Two celebratory posts in one day? Maybe we should just declare this a holiday. And he's only sixty-seven years old, so we might get to use this holiday once or twice more before the wake. Everyone has my permission to take the rest of the day off -- but no drinks before one o'clock, or whenever the sun gets over the yardarm where you are.
Everyone here knows JarHeadDad, frequent commenter both here and in several other places on the web. I thought you'd all like to know that his son, the "JarHead" in "JarHeadDad," has returned safely from Iraq, where he was deployed until recently. His unit has drawn some tough duty on this deployment and the last one both. If any of you want to offer a message welcoming this young man back, or congratulating his father on raising a fine Marine, the comments to this post are as good a place as any.
By the way, I've seen some of the pictures from the welcome-home party. Sorry I missed it, although I don't really like hangovers.
John Derbyshire, a longtime Shuttle opponent, reminds us that today is the 20th anniversary of the Challenger disaster. I was shocked to realize it has been so long.
Twenty years ago. I was sick that day, and stayed home; I remember that I was watching some daytime game show or other when the newscaster broke in. I don't recall which one -- they all seemed alike in those days, Dan Rather and Peter Jennings -- and he began by saying, "The space shuttle Challenger has exploded."
I remember being unimpressed with the words. Even twenty years ago, I assumed that the media exaggerated the horror of everything they reported in order to achieve ratings. "Sure," I thought. "You mean there's been an explosion on the shuttle."
Then they went to the video.
Now as then, words won't do. I guess it hasn't been that long ago after all.
UPDATE: Commenter Bryan is correct to note that I misread the date. It is Saturday, not this day, that is the anniversary.
The Armed Liberal, who is one of the more honest and pugilistic folks in the blogosphere, threw down on the Army for letting CWO Lewis E. Welshofer, Jr., off of a murder charge and an assault charge, and convicting him of only a much lesser offense. Uncle Jimbo, former Special Forces, joins in the anger.
I saw this case come out when it first hit the wires, and I had roughly the same reaction. But I remembered something important -- I remembered all the previous times that the media has gotten the details of these things flat wrong. So, rather than post an furious lashing of the Army, I decided to wait for a MilBlogger who knew the details to pony up.
You couldn't have asked for a better one. Captain Jason van Steenwyck of the COUNTERCOLUMN turns out to have known the CWO. He's posted about it here, here, and here. His final conclusion?
The Post reporter, Josh White, clumsily tries to draw a contrast between Lynndie England and Chief Welshofer. But the difference is huge: Welshofer was acting officially, using approved techniqes when the detainee died. The Abu Ghraib gang was a bunch of board sadists who had gone off the reservation. The contrast in intent between the two is huge.If you want to know why, he tells you at length.
I still believe that capital punishment is justified for rapists, including the folks at Abu Ghraib who used flashlights instead of their organic tools. I think a reading of the UCMJ makes clear that it doesn't matter what you use -- you ought to hang.
Nevertheless, I remain impressed with the court martial as a means of getting to the truth, and a rightful punishment. The media makes it sound bad, but that's because they don't understand and don't want to understand. Thanks to the Captain, for laying it out for the rest of us.
I'm sure you've seen the Hugh Hewitt
beating of interview with our Mr. Stein. I have to say that, for me, it can be reduced to just one exchange. This is it:
HH: Do you honor the service that their son did?At this point, I would have simply said: "Thanks for coming on the show, Mr. Stein."
JS: To honor the service their son...now this is a dumb question, but what do you mean by honor? That's a word you keep using. I'm not entirely...maybe that's my problem. But I'm not entirely sure what you're...
I DON'T SUPPORT our troops. This is a particularly difficult opinion to have, especially if you are the kind of person who likes to put bumper stickers on his car. Supporting the troops is a position that even Calvin is unwilling to urinate on.... But blaming the president is a little too easy. The truth is that people who pull triggers are ultimately responsible, whether they're following orders or not. An army of people making individual moral choices may be inefficient, but an army of people ignoring their morality is horrifying.There is a point to be made here. We are far enough into the war that pretty much everyone involved has either enlisted or re-upped since the war began. It was an army of volunteers to start with; now, it's an army that volunteered for Iraq and Afghanistan.
So, I agree that the troops bear moral responsibility for the war. It could not be fought if they hadn't signed on, and didn't continue to sign back on. The soldiers and Marines are finally responsible for the fact that we're still fighting in Iraq, and retain the capacity to fight elsewhere.
The difference is this: does that mean they deserve the blame for the war, as Mr. Stein asserts -- or it does it mean that they deserve the praise?
Greyhawk, Uncle Jimbo, James Joyner, Michelle Malkin and others have responded to this, and I feel no need to repeat them. Instead, let's look at something else about Mr. Stein's piece, in light of today's earlier discussion on ideology. What does the piece reveal about what Mr. Stein's version of Leftist thinking has to say about what the right kind of man is, and what the right kind of society is?
On the right kind of man:
1) He should be bold. "I'm sure I'd like the troops. They seem gutsy, young and up for anything. If you're wandering into a recruiter's office and signing up for eight years of unknown danger, I want to hang with you in Vegas."
2) He should be able to feel guilt for doing the right thing. "I understand the guilt. We know we're sending recruits to do our dirty work, and we want to seem grateful." Recall that Mr. Stein is arguing that it is right and proper to show ingratitude and blame the troops for participating.
3) He should be morally opposed to war, with only a few exceptions. "An army of people making individual moral choices may be inefficient, but an army of people ignoring their morality is horrifying."
4) It is all right for him to want to fight to protect the country. "I do sympathize with people who joined up to protect our country, especially after 9/11, and were tricked into fighting in Iraq."
5) He should disdain the soldiers for doing what they swore to do, since keeping their oaths meant partaking in this war. "[W]e shouldn't be celebrating people for doing something we don't think was a good idea."
The right kind of society?
1) It should only go to war in pursuit of pressing national interest. "It's as if the one lesson they took away from Vietnam wasn't to avoid foreign conflicts with no pressing national interest but to remember to throw a parade afterward."
2) 'Pressing national interest' should be definied as stopping internal conflicts in regions barely associated with America. "Sometimes you get lucky and get to fight ethnic genocide in Kosovo."
3) The society should be solicitous of miniority political opinion. "Trust me, a guy who thought 50.7% was a mandate isn't going to pick up on the subtleties of a parade for just service in an unjust war."
4) It should provide for ready social services for its veterans, even those who chose to fight in an immoral war. "All I'm asking is that we give our returning soldiers what they need: hospitals, pensions, mental health and a safe, immediate return."
5) It should not celebrate them, however; but it might not go so far as spitting on them. "I'm not advocating that we spit on returning veterans like they did after the Vietnam War, but we shouldn't be celebrating people for doing something we don't think was a good idea.... please, no parades."
Every element here is emotional -- there is no obvious rationality behind any of these positions. Each one is associated with the kind of person he would like, and the kind of society he would like to live in. He wants men who are bold, but quick to feel guilt; who are willing to fight for their society, but sufficiently 'individual' to break their oaths if necessary to avoid doing something they don't think is a good idea.
The society he wants provides for the poor generously, including the poor foolish soldier. It takes care of those too stupid or immoral to do what's right while wearing its uniform; but it lets them know it doesn't approve of them, even if it doesn't quite go so far as spitting on them.
Exactly how this is meant to be consistent with providing for their "mental health" is not clear -- as unclear as what the "pressing national interest" was in Kosovo. Stopping ethnic cleansing may be the right thing to do, but it's hard to point to a region less directly related to American fortunes than Kosovo. Stopping ethnic cleansing in southern Iraq, where there is also a pressing national interest in the form of oil access and the ability to address the poisonous political structures? Well, not if it means fighting this war.
Nor is it clear how an army could be maintained if people were free to break their oaths at will. No, not even for fighting off invasions from Mexico -- which, by the way, has either made 216 armed incursions into the United States in the last nine years, or has been unable to prevent large drug gangs from wearing its military uniforms while doing so:
The U.S. Border Patrol has warned agents in Arizona of incursions into the United States by Mexican soldiers "trained to escape, evade and counterambush" if detected -- a scenario Mexico denied yesterday.One wonders what Mr. Stein thinks of the Border Patrol, which is in form and function much like the Texas Rangers during the famous days of the Old West: a few men, mobile and well-trained, trying to control a vast frontier full of hostiles. Do they get a pass, since they really are trying to control invasions from Mexico? Or does Mr. Stein share his city's prejudice against them too, preferring to defy Federal laws that the Patrol is bound to enforce?
The warning to Border Patrol agents in Tucson, Ariz., comes after increased sightings of what authorities described as heavily armed Mexican military units on the U.S. side of the border. The warning asks the agents to report the size, activity, location, time and equipment of any units observed.... A total of 216 incursions by suspected Mexican military units have been documented since 1996 -- 75 in California, 63 in Arizona and 78 in Texas, according to a Department of Homeland Security report.
Attacks on Border Patrol agents in the past few years have been attributed to current or former Mexican military personnel.
The good news for Mr. Stein is that the troops will be more forgiving than others he's offended in the past. An apology and a few cases of the good stuff will go a long way to making it up to them -- if you can get past the fact that you might be interpreted as supporting them.
The bad news is that few of them, or other young men looking for an ideology, will be persuaded to his vision. The hard facts of reality will drag it down, and it apparently can no longer consider them with anything like a clear eye.
Bill Roggio has links to a potentially huge story out of India and Bangladesh.
Bill mentions that Bangladesh has two Islamist ministers in the government; the more important of these is Industries Minister Nizami, who is also the head ("emir") of the largest Islamic political party in Bangladesh, Jamaat-e-Islami. Nizami isn't just an Islamist; he's been accused of being the real mastermind behind the bombing campaigns that have wracked Bangladesh through the autumn and winter.
The claim has been made by captured sympathizers of the JMB terrorist group, but more emphatically by the opposition political parties. The main opposition group is a collection of leftist/socialist groups called the Awami League. The AL has refused to participate in government anti-terrorist efforts, and has instead maintained that the government (and J-e-I in particular) is behind the terror.
Meanwhile, J-e-I and Nizami have maintained that really, it is Indian and Israeli intelligence behind the terrorist campaign. Increasingly, Nizami has posited that the AL must be an additional partner, given their refusal to participate in government anti-terror efforts and their constant criticism of those efforts. (No one seems interested in the possibility that Islamists are "really" behind the campaign to establish an Islamic state in Bangladesh through terrorism -- it's not a useful possibility for their real political game of gaining or holding control of the country's government.)
The capture of the leader of JMB in India will feed J-e-I's claim that he was partnered with Indian/Israeli intelligence. If he says anything in captivity that can be construed as blame for Nizami, the AL will feed on that. Both groups, the Islamists and the leftists, have the capability of fielding massive protests through the country -- and, in the case of the leftists, of making use of general strikes among unionized labor.
The capture of this terrorist, if it proves out, could be the beginning of complete chaos in Bangladesh. It would be an irony if it was the capture of JMB's leader that put an end to the fledgling democracy in Bangladesh, given that doing so was JMB's great desire all along.
Congratulations to Canada, which has done what was unthinkable even two years ago -- broken the hold of the Liberal party on the government. More at Captain's Quarters, which deserves a share of credit for breaking the strength of the previously-ruling party by exposing its corruption.
I wish them well, and indeed, they are among the most optimistic people in the world right now. The others are the Iraqis and the Afghans:
Canadians are bullish not just about their own finances (64%), but also about the economic prospects of their country (63%).The Canadian "revolution" is like the Afghan and Iraqi ones in only one way: it promises freer markets and more open, honest government. That is a most important similarity.
They are joined in their optimism by the people of two countries devastated by war and civil conflict, Iraq and Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan, 70% say their own circumstances are improving, and 57% believe that the country overall is on the way up.
In Iraq, 65% believe their personal life is getting better, and 56% are upbeat about the country's economy.
There is less reason for optimism in our Southern hemisphere, where the recent revolutions have promised less-free markets, and a renewed Marxist influence. Here is a piece from former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge G. Castaneda that is extremely critical of the American response:
At the inauguration tomorrow of Evo Morales as Bolivia's new president, the United States -- which has a significant military and aid presence in that country -- will be represented by a deputy assistant secretary of state. This is just further evidence -- if any was needed -- that U.S. relations with Latin America are in utter disrepair....Castaneda, though harsh here in his criticism, should be best remembered by Americans for being Mexico's Foreign Minister on 9/11. Alone in his government, he took such an openly pro-American stance that it caused a tremendous backlash among the Mexican people. That backlash disrupted the early efforts of the Fox government -- the first government not from the ruling "Institutional Revolutionary Party" since the revolution -- but it was worth it to Castaneda, who thought it was the right thing to say and do. Though he is a Mexican first (as he ought to be), we should remember Castaneda as our friend.
Today practically every nation seems to have some point of friction. Brazil is at odds with Washington on trade policy, especially anti-dumping and agricultural subsidies; on its wish to occupy a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council; and on Iraq. Argentina rails at President Bush's support for the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), criticizes U.S. economic policy recommendations, and may advise Venezuela's Hugo Chavez on nuclear energy. The newly elected Morales wants to remove the penalties for coca-leaf cultivation -- and expand it. President Vicente Fox in Mexico has been left high and dry by George Bush: Instead of an immigration agreement that would have addressed the most important issue on the bilateral agenda and an increasingly intractable U.S. domestic problem, Fox now has to deal with a hateful proposal to build a wall on the border, criminalize unauthorized emigration to the United States and punish any association with it. Bush didn't push for an agreement when he could have; now he supports a bill that is offensive to everyone in the region.
And then, of course, there is Venezuela. Chavez is not only leading the fight against the FTAA (which was going nowhere anyway) and making life increasingly miserable for foreign -- above all, American -- companies in Venezuela. He is also supporting various left-wing groups or leaders in neighboring nations and has established a strategic alliance with Havana. Most important, he is attempting, with some success, to split the hemisphere in two: for or against Chavez, for or against the United States. Whenever this happens, everyone loses.
I don't know how much good a commission of the sort he suggests would do, but it couldn't hurt. One thing we ought to know by now: it is free markets and open government that work. Those are two of the things we've been fighting for in Iraq and Afghanistan, and with real success. We need to do what we can to encourage them in the Southern hemisphere as well.
I'm going to respond here, because what started as a comment turned out to be far too long for Haloscan.
I. On Changes
When a movement arises of people who are breaking out of a closed, dominant system of thought, it is a movement that often has the potential to become dominant. It's something to be watched closely when it happens.
This is because the new movement has been lately informed by direct examination of reality. The theoretical structures it builds -- the new ideology -- is at least momentarily closer to the current reality than the one it replaces.
This is why neoconservatism -- which has its origins among certain former liberals who were shocked by WWII and the rise of the Soviet state -- remains a strong philosophy in the West. But it is also why Reform Liberalism had been so strong beforehand: it, and its European counterpart Democratic Socialism, had broken out of the well-developed system of Marxism on the left. Thinkers who abandoned the Marxist worldview and structures, but were still interested in the social questions Marxism had arisen to protest, developed new political structures and ways of thinking that swept Europe and America in turn.
II. Growth and Ossification
I think there is a cyclical process here, which arises from the fact that these things (if they are successful) become movements. Movements require a lot of people; and almost no people are rational in the way of what your 'neo-neocon' describes as a "changer" is rational. As a result, any successful system will ossify over time and become "closed," and thus progressively less attached to the current reality and more vulnerable to a new breakout system. I'll explain what I mean.
Only a small subset of political thought considers large-scale systems at all. It's been a long time since I took political science, and I quote from memory so the percentages I offer should be considered rough, but you're welcome to clarify them with political science professors at your university. I seem to remember that the studies indicate that most people decide who to vote for based on personal considerations (this candidate offers tax cuts; that one offers better garbage collection); or based on party or other personal affiliation (I'm in the union, and the union says this is our guy); or based on purely social considerations (That fellow seems smarter in the debate; this fellow looks like a weasel).
Only about twenty percent of voters, as I recall, considered ideology in making their decisions. Of these, half were "ideologues," hard-core devotees to the system of their choice. This group was the most important group to possess in order to be successful as a political movement -- these people, because they think according to the system, understand what needs doing on their own and can mobilize others. These are often your party volunteers, the union leaders -- the ones who are telling the group-identifiers who 'the union's guy' is -- and other similar organizers.
The problem is that you need these people to be successful as a movement. However, because their approach to life is ideological, in order to capture them you need to present a system for them to apply to life. They are rational, but their rationality rarely extends to questioning the fundamentals of the system. It normally stops with thinking rationally about how events they observe fit within the system.
III. The Role of Emotional Thinking
This is not limited to politics -- Aristotle, for example, questioned whether it was possible to think rationally about the ends of ethics. Once you understood what you wanted to be -- "A good man should be generous to the poor," or "It is better to be a fireman than a banker" -- it was easy to think rationally about whether a given action fit with being that kind of person. It was not clear, however, if you could make those basic decisions based on simple reason. It seemed to Aristotle that it was the irrational part of the soul, the emotional part, that made those base decisions about what the ends of virtue are.
The same thing is at work in these political models. Your most effective political operatives are good at applying reason to questions within the model. "How does this political coup fit within the model?" is one such question. "What does the model suggest as the right response to rising gas prices?" is another.
Yet the reason they adopted the model wasn't rational -- it is tied up with emotional thinking about what kind of person they want to be and also what kind of society they want to have. These are the very questions that Aristotle said might not be able to be addressed wholly rationally, or possibly even at all rationally.
This is why the "changer" gets hit with a heavy emotional response when he begins knocking down the pillars of the system. It is because, at base, the real supporters of the system are invested based on deep emotional attachments to the ideals. They can be wholly clinical about applying reason to events, fitting them within the system and devising a response. Applying reason to the model, in a way that undermines it, moves you into an emotional field, and they will have an emotional response.
IV. The Process of, and Reasons for, Success
As a result, the system ossifies as it becomes successful. In order to succeed, you need these ideologues to move your politics out through society. In order to engage them, the system needs to stabilize enough that they can identify with it -- enough that it presents a coherent vision of society and the Right Kind of Man, so that the ideologues can see that and decide (emotionally) that this is what they want. At that point, the system succeeds, but it also hardens. It is no longer possible for the founders of the system, or other "changers," to modify it without enraging its most important supporters.
The system may become dominant over whatever was the old system, however, because even in the hardened form it is closer to the current reality than the older system it is replacing. The ossification was more recent. More recently, reason was applied to its foundations, and brought it in line with the broader world.
If you live long enough, and remain open minded, you will therefore outlive more than one of your ideologies. They break, over time.
V. How to Lead Rather than Follow
The solution is to make your emotional decisions about what the right kind of man is, and what society is for, based on things that aren't subject to politics. You can then move easily from working one ideology to another as necessary, choosing whichever one is most likely to approach your real goals. You can also influence the new ideologies as they are arising, so that they adopt your goals.
The normal sources for these decisions are family, religion, art and philosophy. You can't do much about your family, but you can look for other families you admire, and see what is important to them. You can, in this country, examine religions freely, with an eye toward what kind of men and what kind of societies they produce.
Art is properly emotional, but once you know what you like you can examine its underpinings.
And philosophy? I still think Aristotle has the right of things. But again: look not so much at the philosophy itself, but at what kind of men it produces. You're making your emotional decisions first -- what kind of man do you want to be? What kind do you want others to be? Pick a philosophy and encourage it if and only if it develops that kind of man.
When you see a new system breaking out, you will therefore be prepared to engage it during its still-purely-rational phase. This is the point at which it is most open to change. You can help to guide it toward the things you think are eternal, so that when the ideologues get there it will invest them with those things. You will be guiding the production of the right kind of families, what you feel is the right kind of religion (not necessarily "the right religion"; it can be the right way to believe in any religion), the right kind of art and the best understanding of beauty, and the right philosophy.
In this way, as new systems emerge to meet new challenges, you can push them to remain devoted to the things that are eternally important. You can help ensure that they continue to pursue the right kind of man, and the right kind of society.
After a day spent toiling away at academic work, I took a pleasant break over at neo-neocon's place.
More specifically, I read her articles about changing mindsets, which sprang from an article about the metamorphosis of the thoughts of exiled Iraqi scholar Kanan Makiya.
I hesitate to speak of this subject: I am not too young to have gone through such a total investment in one socio-political mindset, but I am a little too young to have seen such a mindset fracture in the face of a dissonant reality.
There is an element to these stories involved which is troubling. In both cases mentioned, we read about people who gradually realize that they live in a closed system of thought. That is, they inhabit a mental environment in which the words and thoughts of those who disagree don't even rise to the dignity of error. Instead, this disagreement is the result of inability to see all of reality--or of active participation in evil plans to delude the rest of humanity.
Even as I try to avoid the error of thinking inside such a closed system, I am aware of the equal danger of being too open-minded. How many pieces of absurdity clamor for my attention on a daily basis? I filter most of them out with a few simple rules, rules which close my mental world.
Following the lead of Aristotle, I seek the golden mean. A mind that is open enough to acknowledge error, and a mind that is closed to nonsensical claims.
Via Secrecy News, I see that the CIA is blocking critical reports on its intelligence gathering. At least three unclassified reports, which could be made available to the public, have been produced by the Center for Study of Intelligence since 2003.
These are the kinds of reports, to judge from the article linked, that could be informative in our efforts to improve intelligence capabilities and reduce intelligence failures. The national debate is poorer, because the Agency has decided it doesn't want these critiques of its methods to be available to the citizenry it serves, and whose taxes pay for its hidden budgets.
The reports are available by mail... just not published online, nor is there any notice that they're available offline. You have to know to request one.
I haven't seen a copy myself, so I don't know if they have language in the printed version that prevents them being scanned in and posted on (say) a blog. But I would be surprised if it didn't.
Well, OK, fair enough -- reference the LT from the previous post. But let me point you to one of the sharp ones: Specialist Phil Van Treuren of "Camp Katrina." One of the things about the Reserve and National Guard is that the "part-time soldiers" are often extremely qualified professionals in their civilian lives; I remember Marine Reserve Lieutenant Colonel Coulvillon praising some of his reservist enlisted Marines in Iraq, who were often very highly educated and able to bring their education and experience to bear on the tasks of the day.What do you think when people call those in the military the “best and the brightest?” Since you are prior service I am expecting a different answer from you then say a politician might give.I don't believe that the military, by and large represents our best and brightest, as it would normally be defined, I think it represents an excellent cross section of middle America. If you define best as offering to serve a greater good than yourself, then that certainly fits, but brightest?.....hardly. There were plenty of smart and even brilliant people I met, but there were also plenty of raging dumbasses, and even an entire class of people we termed oxygen thieves.
I don't know exactly what Specialist Van Treuren does 'in real life,' but he's got a brain on him. That link is to his new "Weapons Cache Database," in which he's compiling DOD reports on captured war material:
Camp Katrina's 2006 Weapons Cache Databank, updated daily, now gives you the ability to check out a current list of MSM-ignored stories showing every bomb and gun our military takes out of terrorist hands this year. Check back daily for more stories proving that the U.S. military does much more than just kill people and break things!Now, why didn't the DOD think of that? A tally of deadly weapons removed from the hands of professional killers is just the sort of thing to counterbalance the constant "Today, we passed X casualties" stories that the MSM loves to run. Good job, Spec.
I've been reading some interesting reports that J. F. Kerry has decided to engage the folks at Daily Kos (the lack of a link is entirely intentional). Here is one such report; Cassandra has another, at her quietly-reopened blog. I'm rather amused that Kos said that Kerry should be taken out and shot; but apparently the Senator is a forgiving sort (as long as you aren't a Secret Service agent who "caused" him to trip).
But look especially at Greyhawk's writeup. The founder of the MilBlog Ring can't help but notice this little exchange between one of the Kos commenters and Mr. Kerry:
Commenter: Liberals shouldn't pretend to be in favour of the military (as a concept most liberals are instinctively against it) when we aren't. The military are 'special cirucmstances' - men who must do a dirty job when all other opportunities and options are exhausted. They aren't men to be lionised and put on a pedestal - they're like toilet cleaners: it's a dirty job, but someone's gotta do it. There's nothing brave or noble about it - it's a dirty, degrading, inhuman affair, but one which is occasionally necessary.I don't know. I might have taken some time out to respond to that one individually, if I ever wanted to be taken seriously as a candidate for a national office. I'm not sure anyone outside of the Kos kids does take him seriously, though; even the despicable attack emails have essentially stopped mentioning him. The lastest "Democrats are pro-terrorist" urban-legend email to drop in my box had apparently reverted to bashing Gore, whereas it had been an anti-Kerry email in 2004. (This one, if you're curious.)
Kerry: As you can imagine, it's difficult to respond to each of you individually, but Teresa and I were impressed with your thoughtfulness, your honesty, and your dedication.
I really hate these things, by the way -- regardless of whom they target. They're designed to plant a big lie in your mind ("Candidate X is a child molestor"). Even if the lie is patently untrue, and in fact proven to be untrue, once you've forgotten the charge and the response you'll remember that you once heard something awful about the guy. It's a poisonous kind of discourse, and if you ever get one of these things, I hope you'll take a moment to research the truth about it rather than passing it on.
John Kerry, of course, claims to have been a victim of such a campaign all along -- or rather, a whole lot of them, including the "Swift Boat Veterans" campaign, the AuthentiSEAL team, the Stolen Valor movie, the authors of Unfit for Command, and others. That's an argument not worth having again, except to reassert that I actually know one of the AutheniSEAL team (Steve Robinson, mentioned on the page), and trust his honesty entirely. The charges they raised, I have every cause to believe they actually believe to be true. Since Kerry has still not released his full military records to the public as he's promised, I see no reason to take his word over my friend's beliefs at the end of his investigation.
In fairness to the Senator, however, Snopes considers him clear of the fake-medals charge. Actually, they have a whole page for Kerry, most of which claims are rated false by Snopes. My own sense is based on a personal friendship, and high regard for the honor of that friend. I see no reason why my regard for Steve Robinson should be persuasive to anyone else, but for what it is worth, there it is.