- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 23, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

When launched last fall, the Foundation for a Secure and Prosperous America (FSPA) was labeled an evil,” “soft-money” group; it was no surprise its activities would immediately be denounced by Sen. John McCain. After all, for years Mr. McCain has been a vocal opponent of soft-money groups operating independently of federal campaigns.

Unfortunately, it is McCain-Feingold “campaign finance reform” that reconfigured the playing field and created these groups. And, what is even more unfortunate for the GOP is that the vast majority of funds are being amassed by liberal groups such as Moveon.org to help Sen. Barack Obama. Reports indicate “hundreds of millions” in soft money will be spent this election year. The liberals have made soft money activity an art form.

Moreover, it should be clear to anyone interested in a serious debate about the economic and national security future of the United States that the issue of independent expenditures is much bigger than Mr. McCain’s own campaign finance reform agenda. To the extent that public opinion drives public policy in this country, and it frequently does, our success in the global war on terror could well be at stake.

In addition to Mr. Obama’s massive war chest, other left-wing groups have the potential to outspend conservative counterparts by at least 10-to-1, most of it on television ads. And in politics, the reach and frequency of television messages matter. Mr. McCain and those who oppose a timetable for withdrawal of American troops in Iraq can’t possibly expect to be heard above the ranting lefties who are standing by to do Mr. Obama’s dirty work. Already, labor unions are on the air with distorted ads suggesting Mr. McCain wants to draft babies to serve in Iraq for the next 100 years. Don’t expect the mainstream media to help clarify the record.

Swift Boat redux? It’s doubtful the media will portray these left-wing groups the same way they vilified the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in 2004.

In 2004, a group of courageous men of no particular political party affiliation came forward to tell about the John Kerry they knew in Vietnam. Known as the Swift Boat Veterans and POWs for Truth, many of those who testified as to Mr. Kerry’s prevarications were officers in his own unit. They included his entire chain of command as well as the one crew member who served on Mr. Kerry’s own boat longer than anyone else during Mr. Kerry’s three months as a Swiftie. In the 90-day period between early August and the November election, these men conducted more than 4,000 interviews with the media. To a man they were men I was proud to assist in a small way.

They had nothing to gain, personally or professionally. In fact, they and their families were subjected to a variety of threats as well as private investigators hired by Mr. Kerry to dig up dirt. Mr. Kerry and his cronies failed.

Mr. Kerry’s “crewmates” meanwhile conducted only a handful of interviews in response until petrified Kerry political operatives yanked them permanently from public scrutiny. And now, alas, four years later, as Mr. Kerry’s name is bandied about as a potential secretary of state or defense to a President Obama, they’ve written a letter “proving” the Swift Boat veterans were not telling the truth.

The media naturally join in. We expect that. Yet what one shouldn’t expect is an indictment of the Swifties from anyone interested in the truth; or an indictment of a system that permits 527 groups or 501(c)4s to participate so long as they meet certain conditions. Yes, this is the same media culture that fails to hold accountable a former campaign finance reform advocate like Barack Obama for breaking his pledge to finance his campaign with federal funds.

The media have termed “swift boating” as illegitimate, unwarranted attacks. According to the swift boat veterans I know it is defined as “exposing a political figure as a fraud.”

Yet here’s an inconvenient truth: Even if you accept the media definition of “Swift-boating” as a pejorative, John Kerry “swift boated” himself. It was his unauthorized trip to Paris to meet with the North Vietnamese in 1972. It was his phony claim about conducting secret missions into Cambodia. It was his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee where he repeated phony charges of war atrocities committed by American troops while brave Americans were held in North Vietnamese prison camps. And it was he who refused to answer questions about his medals or why his “honorable” discharge from the Navy came seven years after he left the service.

But the mainstream media and their allies on the left aren’t the only ones who get weak-kneed when called upon to stand up for the truth. There are plenty of Republican political hacks who call themselves strategists but cower in the face of media criticism and who’ve never been closer than 1,000 miles to a winning campaign. In 2004, their advice was either disavow the Swift Boat ads or stay silent. Obsequious behavior of this sort may be the most dangerous of all to the preservation of conservative values and ideals.

As to “soft money groups,” it is time for conservatives to ignore Mr. McCain and talk about the critical issues of the day. The other side will use its millions; we have to use every resource available to tell the truth.

After all, the truth will set you free.

Rick Reed is a partner with Stevens Reed Curcio and Potholm, a Republican media firm that produced the ads for the Swift Boat Veterans and POWs for Truth in the 2004 election. He is a founder of the Foundation for a Secure and Prosperous America.

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