and decided to run for Senator from Nebraska, a seat he has already held in his lifetime. A centrist Democrat (really, aren't they almost all?), Kerrey would stand a pretty good chance of protecting the seat held by fellow "Democrat" Ben Nelson.
This worries me.
No no! Not that the seat would be held, because goodness knows we need all the good news we can get. What scares me is that Kerrey has to be dragged out of retirement to run in a race.
See, it wasn't that long ago that the Democratic Party took a good long look at itself and decided that it needed to recruit politicians in states that are red, but not so red it would look impossible. The strategy was actually called The 50 State Strategy and produced the stunning upsets of the 2006 election, and helped sweep Obama into office in 2008.
Bob Kerrey was long out of office by the time that happened. The Democratic party he left behind is very different than the party he'll be running for.
Politics is different than the one he ran from. And there's where I'm not sure he's quite prepared enough.
Kerrey is a sassy, funny guy. He famously quipped about his relationship with actress Debra Winger, "She swept me off my foot," an allusion to the fact that, in the Vietnam war, Kerrey lost a leg in combat. He was a Navy SEAL, which clearly works in his favor in this year of Obama's re-election bid and the fact the SEALs have been front and center in American foreign policy.
He lost part of his leg in the battle of Nha Trang Bay, for which he received a Congressional Medal of Honor. But it's another incident that may play a role in this race: at the village of Thanh Phong.
On February 25, 1969, he led a Swift Boat raid on the isolated peasant village of Thanh Phong, Vietnam, targeting a Viet Cong leader that intelligence suggested would be present. The village was considered part of a free-fire zone by the U.S. military.

Kerrey's SEAL team first encountered a peasant house, or hooch, and killed the people inside with knives. While Kerrey says he did not go inside the hooch and did not participate in the killings, another member of the team, Gerhard Klann, said that the people killed there were an elderly man and woman and three children under 12, and that Kerrey helped kill the man. Despite the differing recollections about who actually stabbed these people, Kerrey accepts responsibility as the team leader for their deaths: "Standard operating procedure was to dispose of the people we made contact with," he told the New York Times Magazine. Later, according to Kerrey, the team was shot at from the village and returned fire, only to find after the battle that some of the deceased appeared to be under 18, clustered together in the center of the village. "The thing that I will remember until the day I die is walking in and finding, I don't know, 14 or so, I don't even know what the number was, women and children who were dead," Kerrey said in 1998. "I was expecting to find Vietcong soldiers with weapons, dead. Instead I found women and children."

Swift boats. A guy named Kerrey. Starting to get the picture? I foresee the rise of the Swift Boat Veterans and John Corsi.

Given what the Swifties did to a Presidential candidate just eight years ago and to Senator Max Cleland before that-- which in my book was even more abominable-- should give us pause and ask Bob Kerrey, "Are you really ready for this?" This narrative is not, so far as I know, under much attack and Kerrey's own recollections of the incident bear witness to his own anguish about it.

That's not going to stop the Rovians from gunning for Kerrey. And I suspect it will be even nastier this time, since the Senate is legitimately in play.