Speak the Truth, as Long as You Don't Think It's Persuasive

Three groups are filing an FEC complaint against the folks putting out the SwiftVets ad. I think the ad is extremely effective. I have no way of independently verifying any of the claims therein, but it hits the right buttons and made me pretty willing to believe that Kerry plays with his war record to suit his political aspirations.

So, naturally, the ad, and the “soft” money that paid for it, is being interpreted as an attempt to influence the presidential election. This is, I understand, illegal. However, Mike Rusell from Swift Boat veterans for truth maintains:

The ads are not meant to influence the presidential election. The ads are meant to tell the truth about John Kerry’s service record so people can make their own decisions.

Now, surely this is a lie. The ads ARE meant to influence the election. The point is, Mike Russell shouldn’t have to lie about this, but McCain/Feingold makes him a liar.

No doubt the ads “are meant to tell the truth about John Kerry’s war record.” Suppose you are one of the men making a claim in the ad and you speak truly. The difference between what you know and what Kerry claims may be sufficient ground for thinking Kerry disqualified for office, and, suppose, on this basis, you wish for him to lose the election. You believe that if others had your information, then voters might wish to alter their estimation of Kerry’s fitness for the presidency. The people with whom you have shared your knowledge about Kerry’s record and who have financially supported the ad campaign share your desire that your knowledge of the matter be made available to broader public.

Isn’t it just disturbing that this may in fact be illegal? If I publish a scientific article that cites empirical data in order to refute a competing theory, I also intend this to have some impact on the opinion of the scientifc community. I intend to influence their beliefs about what theory to support. This may in fact be my main motivation for gathering data in the first place: I want to persuade. This is, of course, OK.

But, strangely, in the political arena, which relies on argument and the free play of claims and counter-claims for its proper function, publicly airing what one believes to be true can under certain circumstances be illegal. Doesn’t it seem that if one want to tell what one believes to be true, it shouldn’t matter where the money comes from?

I want to see the counter-ads. I want to see other vets saying that Van O’Dell and Jack Chenoweth are liars, and telling me why. I want to hear eyewitness reports about the time John Kerry saved the life of a dying child with one hand while fending off VC with a machine gun in other, all while shouting brilliantly improvised orders despite the blood running into his eyes. Even if it takes soft money to do it.

Anyway, was it really Kerry’s best idea to push his stint in Viet Nam (or Cambodia, or wherever he was) to the front? Sadly, I think it was.