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updated 8/24/2004 3:21:11 PM ET 2004-08-24T19:21:11

Of the 300 million Americans alive today, a relatively very few have sacrificed by joining our nation’s armed services, let alone risked their life for our country when we have been at war.

During the Vietnam war, when many were doing everything they could to avoid being sent to Southeast Asia, John Kerry said “send me.” The fact is, John Kerry volunteered to serve his nation. The fact is, John Kerry was awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts.  The fact is, Jim Rassman was in Vietnam and is alive today because, in Rassmusen’s own words, “John Kerry saved my life.”

Spewing mud

So something, of course is very, very wrong here. 

What’s wrong is that our political discourse has become so poisoned and rotted that a group funded by a Bush contributor, armed with no evidence, and seeking only political gain for their cause, and political ruin for Kerry, can delve into the murky waters of the Mekong Delta 30 years ago and emerge today spewing some of the worst political mud ever seen in a presidential campaign. Worse still, it's all considered normal, just part of the political game of electing our commander-in-chief.

So the group “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth,” having succeeded with nothing more than a cheesy book, chutzpah, and the great enabler or our time – the 24-hour news cycle,  is seeking even lower ground now. In the last few days, they have worked to get the ugly suggestion that Kerry’s wounds may have been self-inflicted into print and on the air.

And I hate to even write that line – because it means the bastards are succeeding. And I hate, too, to have to provide video evidence of their efforts Wednesday night on Hardball with Chris Matthews — an effort Matthews gamely fought.

Forget about the shame that should be felt by anyone who would smear or dishonor any veteran’s heroic acts in any of our nation’s wars for political gain.

Forget about the shame our president should feel that this is all being done in his name and for his benefit while he refuses to denounce it.

Shame on us – the 297 million Americans alive today who never served, never fought, and in recent times never have been even asked to sacrifice for our nation in times of war.  How dare we let them do this.  Instead of being resigned to this behavior as just the way things are, we should be indignant. Will we really stand for this?

What should happen

Video: 'Any questions?' As with many things, even our political discourse, the saying that “the fish rots from the head” applies.  President Bush can denounce this kind of politics, denounce the group and demand that they pull their misleading and rotten ads down.

But in a democracy we the people have a responsibility to end this ourselves, even if our President won’t.  

If we reward this kind of politics with our votes, we will have only enabled another cycle of more of the same in the next election and our democratic process will decline even further. If this line of attack backfires, if groveling this low in the mud hurts the mud throwers and those who refuse to denounce it.  If we go to the water coolers at work, talk to our neighbors, go to the weblogs and chat rooms, and talk about this at the coffee shop – if we denounce it – trust me – our disdain will show up on the desks of the political consultant’s in their sophisticated polls and they will stop.

And of course if we can’t stop it today,  there is that one big poll in November where we can stand together and say you don’t win the Presidency this way, not in America, and not on our watch.

There are 300 million of us and we can answer the call to duty.

Joe Trippi, Howard Dean's former campaign manager, is an MSNBC contributor and a political analyst for "Hardball with Chris Matthews."  He's contributes to Hardball's weblog, and is author of "The Revolution Will Not be Televised: Democracy, the Internet and the Overthrow of Everything."

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