2004–Swift Boat Ad–Olivia Berardi
While many examples of rhetoric and advertisements from the 2004 presidential election portray Senator John Kerry’s extensive military history in a most favorable light, the advertisement “Swiftboat Vets Against Kerry” serves to accomplish the exact opposite agenda. Using the similar rhetorical tactics as does many of the pro-Kerry advertisements, this one relies upon personal accounts and interviews from individuals. Due their own involvement with the United States military, their stories make it appear as though they have a significant degree of standing in their positions against Senator John Kerry. Additionally, the serious tone and framing of this advertisement are contributory to the perceived legitimacy of its claims. In fact, the allegations that this advertisement presents are not truthful, and grossly misrepresent Senator Kerry’s endeavors as a Vietnam War Veteran.
Numerous individuals who have fought beside Senator Kerry in battle can attest to his heroic triumphs against the enemy while in combat; their stories are utilized in a great number of pro-Kerry advertisements. Further, his accomplishments and diplomacy while in military service are documented, and Kerry has received several awards from the United States government. For these reasons, the claims made by the individuals in this advertisement are untrue, and border on slander. This ad serves to introduce the degree of negative impact that can arise to cast an unfavorable light on a Presidential candidate depending on the genesis of the advertisements claims, and the credibility of its featured sources.
What is particularly interesting about this advertisement is that it is not a “typical” source of negativity that often seeks to mar the name of presidential candidates. More often, the voice of negativity tends to come from those seeking to promote an opposing Presidential candidate. This advertisement, in contrast, shows the interest group, Swiftboat Veterans Against Kerry, as staunchly antagonistic towards Kerry’s achievements in Vietnam.
Along with hurling false accusations at Senator Kerry, the ad utilizes speakers whose age and gender evoke certain sympathy from the viewers. The principal speakers in this advertisement are senior women whose husbands served in Vietnam, and were killed. Already, the circumstances of these women incite some degree of condolence from many viewers. The age of these women, in addition, makes them appear significantly even more vulnerable and affected by Senator Kerry’s alleged infractions. A quote from one of the elderly women towards the end of the ad says, “John Kerry gave aid and comfort to the enemy by advocating their negotiating points to our government.” This statement, alone, is so twisted that it bears little resemblance to John Kerry’s actual actions within our government. Upon returning from combat, and receiving a multitude of medals and honors from the United States government, John Kerry took it upon himself to champion the cause of human rights—of both Prisoners of War and innocent civilian victims– during wartime. It became his mission as a former soldier, lawyer, and politician to investigate and advocate for the rights and wellbeing of both of these parties, and never, explicitly or implicitly, sought to disrespect the endeavors of his fellow soldier—people who held the same military background and experiences as he. Rather, John Kerry joined forces within the government, seeking to breach party-lines in the interest of exposing the truth about war victims, and affording remedy to those unnecessarily or unjustly afflicted. This is an undertaking that demonstrates Kerry’s leadership capacity, familiarity with wartime justice, and elevated moral tenets that are characteristic of a compassionate but thoughtful leader. Additionally, the recognition he received from the United States government verifies his actual endeavors and motivations in combat, which are in stark contrast to the claims of the ad.
This ad is a specific type of negative ad, perpetuated by an interest group rather than a competing Presidential candidate. Even so, this advertisement, and many of a similar framing and tone, helped to tarnish the name of John Kerry, thus leading to an increased number of votes for George W. Bush. Interestingly, George W. Bush has no military experience, in the Vietnam War, or otherwise. His lack of heroism and leadership experience is apparent in comparison to that of Kerry; however, ads that are as persuasive as this serve to promote Bush as a viable alternative, considering that his total lack of military involvement inherently prevents any kind of similar allegations towards Bush. Overall, this ad sheds light on the potential power of interest groups rather than opposing political campaigns. Those interest groups possessing enough resources can create negative ads that are quite detrimental to the perceived moral character and Presidential capabilities of a given candidate in a manner that is directly contributory to the success of the opposition—even without mention of any opposing candidates.