Media Matters has found the Obama swiftboating strategem

The thematic structure of the right-wing
smear campaign against Barack Obama

As the means of communication have evolved, presidential campaigns have grown increasingly multifaceted, with each election featuring layers of complexity that were not present four years before. The most striking feature of the 2008 election may be the sheer volume and variation of the attacks being directed at Sen. Barack Obama. Though they come from many sources, arrive through a variety of media, and cover a wide range of subjects, a close examination reveals a unified thematic structure to these attacks.

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As has been extensively documented, many of the criticisms Obama has faced are based on outright falsehoods. The truth is that he is a Christian, not a Muslim; he was born in the United States; he doesn’t refuse to recite the Pledge of Allegiance; he wasn’t endorsed by Fidel Castro; and so on. Other attacks are outrageous distortions with a kernel of truth at their core.

The diagram below shows how the seemingly disconnected attacks on Obama all drive in a similar direction. Each begins with some aspect of Obama’s history, family, personal characteristics, or beliefs. The attack then moves to one of three broad themes: that Obama is a Muslim or somehow foreign; that he represents a black radicalism more at home in the 1960s than today; or that he is a liberal elitist with a radical, even socialist agenda.

Some of the attacks touch on two or even all three of these themes, which is why they are represented in a Venn diagram. But all the attacks ultimately point to the conclusion that Obama is “not one of us,” as the expression goes — not Christian, not white, not mainstream, not even American.

Just as the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth unleashed on the public a dossier of lies about John Kerry in 2004, this new campaign is on a mission to spread misinformation about a presidential candidate. We call it “Swiftboating 2.0” not only because it is the latest model of a political smear campaign, but also because it shares features of “Web 2.0” sites like Facebook and MySpace: significant portions of the content are generated by ordinary people and are spread from peer to peer. Swiftboating 2.0 combines these new information pathways with traditional media — books from conservative publishers, right-wing radio, and conservative pundits and strategists on television — to spread the smears as widely as possible and force them into the mainstream media.

To understand the attacks on Obama, one must acknowledge that they operate together, as one coherent, thematically unified campaign: Swiftboating 2.0.

One thought on “Rightwing Swiftboating v2.0 – or let’s derail Obama 08′

  1. The most common defense of John Kerry’s swiftboat history is that most of his crew stands by him. Keep in mind that Kerry wrote the AARs highlighting his fabricated heroism and relied on the Navy bureaucracy to process them uncritically.

    Kerry and his former crewmates rely on the public’s ignorance to make Kerry’s story believeable. The public, for the most part, doesn’t realize that swiftboats operated in squadrons of six. At all times the boats were within sight of each other How could it have been that other crews in the formation were oblivious to the events that led to Kerry’s medals?

    The most egregious fabrication was Kerry’s version of what happened when he won his bronze star. How he had to crawl to the edge of his boat to pull faux Special Forces LT. Rassmann out of the river. He had to crawl on the deck because of the heavy VC gunfire, from the river’s edge.

    Actually, Kerry’s boat was among his squadron which was assisting a disabled boat. No other crews reported enemy fire and, in fact, there were no casualties other than the members of the crew on the disabled boat and no damage to any boat other than the disabled one.

    To make Kerry’s story believeable, in the AAR, he also recommended Lt. Thurlow for an award along with himself and his crew. Thurlow was captain of another boat, He went below the deck of the disabled and burning boat to assist some of it’s crew.

    Kerry’s silver star was awarded after he and several crew members chased after a lone VC who had fired a RPG at his boat and missed. They jumped ashore, shortly afterwards a shot was fired and Kerry returned to his boat carrying a launcher, nothing else. Essentially he and his crew chased an unarmed VC, who the crew described as having been shot in the leg before the boat reached the water’s edge. Crew members were recommended for and later awarded lesser medals.

    Wonder why he has most, but not all of his former crew mates in his corner. If Kerry is discredited so would his former crew be.

    This is a quick overview from a 30 year investigator, in both the public and private sectors.
    I served in RVN, as a Special Forces Sgt in 67 and 68. I left the Mekong Delta about two months before Kerry arrived.

    Until Kerry ran for president I didn’t know what his medals were for. After hearing variations of his stories I was very sketical and later became cynical. The man is profoundly dishonest. He has never responded to the SBVFT allegations and challenges beyond his typical bluster. He then crawled away and let others try to defend him.

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