Friday, August 27, 2004

Where the shadows lie

From Scott Rosenberg:
You can find the heart of the president's subterfuge in that tenebrous adjective. Shadowy, of course, is bad. Shadowy is covert. Shadowy is dark. Shadowy is scary. Shadowy is al-Qaida.

Bush wants us to associate these qualities with all 527s. But the charge doesn't stick. Certainly, it's fair to apply it to the Swift Boat Veterans group, which emerged out of nowhere, fired its fusillade against John Kerry, and only then began to be exposed as an entity funded and organized by close associates (and in some cases actual officials) of the Bush campaign.

That qualifies as "shadowy" in my book. But the most prominent 527 on the other side of the political field is -- and calling MoveOn "shadowy" is absurd. The group is the very model of a transparent organization. Its every decision is planned and vetted openly online. Its sources of funding are well-known. Its history dating back to the Clinton impeachment saga is fully chronicled. If the Swift Boat Veterans group were a true grassroots operation with a track record like MoveOn's, we wouldn't be having this argument today: If millions of Americans were genuinely outraged about John Kerry's war record the way millions of MoveOn supporters are outraged about George Bush's presidential record, Kerry would never have made it to the primaries' starting gate.

But the Swift Boat Veterans aren't a mass movement, they're a political dirty trick. And the immediate issue with them -- the reason people are demanding that Bush repudiate them -- is not that they're a 527. The problem is that the group's charges are false.

There's a legitimate debate worth having over whether 527s represent a good or a bad thing in the McCain-Feingold campaign finance era. But the Bush campaign isn't truly interested in that issue. Having surreptitiously and effectively launched a smear campaign against its opponent from the cover of a 527 organization, the Bush team now petulantly insists, "Everybody does it and everybody should stop!" The childishness of the tactic speaks for itself.

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