Let slip the (social democrat) dogs of war


WASHINGTON, DC: Whoops. Two potentially disastrous things are occurring in the parallel election campaigns in the United States and Australia.

The Democratic presidential contender, John Kerry, is being as effete and patrician as many of us in his corner originally feared. And Labor leader Mark Latham has toned down, way too much, the straight-talking larrikinism that made him such an appealing leadership aspirant.

Both campaigns have to realize that their respective opponents “ George W Bush and John Howard “ are, frankly, serial liars. And they must not be afraid of saying so.

Instead, we have seen an epidemic of good manners and civility at a time when democracy demands that both men confront, much more aggressively, their opponents’ distortions and lies.

John Kerry threw away almost the entire month of August because he did not take on – directly and ferociously – the so-called ‘Swift Boat Veterans for Truth’, who alleged that Kerry had concocted or embellished his record in Vietnam. Investigations by the New York Times and the Washington Post gradually unpicked the Swift Boat liars’ claims, but in key parts of the American electorate the notion of ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’ seeped in, entirely without justification.

In one glaring example, Kerry could have easily slapped down one of his accusers. Lewis Letson, a medic in the Vietnam war, claimed to have treated Kerry’s wounds (for which he received one of his three Purple Hearts) and found them to be superficial. But Letson had a major credibility problem: nowhere did his name appear on the medical records concerning then-Lieutenant Kerry. Put simply, Letson was a Bush campaign-funded liar.

But Kerry wasn’t out there, front and centre, waving this report around and branding Letson a fabricator. Instead, he opted for a high-minded approach of not ‘dignifying the claims with a response’ … until it was too late.

Some of Kerry’s surrogates are not so reticent and their blunt language is helping focus attention on the lies and hypocrisy of the Bush campaign. For example, Iowa Democratic senator Tom Harkin “ like Kerry, a bona fide Vietnam veteran who later realized the folly and immorality of the war into which he was drawn “ recently labeled Vice President Dick Cheney a ‘coward’
for refusing to enlist in a conflict he embraced so enthusiastically from the comfort of home. Many Americans are now asking themselves how Cheney managed to get five draft deferments and exactly what were those ‘other priorities’ he has said prevented him from serving.

On the other side of the world, where are the advertisements reminding an Australian public of their prime minister’s 25-year record of deception?

Isn’t it time to remind people that the term ‘Honest John’ was always ironic, slapped on Howard when he was treasurer and reneged on a promise of major tax cuts?

You only have to go back three years to the monstrous concoction that was the ‘children overboard’ saga. Add to that Howard’s claims about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq “ at the very least, he, like George Bush, heard what he wanted to hear, without any dissenting views. Then there’s the moral muck surrounding who knew what, when, about torture at Abu Ghraib, before it exploded on the world’s front pages. Add it all up and we have major problems with ‘truth in government’.

This is the stuff of a very powerful campaign “ a campaign about values and decency. Bush and Howard are both vulnerable on the character issue and it is time for a full-throttled challenge from both Kerry and Latham.

I say, ‘Cry havoc! And let slip the dogs of war’.

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