Swiftboating, a user’s manual
Swiftboating is when you falsely accuse your critics of something you are guilty of and in so doing create doubt and distraction shifting focus away from your own misdeeds.
Step 1. Identify your most indefensible position
If you are say a company ruining the environment for profit, then abstract the object away.
So in this instance it’s a company doing its business objective in the name of profit.
If you were say, born in Panama and might not be legally eligible to be president, abstract that into an inherent property of someone that delegitimizes them.
Step 2. Falsely claim your detractors are guilty of it
For instance, it’s not Exxon and Chevron who have a large monetary stake in climate change opinion, no, its the “greedy scientists”, they are the multi billionaires here.
It’s not the company behind a pipeline that’s looking to turn a profit, it’s the “paid protestors” who want a profit out of things.
Step 3. Get there first and do it loud
Before your opponent stoops low enough to point out you’re a draft dodger, make sure you accuse him of not being a war hero first.
At this point, the only narrative left is confusion. Somehow flipping things to the truth is an infeasible process for many. So make sure your there.
Step 4. Don’t ever shutup about it
Pretend your candidate has a clear and irrefutable connection to organized crime. You can bring up a made up story from 1993 back into the limelight and after the election, still not drop it because the point is to cover up the organized crime ties as long as possible.
Does this work?
Yes! Inarguably! Whether it’s rich men who only work a day a week calling poor people with 2 jobs out for being lazy or for profit commercial media claiming independent journalists are “in it for the money”, this tactic is amazingly successful at hoodwinking the American public.
Is this really how it works?
Yes, all the steps can be found in this article on Newt Gingrich after accusing Mitt Romney of the tactic, who had this to say
“I probably should have responded faster and more aggressively,’’ Mr. Gingrich told reporters here Sunday. “If somebody spent $3.5 million lying about you, you have some obligation to come back and set the record straight.’’
People are catastrophically bad at recognizing this tactic and responding to it. The standard response is to ignore claims that aren’t true, but those feed into the narrative that there’s something deeply devious.
The premise of the attack in general is a declaration of and entitlement to a well funded, manufactured story that feeds off of what some people would much rather believe anyway, so they do.
The opponent thinks “well those are low hanging fruit, the opponent is obviously and clearly guilty of these misdeeds” but the intellectual echo chamber remains impermeable and soon enough, a majority of Americans believe the fiction because it’s the campaign and perception that matters, never the truth.