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updated 8/28/2004 1:40:14 PM ET 2004-08-28T17:40:14

Sometimes when you’ve been involved in the ugly blood sport of politics for 30 years, you wonder if you are just suffering from paranoia, or if what you think is happening is really happening.

So puzzle this: The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth run ads for weeks prior to the Republican National Convention, and attempt to focus the debate on things that happened in Vietnam over 30 years ago.  The latest ad focuses on out of context edits of John Kerry’s congressional testimony against that war.  

Hmm… John Kerry anti-war protester.

Then President Bush murmurs almost under his breath that he hopes any protests at the upcoming Republican National Convention will not erupt into violence.

I dare say most (if not all) Americans join with the President in that hope.  

So I know none of this could be coordinated— because that would be illegal.   But something about the President’s remarks about possible violent protests made the hair go up on the back of my neck.

Associating protests then and now?
There’s no way someone would have paid agitators in the crowd to get everyone riled up and create some great cable footage of flags being burned, and people putting daisies in the barrel of a guardsman’s gun, is there?   No one has ever done that before, have they?

There’s no way that the next step in turning John Kerry “war hero” into John Kerry “anti-war protester” would be to have tape of Vietnam war protests co-mingled on our nightly news with live footage of protests and flags burning in New York in a few days is there? The "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" ad of Kerry testifying against a 34-year-old war running at full bore throughout.

Nah, no way! No one would be so manipulative. No one would do something like that just to hold on to the highest office in the free world... and anyone suggesting that such manipulation is possible should be branded as deranged and possibly institutionalized.

Well, I plead guilty. The fact that I have worked on seven presidential campaigns alone stands as best evidence that something is wrong upstairs.

My advice to Sen. Kerry
So despite my questionable mental state, here is my advice for John Kerry: Denounce violent protests, declare that cyber attacks on the Republican Convention (as threatened) should not occur, and if they do, you will join with Republicans to make sure the perpetrators are caught and punished. That as a former prosecutor, declare that you are for freedom of speech but no one is above the law.  That you fought for your country and that the American flag represents the freedoms you and so many others have tried to protect— that those freedoms may include the right to burn our flag, but that you abhor and detest those that do so.  Out of respect for veterans that have given their lives, no one should burn our flag no matter the right.

That you and many in your generation learned something some 30 years ago is that the best way to protest things that are wrong at present, is to work constructively for a different and better future.  That was the spirit of Robert Kennedy when he spoke the words “Some men see things as they are and ask 'Why?  I see things that never were and ask 'Why not?'”

Make it clear that if people want to help George Bush, they should join the protests— but if they want to change things, they should join your campaign.

Let the Republicans have their convention! We have work to do.

If I was in John Kerry’s campaign that is what I would urge him to do. And I would do it loudly and clearly before the Republican convention starts.

And to paraphrase an old saying, Senator, “Just because I am paranoid, doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.”

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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