Fox News host Tucker Carlson is swiftboating Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., in the running to be Joe Biden’s vice presidential pick.
I’ll remind everyone what swiftboating is, as we need a word in addition to “smear” to describe the disgraceful low road Carlson is taking.
On his Monday and Tuesday shows, Carlson, in fits of juvenile name-calling, denigrated Duckworth’s military service. He questioned her patriotism, downplayed her combat injuries and demonstrated that he may not know or appreciate the war-fighting role of deployed National Guard troops.
Carlson got worked up because he did not approve of Duckworth’s answers in a Sunday CNN discussion about not naming military bases after Confederate officers — Duckworth is for name changing — and whether George Washington statues should come down.
“Well, let me just say that we should start off by having a national dialogue on it at some point,” Duckworth said. She continued, “But right now we are in the middle of a global pandemic, and one of the countries that opposes us, Russia, has put a bounty on American troops’ head.”
Carlson, one of the top Fox hosts, didn’t like Duckworth’s answer.
On his Monday show, he incorrectly said Duckworth wanted to “get rid of George Washington,” as he unloaded on Duckworth, calling her “a deeply silly and unimpressive person” and among people — a reference to Democrats — who “actually hate America.”
Duckworth zinged Carlson back in a tweet: “Does @TuckerCarlson want to walk a mile in my legs and then tell me whether or not I love America?”
Background, first on Duckworth, then on swiftboating.
Many Chicago Sun-Times readers are familiar with the Duckworth story. She is a retired lieutenant colonel who served 23 years in the Illinois Army National Guard. Duckworth lost her legs and shattered her right arm — and earned her Purple Heart — when her Black Hawk helicopter was shot down in Iraq on Nov. 12, 2004.
Swiftboating is a term born in the 2004 presidential campaign when then-Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., was the Democratic nominee. A GOP-allied, anti-Kerry group, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, attacked Kerry’s patriotism and record in the military, where he served as a swift boat commander in Vietnam. The slams, most distorted or not true, nonetheless hurt Kerry. After that, swiftboating, a stronger term than mudslinging, became part of the political lexicon.
President Donald Trump and his campaign are increasingly taking their cues from Carlson at a time, several sources told me, when Duckworth’s Biden vice presidential prospects are rising.
By Tuesday afternoon, Veterans for Trump co-chair Scott O’Grady, echoing Carlson, said in a statement that Duckworth “was open to tearing down statues of George Washington” and was “using her military service to deflect from her support for the left-wing campaign to villainize America’s founding.”
A few hours later, Carlson on his Tuesday show slammed Duckworth again. He said she was questioning his right to criticize her since she was “once injured while serving in the Illinois Army National Guard.”
What a tell, Tucker.
Once injured? As if she stumbled off a curb somewhere safely in Illinois and sprained an ankle?
There is no denying Duckworth almost died that day in Iraq. Why frame it any other way?
And that seemingly diminutive reference to the Illinois Army National Guard? National Guard units are deployed to dangerous places overseas all the time. That’s what you sign up for when you join the military.
Carlson on Tuesday said, “To morons like Tammy Duckworth, Washington is just some old white guy who needs to be erased.” He then called Duckworth a “coward” for not guesting on his show that night — how entitled is that — and a “callous hack” who should not lead a “country you despise.”
Carlson wrapped up with jingoistic appeal, bringing up the very controversial Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., whose radical views are not shared by Duckworth and many other Democrats. But that was the picture Carlson’s viewers saw at the end of the segment — two women of color, both Democratic members of Congress, as he talked about the need to “preserve our nation and our heritage and our culture.”
You can disagree with Duckworth’s opinion about studying George Washington statues; Duckworth might have answered that better. But there is no need to minimize her sacrifice and accuse her, of all people, of not being patriotic.
We know what that is. It’s swiftboating. It caught Kerry by surprise in 2004. In 2020, Duckworth won’t be ambushed.