Ted Kennedy announced over the weekend that Kerry Healey, the Republican candidate
for governor of Massachusetts, is guilty of "swiftboating." He blasted her "gutter
politics," her "Karl Rove playbook," and her "politics of fear and smear." He
condemned her for choosing "the low road" in her campaign against Democrat Deval
What had Healey done to provoke such outrage? That was hard to say. As the
Associated Press's Glen Johnson noted, Kennedy "did not specify the reason for his
criticism." Apparently he was accusing Healey of trafficking in contemptible slurs
that no one with a shred of decency should be associated with. If so, he used the
wrong word. The term for engaging in groundless character-assassination isn't
The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, after all, were Vietnam combat vets and former
POWs. Whatever else might be said about them, they had the moral standing to
critique Senator John Kerry's Vietnam War and antiwar record during the 2004
But Kennedy's notorious slander of Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork in 1987 didn't
issue from any moral high ground. When he accused the distinguished jurist of
favoring an America in which "blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters [and]
rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids," the bombastic
senator from Massachusetts was speaking from liberal malice and paranoia. Now he's
doing it again, falsely accusing Healey of foul play without providing evidence for
The impetus for Kennedy's attack seems to have been last week's Healey TV ad, which
highlights Deval Patrick's legal work on behalf of Carl Ray Songer, a prison escapee
who murdered a Florida state trooper in 1973. After Songer was sentenced to death,
Patrick won a stay of execution and later got his sentence reduced to life. As a
result, a thug who ended a young cop's life with five bullets shot at point-blank
range may eventually make parole. "While lawyers have the right to defend admitted
cop-killers," Healey's ad asks, "do we really want one as our governor?"
Er, no to answer the ad's awkwardly-constructed question, we don't really want a
cop-killer as our governor. What Healey presumably meant to ask was: "Do we really
want such a lawyer" i.e., the kind who defends admitted cop-killers "as our
That is a fair question, and one that reasonable people can debate. Even ruthless
criminals are entitled to legal representation, and a lawyer is not sympathetic to
rape and murder just because his clients are rapists and murderers. "I personally
despise criminals," the noted defense attorney Alan Dershowitz has written (in
Letters to a Young Lawyer), "and always root for the good guys except when I am
representing one of the bad guys."
But instead of making a principled defense of his decision to assist clients like
Songer, Patrick attacks Healey for even bringing it up. He claims to be "proud of
the work" he did in getting Songer's sentence reduced, yet he trots out surrogates
like Kennedy to blast Healey when her campaign makes an issue of it. Well, which is
it, counselor something you take pride in, or something no one should mention?
Even more muddled is Patrick's stance on Benjamin LaGuer, the convicted rapist with
whom he exchanged letters and on whose behalf he twice wrote to the Parole Board
not as LaGuer's lawyer, but as a private supporter.
Patrick claimed to believe that LaGuer deserved a new trial because the jury that
convicted him was tainted by racism or perhaps because DNA testing would prove
his innocence. He donated $5,000 toward a DNA test in 2001 but says now that he
never bothered to learn the results. Twice he pleaded for LaGuer to be granted
parole on the grounds that the jailhouse letters he wrote were "thoughtful,
insightful, eloquent . . . humane." Yet today Patrick claims that he never wanted
LaGuer set free, and "if I had urged his release, then I . . . made a mistake." On
the other hand, he also insists he is "proud of what I did" in writing to the Parole
Board and knowing what he knows now, he says, he would write those letters again.
It doesn't take a cynic or a Republican to contemplate such a snarl of
self-contradictions and wonder whether Patrick has a problem telling the simple
truth. Or to wonder if he always sympathizes more readily with criminals than with
their victims. These are just the kinds of issues political campaigns are supposed
to air. A candidate who raises them about her opponent isn't "taking the low road."
Whether Ted Kennedy likes it or not, she's doing her job.