Anybody’s dog
   by Gene Lyons

"My job tonight is an easy one: to present to you one of this nation’s  authentic heroes, one of this party’s best-known
 and greatest leaders—and a good friend. ... [Sen.] John [Kerry] has worked to  strengthen our military. "
      —Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga., March 1, 2001.

Evidently, I don’t understand my country anymore. In the America I knew,
those fools wearing Purple Heart Band-Aids during last week’s Republican
convention wouldn’t simply have damaged their candidate’s election
chances, they’d have been lucky not to have some veteran wipe the smirks
off their faces while the cops stood studiously by." They jest at scars,
"wrote Shakespeare," that never felt a wound. "But the Band-Aid bunch,
see, belonged to the TV Patriot Party, formerly known as the GOP, whose
leaders hold that televised symbolism trumps reality every time. I doubt
anybody wore Band-Aids outside Madison Square Garden. Party leaders
ordered them removed. Even so, they struck me as symptomatic of the
Kerry campaign’s poor response to the elaborately financed Republican
propaganda machine. Will they ever quit acting surprised?

In the world of facts, the misnamed Swift Boat Veterans for Truth smear
failed its first contact with reality. Never mind their ties to Texas
Republicans who have made false charges against Bush family opponents
in past campaigns. Most questioning Sen. John Kerry’s valor never served
with him at all; many never met him. Among the few who had, most no
longer speak with reporters, some because Navy records document that
they, too, earned medals in firefights they claim never happened; others
because they’d publicly endorsed Kerry in 1996; and still others
seemingly because veterans of the same engagements shamed them by
coming forward to defend their own, if not Kerry’s, honor.

But by then, see, the Swift-Boaters had moved on to the second phony
smear: that in 1971 Senate testimony, Kerry supposedly accused all
Vietnam veterans of atrocities. I think even a glance at the transcript
reveals that he did not. That American soldiers committed terrible
crimes in Vietnam nobody can deny. By the time Kerry testified, Lt.
William Calley had already been convicted in the 1968 My Lai massacre.

Retired Gen. Tommy Franks recently disappointed FOX News host Sean
Hannity by commenting that" the things that Senator Kerry said are
undeniable about activities in Vietnam. "As an American citizen, Kerry
didn’t need to earn the right to dissent against the war after he came
home. Yet earn it he did. Even so, there are always people who confuse
dissent with treason, one reason demagogues everywhere love war.

But the Democrats’ biggest problem is that ordinary people have trouble
believing the depths of mendacity to which their opponents have sunk.
Consider Georgia Sen. Zell Miller’s ranting keynote address last week.
How crazy was it? Well, at one point, the turncoat Democrat inveighed
against democracy itself.

" At the same time young Americans are dying in the sands of Iraq and
the mountains of Afghanistan, "he thundered," our nation is being torn
apart and made weaker because of the Democrats’ manic obsession to
bring down our commander-in-chief. "

People, it’s called a presidential election. Furthermore, virtually all
Democrats supported George W. Bush in Afghanistan; they criticize him
for shifting to Iraq without finishing the job. Most voted to give him
the authority to use force if necessary against Saddam Hussein. It’s
his catastrophic misuse of that authority they dispute.

" Motivated more by partisan politics than by national security, "Miller
alleged," today’s Democratic leaders see America as an occupier, not a
liberator. "In fact, Bush himself has referred to the U.S." occupation
"numerous times. Miller laughably charged that" Kerry would let Paris
decide when America needs defending. "In fact, in his Boston acceptance
speech, Kerry unequivocally stated" Let there be no mistake.... I will
never give any nation or any institution a veto over our national security. "

Miller cited a laundry list of weapon systems Kerry supposedly voted
against as a senator, ignoring the fact that then-President George H. W. Bush
and Defense Secretary Dick Cheney proposed cutbacks in precisely the
same weapon systems—the B-2 bomber, the F-14 Tomcat, etc. —as part
of the so-called peace benefit after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990.
That proved too much for the normally compliant souls on CNN. When
pressed by Wolf Blitzer, Judy Woodruff and Jeff Greenfield after his speech,
the irascible old faker had no answers. Truth is, Miller is anybody’s dog who
will hunt, as people say in the South. Just drop the tailgate and old Zell will
jump right in. It’s no use waiting for a timid press corps to do its job.
Smears, brazen falsehoods and character assassination are what this
administration and its hired media accomplices do; it’s how contemporary
Republicans operate. If they want to quit playing defense all the time,
Democrats like Kerry are going to have to start warning voters ahead of

• Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and recipient of the National Magazine Award.

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