The Republican lobby group Vets for Freedom is the 2006 equivalent of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the Republican 527 committee whose attack advertisements in battleground states helped sink John Kerry in the 2004 presidential race by smearing him as a phony war hero and a traitor to his country.
Vets for Freedom (VFF) made lame claims to be "non-partisan" when in early 2006 it first appeared out of the blue online and in op-ed pieces in the New York Times and other major papers and in TV interviews. An investigation of the group by citizen journalists at SourceWatch and by the Buffalo News blew the VFF claim of non-partisanship out of the water. For instance, the Buffalo News revealed in June that former White House flack Taylor Gross, who left Scott McClellan's office in 2005 to start his own PR firm, represented VFF and pitched them to papers as non-partisan journalists who would embed for these newspapers and report accurately and cheaply for them from Iraq. Now the camouflage has fallen completely off. Vets for Freedom has registered itself as a 527 committee and is going to run a full page advertisement in Connecticut's Hartford Courant on behalf of Joe Lieberman's renegade run for re-election to the US Senate as a 'stay the course in Iraq' candidate.
The Wall Street Journal reports that VFF is being handled now by Republican strategist Dan Senor and that it "hopes to run other print and radio ads in the fall, and is also planning on campaign door-to-door for Mr. Lieberman and holding a rally on his behalf."
Connecticut is a heavily Democratic state, and normally any Democrat who wins the nomination would be expected to cruise to victory in the general election this November. However, Lieberman's refusal to bow out after losing to Ned Lamont in last Tuesday's primary creates a window of opportunity for a Republican victory. By supporting Lieberman, the Republicans hope to split the Democratic vote so that their candidate can get elected. This strategy is bound to produce an ugly and divisive political campaign, another advantage for the Republican cause nationally as Tony Snow and others in the White House paint pro-peace Democrats as a party of appeasement in the war on terror.
White House strategist Karl Rove has made clear his strategy for Republican victory in November is to run on the war in Iraq. For him VFF and similar groups such as Melanie Morgan's PR creation Move America Forward, are weapons on his political chessboard. Rove phoned Lieberman on Tuesday as Democrat voters were turning thumbs down on Lieberman for his pro-Bush cheerleading on Iraq. Karl Rove denies he offered help to Lieberman, but the battlefield arrival of VFF shows that Republican troops for Lieberman are already on the ground and firing at will.
John Stauber is the executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy and the co-author with Sheldon Rampton of the forthcoming book The Best War Ever: Lies, Damned Lies and the Mess in Iraq, to be published September 14, 2006, by Penguin.