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By Bill Gallagher

DETROIT -- The attack ads on John Kerry's Vietnam War record have George W. Bush's blessings, and the droppings of his political brain, Karl "King Rat" Rove, are all over the TV spots and the campaign to discredit the Democratic candidate.

Bush refuses to specifically denounce the ads that question Kerry's war record, achieved while Bush was sunning himself in Texas, doing "flex-time" duty with the Air National Guard. Kerry volunteered to go to Vietnam, where he served two tours of duty. On his National Guard application, Bush checked the box indicating he did not volunteer to be assigned to overseas duty.

The ads are filled with lies, distortions and conflicting statements. But remember, truth and fairness were never issues for Rove and his fellow vermin.

The Bushes seem to have a genetic predisposition to surround themselves with despicable operatives who will do the dirty work to cover for their failures and protect their political survival. The late Lee Atwater and family fixer and valet James A. Baker come quickly to mind.

Kerry has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission charging that the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group behind the attack ads, is illegally coordinating its smear campaign with the Bush-Cheney campaign. As a self-evident truth, that's right up there with water goes over Niagara Falls.

The Swift Boat Veterans looked less than swift when some of them were caught in previous statements praising Kerry. Retired rear admiral Roy Hoffmann a year ago told the Boston Globe that the actions that earned Kerry the Silver Star "took guts, and I admire that." Vietnam veteran George Elliott stated at a 1996 press conference that Kerry's action in the same incident was "an act of courage." Another veteran, Adrian Lonsdale, stated at that same press conference that Kerry "was among the finest of those swift boat drivers."

Larry Thurlow, one of the people who claim in the ads that John Kerry's Bronze Star citation was "totally fabricated," had his story totally blown out of the water.

The Washington Post used the Freedom of Information Act to get military records that showed Thurlow's claim that he "never heard a shot" near Kerry's boat is contradicted in the citation for the Bronze Star he (Thurlow) received for the same incident.

Kerry got his award for bravery for rescuing, while under enemy fire, a boatmate, James Rassmann, who had fallen into the Bay Hap River. Thurlow was in a nearby boat and his Bronze Star citation notes that the boats involved in the engagement, including Kerry's, were under "enemy small arms and automatic weapons fire."

Thurlow refused to release his service records because of fears "the Kerry campaign would discredit him." He's done that pretty well on his own. John Kerry's official military records are posted on his Web site at www.johnkerry.com.

The commander of the swift boat alongside John Kerry in another skirmish has broken a 35-year silence to speak out against the GOP-inspired lies. William Rood, now an editor at the Chicago Tribune, was the officer in charge of a boat carrying two of the crewmen who are now in the ads attacking Kerry. In a first-person account in the Tribune, Rood set the record straight.

"There were three swift boats on the river that day in Vietnam ... three officers and 15 crew members," Rood wrote. "Only two of those officers remain to talk about what happened. ... One is John Kerry ... who won a Silver Star for what happened. ... I am the other."

Rood praised Kerry's skill in charging at the enemy ambushers while under fire. "It's gotten harder and harder for those of us who were there to listen to accounts we know to be untrue, especially when they come from people who were not there," Rood wrote, adding that the task force commander Roy Hoffmann, who is now a Kerry critic, at the time praised all three boat crews for their performance.

A New York Times investigation examined the genesis and development of the ads, uncovering "a web of connections to the Bush family, high-profile Texas political figures and President Bush's chief political aide, Karl Rove."

The Times has a detailed chart showing the multiple connections between those attacking Kerry and the Bush political operation. I could smell Rove's political stench when U.S.A. Pravda, the Fox News Channel, gave the Swift Boat liars such heavy coverage. The ads only ran in three states, but were given substantial and basically free national play when they became the media buzz on talk radio and the cable news.

Rove's slick slurs worked. Half the people polled saw or heard about the ads, and Kerry lost some ground among veterans. On top of that, King Rat got an echo-chamber effect, leading to his goal of generating diversions from George W.'s weaknesses, while discrediting Kerry.

It's simple. Keep talking about Kerry and people will forget about the unnecessary war in Iraq, the insurrection that has no end and the sputtering economy and jobless recovery.

The Bushites know this is the first presidential election since the Vietnam War in which foreign affairs and national security issues are looming larger in voters' minds than bread-and-butter economic issues. They also know the most recent USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll shows Kerry and Bush are statistically tied on the issue of who would better "handle the situation in Iraq." Commander in Chief Bush is not the easy sell it once seemed to be.

So, in times like these, Rove rouses Vice President Dick Cheney from his bunker and Cheney leaves his duties as master of the universe to handle a few political chores. The Republicans started behaving like giddy grade-school kids when John Kerry used the phrase "more sensitive war on terror."

Taking the words completely out of context, Dick Cheney, of all people, tried to make the decorated war hero look like a wimp. Sneering before his audience, Cheney said, "Senator Kerry has also said if he were in charge he would fight a 'more sensitive war on terror.' America has been in too many wars for any of our wishes, but not one of them was won by being sensitive."

Lord Halliburton has a great fondness for wars as long as he's not required to fight in them. He once said he "was too busy doing other things" to serve in Vietnam, and he sought and received more deferments -- five, to be exact -- than fellow chickenhawks Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay and Karl Rove combined.

The full context of what Kerry said was, "I believe I can fight a more effective, more thoughtful, more strategic, more proactive, more sensitive war on terror that reaches out to other nations and brings them to our side and lives up to American values in history."

Kerry continued, "I lay out a strategy to strengthen our military, to build and lead strong alliances and reform our intelligence system. I set out a path to win the peace in Iraq and to get the terrorists, wherever they may be, before they get us."

Clearly, Kerry was referring to being more sensitive toward other nations, potential allies, not toward terrorists, as Cheney pretended when he scoffed that "as our opponents see it, the problem isn't the thugs and the murderers we face, but it is somehow our attitude."

The dictionary definition of sensitive and certainly the way Kerry intended the word is: "having or showing keen sensitivities, highly perceptive or responsive intellectually."

No wonder Cheney and Bush deplore the trait.

Last week Major League Baseball owners extended the contract of Commissioner Bud Selig, a man with a little family money and a modest talent. But "Bud Lite" is just the kind of commissioner the owners like -- he'll do whatever he's told.

A few years back, another man of similar stature was vying for the commissioner's job -- George W. Bush, managing partner of the Texas Rangers baseball team. His daddy's friends set him up with the team, and government subsidies and corporate welfare the Rangers received made Bush a wealthy man. The commissioner's job was perfect for him.

At the same time Karl Rove was urging George W. to try his hand again at politics after earlier failures. The owners went with Selig, the more experienced mediocrity. Rebuffed by baseball, Bush ran for governor of Texas and you know the rest of the sad story.

Baseball will survive, but our nation and the world will have a more difficult time as a result of that one small twist of history.

Bill Gallagher, a Peabody Award winner, is a former Niagara Falls city councilman who now covers Detroit for Fox2 News. His e-mail address is gallaghernewsman@aol.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Aug. 24 2004