Kerry Takes Pickens $1 Million Swift Boat Bet
Sen. John Kerry, whose 2004 presidential campaign was torpedoed by critics of his Vietnam War record, said Friday he has personally accepted a Texas oilman’s offer to pay $1 million to anyone who can disprove even a single charge of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
In a letter to T. Boone Pickens, the Massachusetts Democrat wrote: “While I am prepared to show they lied on allegation after allegation, you have generously offered to pay one million dollars for just one thing that can be proven false. I am prepared to prove the lie beyond any reasonable doubt.” Kerry, a Navy veteran and former prosecutor, said he was willing to present his case directly to Pickens, who provided $3 million to bankroll the group during Kerry’s race against President Bush.
Pickens has responded by raising the stakes:
Pickens wrote Friday in a letter faxed to Kerry, “I am certainly open to your challenge,” but he said he would not pay Kerry unless the senator first provided him with copies of his wartime journals, as well as movies he shot while on patrol and his complete military records for 1971 to 1978.
Pickens said such documentation, which the group has previously sought, would be needed to disprove its ads. “When you have done so, if you can then prove anything in the ads was materially untrue, I will gladly award $1 million. As you know, I have been a long and proud supporter of the American military and veterans’ causes,” Pickens wrote.
He also proposed a counter-challenge: “If you cannot prove anything in the Swift Boat ads to be untrue, that you will make a $1 million gift to the charity I am choosing — the (Congressional) Medal of Honor Foundation.”
Jane Hamsher thinks this constitutes “reneging” on the deal and is “cowardly.” Patterico guest DRJ figures he’s merely specifying “the material terms – the rules – regarding how the winner will be determined.”
In any event, it’s a sucker bet.
Many of the more outrageous claims in the book have been rather strongly rebutted. Likewise, the debut ad, which questioned the character of Kerry’s service in Vietnam and implied he didn’t deserve his medals, was “contradicted by the statements of several other veterans who observed the incidents, by the Navy’s official records, and, in some instances, by the contemporaneous statements of SBVT members themselves.” John McCain pronounced it “dishonest and dishonorable” and I pronounced them the Swift Boat Nuts noted that they “sound increasingly like lunatics.” That said, given the passage of time, it’s doubtful the reasonable doubt threshold can be reached.
Still, as I wrote in “Swift Justice,” a July 2004 piece for Tech Central Station, the charges about self-inflicted wounds, war crimes, and undeserved medals weren’t why the Swift Boat ads were so effective. Indeed, if they had continued on that path, the campaign would almost certainly have backfired.
The idea that Kerry’s war medals were unearned is rather dubious and almost impossible to prove. Furthermore, as Bush’s re-election team seems to grasp, the mere fact that Kerry went to Vietnam trumps Bush’s record of halfhearted service in the Air National Guard. And the business about Kerry killing “a lone, fleeing, teenage Viet Cong in a loincloth” is just unbelievable coming 35 years after the fact.
That said, Kerry’s actions after returning home from Vietnam will ultimately hurt him more than his Vietnam service helps him. We should expect to see several ads focusing on his outrageous accusations against his fellow veterans, including the Senate testimony where he put forth numerous documentable lies. As political scientist Steven Taylor has noted, most of the animus of the SBVFT was generated by Kerry’s actions as leader of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War rather than his actual conduct in theater. It seems quite likely to me that this reaction will ultimately take place in other veterans and in the swing voters who have yet to make up their minds on Kerry’s character.
The second, third, and fourth ads concentrated on those angles. Stories of medals thrown over a wall by Kerry that weren’t actually Kerry’s medals, memories that were “seared — seared!!” into Kerry’s brain but couldn’t possibly be true, and reminders that Kerry had smeared American troops in “a fashion reminiscent of GEN-jis Khan” effectively undermined Kerry’s credibility and he failed to respond effectively. It’s rather odd to suddenly be offering up proof more than three years later.
UPDATE: Jules Crittenden wonders why Kerry would want to remind people of his failed campaign.