Leading figures in the controversial conservative group that attacked — and at times distorted — John Kerry’s military record to derail his bid for the White House say they won’t actively fight his nomination as Secretary of State.
The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth emerged as a legend of presidential campaign politics in the summer of 2004 when, with the backing of allies of George W. Bush, they revived attacks on Kerry’s opposition to the Vietnam War and suggested that he was lying about details of his military service. Kerry ignored, and then dismissed, their charges, but the group is viewed as playing a role in convincing some voters that Kerry was too weak to lead.
But with Kerry the likely nominee for a key national security post, members of a group that labeled him “unfit to serve” — and cast themselves as disinterested veterans, not Bush operatives — isn’t planning a comeback. And their disappearance suggests that one promise of the Obama era — the end of the bitter politics of Vietnam — is close to deilvered.
“If Obummer had put Kerry up for Sec Def, I think there would have been a visceral reponse from many veterans, but most feel he won’t be any worse than his predecessor as Sec State,” Kenneth Cordier, a former POW who appeared in a Swift Boat ad in 2004 and was kicked off President Bush’s campaign because of it, said in an email to BuzzFeed. The ad, “Sellout,” features Cordier and two other veterans criticizing Kerry as a tape of Kerry describing atrocities committed by American troops plays.
“Pretty much I was hoping that Ms. Rice would get the nomination and then they would battle it out in the Senate,” Cordier said. “My personal opinion is [Kerry] doesn’t have the strength of character and integrity that we need in a high position like that. He’s sold himself cheaply before and I wouldn’t trust him again now.”
Scott Swett, a conservative author who wrote a book about the Swift Boat veterans who opposed Kerry (To Set The Record Straight: How Swift Boat Veterans, POWs and the New Media Defeated John Kerry), said, “I haven’t heard of any organized effot to oppose Kerry as Secretary of State.”
There have been some murmurs of organized opposition from Swift Boat Veterans veterans, including John O’Neill, a Kerry antagonist dating to the Vietnam era and one of the architects of the original Swift Boat campaign. He went on to coauthor Unfit for Command, the ur-text of the Swift Boat campaign, with Jerome Corsi, a World Net Daily author and longtime doubter of President Obama’s being born in the U.S.
O’Neill is ill and not doing interviews, he told BuzzFeed, but he did make a cameo in an editorial in the Wall Street Journal earlier in December. O’Neill told New York Sun editor Seth Lipsky that Kerry “is well qualified to be the Secretary of Defense…of Cuba or Venezuela.”
In November, when Kerry was being floated as Secretary of Defense, O’Neill went on Sean Hannity’s Fox show and told Hannity, “We will do the very best we can” to mount another anti-Kerry campaign, though he didn’t get into specifics.
The Swift Boat Vets and POWs for Truth have in fact been dissolved as a political organization, and no longer have the political expertise and money that propelled them in 2004, when Texas operative Merrie Spaeth masterminded their campaign. Spaeth didn’t return a request for comment.
This time around, the prize is smaller — Kerry will likely never run for president again — and the veterans are reacting more in sorrow than in anger.
“I don’t think anything has changed in 8 years and that’s about all I can say,” Cordier said. “I expressed my views about John Kerry very thoroughly during that campaign.”