Other than a few grousing former sailors who have obvious axes to grind, incontrovertible facts about John Kerry's Vietnam service are that the Navy awarded the young lieutenant not only three Purple Hearts but also a Bronze Star and a Silver Star for heroism under fire while he was a Swift Boat skipper in the Mekong Delta.
So why would Republicans run the risk of trashing Kerry's war record, drawing out previously neutral Vietnam vets who had witnessed Kerry's bravery to support his account? Because the Bushites have nothing else to talk about. Better for them to have the GOP Swift Boat Liars take the spotlight away from Bush's miserable record on the economy and the war on terrorism that has bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq while al Qaeda continues to grow and awaits its next chance to strike.
The Swift Boat smears overshadowed the Bush campaign's trotting out a health care agenda that they claim would cover as many as 10 million people who lack health insurance, at a cost of $102 billion over the next decade. But when the Bush-Cheney team was asked to provide documentation, Ceci Connolly wrote in the August 22 Washington Post, the hard data fell far short of the claims, several independent analyses showed.
The Congressional Budget Office, Treasury Department, academics and the campaign's own website suggest that under the best circumstances, Bush's health plan would extend coverage to no more than 6 million people over the next decade and possibly as few as 2 million, Connolly wrote.
The plan is much the same as the health care agenda Bush ran on in 2000. He did little to pass that plan through a Republican Congress, but it still features tax credits for individuals who purchase insurance and the formation of new, largely unregulated purchasing pools for small businesses called association health plans.
Kerry's more ambitious health care plan would expand government health programs, offer tax credits similar to Bush's and reimburse businesses for their most costly catastrophic cases. Kerry estimates his health proposals would cover 27 million people at a 10-year cost of $653 billion. That assumes $300 billion in "savings," without which the cost of the Kerry package could jump to nearly $1 trillion.
But paying attention to issues such as health care needs of the 40-plus million uninsured is so wonkish -- which is why you see the Swift Boat Liars on TV talk shows instead of seeing health care activists talking about the need for Canada-style national health care.
The Swift Boat controversy illustrates the damage done when irresponsible TV producers allow reckless charges to be made on their talk shows, usually without any effective rebuttal. Newspapers also fall victim to the trap of weighing the charges equally with the rebuttals, but at least the Los Angeles Times in an Aug. 24 editorial boiled it down to four simple words: "These Charges Are False." The Times noted that Bush's technique against Kerry was perfected by his father against Michael Dukakis in 1988, "though its roots go back at least to Sen. Joseph McCarthy." It concluded: "Not limited by the conventions of our colleagues in the newsroom, we can say it outright: These charges against John Kerry are false. Or at least, there is no good evidence that they are true. George Bush, if he were a man of principle, would say the same thing."
We agree with Max Sawicky of Maxspeak.org, who commented, "I can understand the anger of a veteran at anti-war protesters, then or now ... But the spectacle of veterans tilting in favor of a slacker regime (Bush & Cheney) and against a combat veteran could not be more ridiculous. And it isn't even the first episode; it's a repeat of the [Republican] Bush/McCain primary. MaxSpeak hereby declares that all veterans supporting Bush on the basis of Kerry's service record ... have soiled themselves."
There isn't enough difference between the Democratic establishment and the Republicans, in our view, but to hold that there isn't still a significant difference, as some of our correspondents occasionally say, is just wrong.
Ray Marshall, labor secretary under Jimmy Carter, professor emeritus of economics and public affairs at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of the University of Texas and adviser to the Kerry-Edwards campaign, recently spoke of some of those differences at a luncheon of "Yellow Dog Democrats" in Austin.
"The fundamental issue is what we do about the growing inequality between the rich and the working class," Marshall said. "Nothing divides the Democrats and Republicans more than that question. The Republicans think it's a good thing because it provides incentives for the poor to get rich. The Democrats believe in 'two cheers for the market,' but not three cheers. The market is a good institution but it's not a natural institution. It requires the government to make it function."
Nothing divides the Kerry-Edwards campaign from the Bush-Cheney campaign more than the question of how the government helps people improve their position. "The Republicans believe in trickle-down economics, with tax cuts that go to the wealthy. The Democrats believe in the percolator theory -- that you put money in the hands of people and workers to enable them to buy things and create a prosperous economy," he said.
"[Franklin Roosevelt] said you'll never have prosperity in an interdependent economy unless all groups share in that prosperity. You could update that quote for the global economy."
In foreign policy, he said, Democrats believe in internationalism that improves the economy with safety nets. They believe in fair trade with standards for labor that bring the poor countries up to the level of the rich countries. Republicans believe in reducing wages in the US.
Democrats also believe that tax breaks should keep jobs in the US, not send them overseas.
As for public schools, Marshall said, "The No Child Left Behind Act is all hat and no cattle. It created a goal that everybody knew was impossible to achieve. It sets up charter schools and vouchers to privatize the system." And it's underfunded.
The growing inequality in public school systems feeds the plantation mentality that Marshall saw growing up in Louisiana. "The planters weren't interested in a good school system because then their workers would have options." he said. The planters send their kids to the private schools."
Marshall also noted that it is increasingly difficult for working-class kids to go to college as the costs escalate and government assistance declines. "And if you don't have a post-high-school education you have no chance to earn a living to support a family," he said.
Health care, he noted, "especially for children, ought to be a right and not simply something you have to work for," but he added, "the health insurance lobby will beat back any attempt to create a single-payer plan." Still, corporations are starting to see the benefits of shifting health costs onto the government, as it's estimated that every American car includes $700 in health costs compared with $200 for a Japanese car because Japan has national health coverage.
Ultimately, Marshall said, "I believe the Democratic philosophy is grounded in logic and evidence while the Republican plan is grounded in faith, 'that which endureth in the face of adverse reality.'"
Mainstream Democrats still talk the populist talk. It's up to us to see that they walk the walk. -- JMC