Swift Boat Narrative Holds Dynamite for Obama

WASHINGTON – Michael Hastings knows the meaning of being swift-boated, as does Buzzfeed boss Ben Smith.

The Buzzfeed swift boat headline is a winner, even if the usage and examples are incorrect, with the most important element of this story a buried lede that has nothing to do with swift-boating and could be a blockbuster if Pres. Obama’s opponents pick it up.

Of course, for that to happen people would have to keep two opposing thoughts in their head simultaneously, something that is rarely accomplished in U.S. politics. Those thoughts are that Pres. Obama earned bragging rights for okaying the OBL raid that was superbly executed, but that there is legitimate criticism coming from SEAL Team Six about what happened afterward.

Hastings begins by unleashing a torrent of speculative assumptions from a reporter usually known for sourcing and unbiased stories, though he eventually gets to the juice. A snippet from Hastings:

But as the stagey outrage over the politicization of foreign policy from Mitt Romney and his Republican allies gained momentum over this past weekend, White House officials started to have their doubts. Was spiking the football, again, and again, and again, in a public such a good idea? Was it necessary? Was the campaign in Chicago, White House officials wondered, going too far?

Like Kerry’s war record, the vulnerability to the president’s Bin Laden story isn’t so much from the other side, as it from those who can claim the mantle of veteran. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the website: navysealsagainstobama.com sprout up soon. Sure, military servicemen are accustomed to being exploited by both the left and the right. But that strategy can have its weaknesses, too. If the assault on the Bin Laden narrative continues, and if the anger expressed in private by the SEALs remains very public, the campaign might be forced to retreat.

One can only imagine who these unnamed “White House officials” are, but someone at 1600 better get a grip on these leaks, because in a tough election cycle they can be a politician’s undoing, especially when it revolves a story so potentially explosive.

To “swift boat,” a subject on which I’m an expert, entails, in part, fabricating a damaging fantasy for partisan reasons, that hits the politician where he’s seen to be strongest. It is to associate a political opponent through a lie that attacks his or her credibility, wrapped in a smear campaign, that hits at the heart of an issue that makes his candidacy popular.

The reason the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were calamitous for Kerry’s campaign is that they took aim at his Silver Star in an offensive attack against a Democratic war hero that unpacked his bravery through misrepresentation and when that didn’t work utter bullshit, with Kerry caught flat-footed out of disbelief anyone would buy it. This tactic was eventually replicated against three-limb amputee and hero vet Max Cleland as well. It wasn’t the actions of either war hero in battle that were actually at issue, though swift-boating questioned their bravery and patriotism, but the fact that they were Democrats, with their opponents waging war on them because of it.

Swift-boating Obama would require vaunted heroes to lie, defame and concoct a narrative against the commander in chief, getting themselves dirty in the process, because swiftboating is never about truth. It’s about opportunity, along with the actors willing to play their parts for partisan gain, at all cost.

The first problem with Hastings swift boat narrative begins here:

What was supposed to be an easy win—a victory lap on the anniversary of Bin Laden’s death, trumping up the president’s most militant moment—appeared to be slipping away.

According to whom? Republicans? SEAL Team Six members, current and former? Where’s the evidence that this is true, beyond Hastings putting his reputation behind words that come out of nowhere with no proof, but do support the political narrative people attacking Pres. Obama want to push.

Next from Hastings is something that actually matters and has absolutely nothing to do with swift-boating.

The frustration—or, even anger—within the SEAL community is real, and has been brewing for months, particularly among a politically conservative core of operators. It started immediately after the raid, with questions among the Special Forces and intelligence community of whether the president should have waited to announce the kill to exploit the intelligence cache at Osama’s compound. It simmered after a Chinook helicopter was shot down, killing 30 Americans, 22 of them Navy SEALs from Team Six.

Was it a coincidence, SEALs asked themselves, catastrophe hit Team Six so soon after being named as the team responsible for the killing?

Hastings is reporting a very substantive allegation here that’s the opposite of swift-boating, saying that Navy SEALS in the Team Six unit have questioned whether Pres. Obama’s naming them as OBL’s assassins got members of their team killed.

Coming from Hastings, whose reporting has been golden since the career ending interview with Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, continuing in his book, which has been widely lauded, this should send shock waves through Obama reelect, with someone in the “war room” investigating it immediately, if only to be prepared.

John Kerry wasn’t prepared.

May the gods help Obama reelect if the right-wing rabble of Rush and Sean decide to take hold of this one, because they’ll never let go. Jerome Corsi is likely investigating it as you read this column. Having been burned on his birther book, he’s got to be chomping at the bit to find another angle to try to take down Obama.

The allegation Hastings floats has nothing to do with being swift-boated, but is a serious issue that could be exploited, which is quite separate from the scurrilous partisan skullduggery that is at the heart of what it means to swift boat your opponent.

Everyone’s still writing about the political gamesmanship going on, missing the potential news in Hastings’ Buzzfeed piece.

It’s dangerous for Pres. Obama, because if utilized through a coherent political strategy, it would bring the “naive” charge right back to Obama’s door. Republicans could contend that Pres. Obama openly naming SEAL Team Six put them in danger and got them killed, an event that happened long before the commander in chief rightfully took credit for okaying the daring raid.

However, concocting the naive narrative without proof would indeed be swift-boating and it’s something Rush, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter crowd, aided by wingnut bloggers, could easily manufacture and they wouldn’t need anything but Michael Hastings’ Buzzfeed piece to launch it.


Taylor Marsh is the author of The Hillary Effect, which is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, where it was 1 of only 4 books in their NOOK Featured Authors Selection launch. Marsh is a veteran political analyst and commentator. She has written for The Hill, U.S. News & World Report, among others, and has been profiled in the Washington Post, The New Republic, and seen on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, CNN, MSNBC, Al Jazeera English and Al Jazeera Arabic, as well as on radio across the dial and on satellite, including the BBC. Marsh lives in the Washington, D.C. area. This column is cross posted from her new media blog.

6 Comments

  1. President Obama should just play it cool and let the Republican blowhards spread their lies. If the American people are stupid enough to believe cowards such as Limbaugh and Hannity then the American people deserve to live in their make believe Republican world.
    Let the Republicans build an empire of hate and fear. It will be what the American people deserve.

  2. He will play it cool. Swiftboating might have worked on a candidate like Kerry, but Obama is 10 times the campaigner Kerry was. Plus the cicumstances surrounding Osama being taken out are fresh from just a year ago and far better known in the public eye.

  3. “If the American people are stupid enough to believe cowards such as Limbaugh and Hannity then the American people deserve to live in their make believe Republican world.”

    Unfortunately some American people ARE stupid enough to believe such things, as witnessed by the swift boating attacks against Kerry.

    And the purpose of such an attack isn’t to win over a majority of people to vote against Obama. The purpose of the attack is to win over a small percentage of people (who don’t already support the GOP candidate) to tip the voting scales in the GOP candidate’s favor.

    And I, as an American, do NOT deserve to suffer in the make-believe world of Republicans.

  4. I don’t know how Obama will react. If the campaign is smart they will show that it is common to give credit where credit is due.

    As far as the team being shot down in a helicopter because bin Laden was killed…. it’s all a coincidence. It’s not as though terrorist thugs purposefully targeted and planned an attack against a helicopter. I don’t know how they could have known when a helicopter carrying a specific team was passing overhead.

    I feel that, being in a war zone, the terrorists saw an enemy helicopter overhead and fired. I think the terrorists would have fired on any helicopter passing overhead.

    And if there was a question posed by the SEAL team about the announcement identifying them as the team who got bin Laden and were then shot down shortly after, I think it’s a question anyone would ask. There could be cause and effect. But the answer (in my opinion) is that the shooting of the SEAL helicopter was a coincidence.

  5. Agree with wesley. As with most elections this won’t only be a test of candidate and party, it will also be a test of electorate political IQ. To the extent the past is a judge, I wouldn’t place any bets on the outcome.

  6. Yes, coincidence, but security was questionable. I would have kept the mission as quiet as possible for a few reasons:
    (1) to make the most of any uncovered intelligence, such as locations of operatives and contacts.
    (2) to minimize upsetting the Pakistanis and to not appear as “crusaders” or glorify a murder/assassination to the Arab world.
    (3) Keep any units involved out of the spotlight for their security and not to compromise any future operations by disclosing methods/materials and operational details.

Submit a Comment