If you talk to any politician who has been the target of a disingenuous smear campaign, he or she remembers.
John McCain is often quoted reminiscing about George W. Bush's despicable tactics in the 2000 South Carolina GOP primary. During that campaign, Bush used robocalls to insinuate that Senator McCain's adopted daughter was actually the product of an interracial affair. The ploy appealed to the worst instincts in American politics, playing on racist tendencies in the southern electorate and framing John McCain as a philandering adulterer in contrast to then Governor Bush's evangelical purity. The worst part was, it worked.
Four years later, John Kerry became the target of similar Rovian campaign tactics during an election season that saw the phrase "swiftboating" coined. Here's the definition, taken from Urban Dictionary:
He was a popular candidate, until the swiftboating started.
Just like he did to John McCain, Karl Rove blanketed the airwaves with dishonest representations of Senator Kerry's record, and just like in 2000, it worked.
Coincidentally, John Kerry hasn't forgotten.
In a fundraising e-blast that went out to all of the Massachusetts senator's supporters, Kerry invoked the specter of Rovian character assassination to prepare the Democratic electorate for the monsoon of mud about to blow the president's way.
"I remember what it's like to be swiftboated," writes Kerry.
According to the e-blast, Bob Perry, the principle funder of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, has donated $3 million to Mitt Romney's super PAC. Just like the now-defunct Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, Governor Romney's "Restore our Future" Super PAC has demonstrated a pitbull-like willingness to engage in shameless character assassination and a frightening disregard for the veracity of their ads. If they're wiling to engage in this kind of dirty politics during a GOP primary, it's hard to imagine they're going to pull any punches during the general election.
Kerry thinks Perry's donation is a clear indication of the direction this thing is going.
Read the senator's complete remarks below:
When I was the Democratic nominee for president in one of the closest and toughest elections in history, a group of billionaires did something unprecedented:
They wrote million-dollar checks to fund lies about my service on what were called "Swift Boats" in Vietnam -- and in so doing, they turned the boats my crewmates and I served on into a new political shorthand for the most vicious smears imaginable: "swiftboating."
I wish like hell that the term was retired from the American political lexicon, and returned to its real meaning.
But guess what: Bob Perry, the deep-pocketed funder of the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth," just gave $3 million to Mitt Romney's Super PAC.
One man. Three million dollars. And that's just the start.
I know all too clearly that these guys will do or say anything to win. They'll stop at nothing. But forewarned is forearmed. Their multi-million dollar smear tactics were new in 2004; in 2012 we know their playbook, and shame on us if we don't tear it into shreds. Join me and we will stop the "swiftboating" of President Obama.
It takes someone with no shame and a lot of money to get the public to believe a total lie.
Unfortunately that's what we're up against.
Let's be ready for it -- let's fight back.
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Senator John Kerry