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The term swiftboating (also swift-boating or swift boating) is a pejorative American neologism used to describe an unfair or untrue political attack. The term is derived from the name of the organization "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" (SBVT, later the Swift Vets and POWs for Truth) because of their widely publicized—and later discredited—political smear campaign[1][2][3][4][5] against 2004 U.S. presidential candidate John Kerry.[6][1][7][8] Since the 2004 election, the term has come to commonly refer to a political attack that is dishonest, personal, and unfair.[9][10]


The term "Swift Boat" itself refers to a class of United States Navy vessel used during the Vietnam War. During the 2004 presidential campaign, John Kerry's heroism under fire as a Swift Boat commander in Vietnam was a centerpiece of his campaign.[11] A number of Vietnam veterans who had served on Swift Boats formed a 527 organization called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (later renamed Swift Vets and POWs for Truth or SVPT) with the intent of discrediting his military record and attacking his subsequent antiwar activities as a member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.[9] The group produced a series of television ads and a bestselling book, Unfit for Command.[12] The unsubstantiated charges against Kerry by the SVPT gave rise to the term "swiftboating" as a synonym for "the nastiest of campaign smears",[3] "a slimy political attack",[13] and, for many, "ugly, unprincipled slander".[14][15][16][17][18] As the purpose of a tax-exempt 527 organization is "to focus on the issues" rather than "attack or defend a specific candidate", the SBVT was fined by the Federal Election Commission in 2004 for specifically attacking Kerry instead of focusing on political issues.[19] The Swift Boat Veterans and media pundits objected to this use of the term to define a smear campaign.[19][20]

Later use[edit]

Charges of "swiftboating" were made by supporters of both major candidates in the 2012 presidential election. Republican Party strategists compared attacks by the Obama campaign on Mitt Romney's tenure at Bain Capital to swiftboating: "It's very clear they are trying to re-create and take a page out for the 2004 Bush campaign."[21] The term was also used by a representative of Barack Obama's re-election campaign to describe the documentary film Dishonorable Disclosures and an associated ad campaign released by the Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund on the topic of the death of Osama bin Laden.[22]

The feminist Gloria Steinem has accused Donald Trump of swiftboating his rival Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential race, calling her 'Crooked Hillary', despite his record of much more frequent and severe lying.[23]

Hillary Clinton compared Republicans' statements about Christine Blasey Ford during the Kavanaugh confirmation process to the "swift-boating of John Kerry".[24]

The New York Times reported in 2008 that many Swift Boat veterans, "especially those who had nothing to do with the group that attacked Senator John Kerry's military record in the 2004 election—want their good name back, and the good names of the men not lucky enough to come home alive", expressed regret and dismay that the term "swift boat" has come to represent a political attack and "political chicanery" against a member of a different party.[3]

Conservative objections and use[edit]

The use of this term as a pejorative has resulted in objections from some conservatives who object to the implied criticism of the tactics used by Swift Vets and POWs for Truth.[20]

In 2006, conservative commentator Emmett Tyrrell denounced its repeated negative usage, saying it "is about to join such terms as McCarthyism and McCarthyite" as a "hate term".[25] In a 2006 interview, John O'Neill, spokesman for Swift Vets and POWs for Truth, called the term's usage a "baseless smear against somebody's personal character".[26]

Republican Newt Gingrich, putting his own twist on the neologism at a presidential campaign stop on January 1, 2012, said he felt he was being "Romney-boated" by the barrage of negative ads run against him.[27][28] Fox News Radio host John Gibson has written a book titled How the Left Swiftboated America, in which he defines swiftboating as "the political trick of claiming to expose truth while in fact lying".[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Cogan, Brian; Kelso, Tony (2009). Encyclopedia of Politics, the Media, and Popular Culture. ABC-CLIO. pp. 37, 155, 187, 335. ISBN 978-0-313-34379-7. the group's major claims were eventually uncovered as misleading ... The Swift Boat smear campaign is often identified as being one of the significant factors that contributed to the defeat of Kerry by incumbent George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election
  2. ^ Allen, Michael Joe (2009). Until the last man comes home: POWs, MIAs, and the unending Vietnam War. Univ of North Carolina Press. pp. 294–299. ISBN 978-0-8078-3261-5.
  3. ^ a b c Zernike, Kate (June 30, 2008). "Veterans Long to Reclaim the Name 'Swift Boat'". The New York Times. Retrieved March 27, 2010.
  4. ^ Donaldson, Gary (2009). The making of modern America: the nation from 1945 to the present. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 333. ISBN 978-0-7425-4820-6.
  5. ^ Boehlert, Eric (2006). Lapdogs: How the Press Lay Down for the Bush White House. Simon & Schuster. p. 198. ISBN 0-7432-9916-7.
  6. ^ "University of Pennsylvania National Annenberg Election Survey". PollingReport.com. Retrieved March 30, 2007. conducted August 9–16, 2004
  7. ^ Casey, Leo (Spring 2009). "No redemption song: The Case of Bill Ayers". Dissent. 56 (2). University of Pennsylvania Press: 107–111. doi:10.1353/dss.0.0041. ISSN 0012-3846. S2CID 143605641. In recent elections, the patriotism and good names of Democratic war hero candidates, from John Kerry to Max Cleland, had been impugned so successfully that a neologism for such smears—to 'swift boat'—was coined out of the assault on Kerry.
  8. ^ Thomas, Evan (November 14, 2004). "The Vets Attack". Newsweek. Archived from the original on June 10, 2008. Retrieved February 6, 2013.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  9. ^ a b Bond, Jon; Smith, Kevin (2011). The Promise and Performance of American Democracy. Cengage Learning. p. 206. ISBN 978-0-495-91374-0.
  10. ^ Michael Kinsley (June 12, 2008). "To Swift-Boat or Not". Time.(subscription required)
  11. ^ Michael Dobbs (August 22, 2004). "Swift Boat Accounts Incomplete". The Washington Post.
  12. ^ O'Neill, John; Corsi (August 15, 2004). Unfit for Command. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing. ISBN 0-89526-017-4.
  13. ^ Meckler, Laura (June 30, 2008). "McCain Supporter Defends Swift Boat Attacks". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved February 24, 2012.
  14. ^ Kulik, Gary (2009). "War stories": false atrocity tales, swift boaters, and winter soldiers--what really happened in Vietnam. Potomac Books, Inc. p. 105. ISBN 978-1-59797-304-5.
  15. ^ Elizabeth Bumiller (August 26, 2004). "The 2004 Campaign: Vietnam Record; Lawyer for Bush Quits Over Links to Kerry's Foes". The New York Times. p. A1. a veterans group that has leveled unsubstantiated attacks on Senator John Kerry's Vietnam War record in a book and on the air.
  16. ^ Manjoo, Farhad (March 17, 2008). True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons. pp. 14. ISBN 978-0-470-05010-1.
  17. ^ Michael Getler (July 13, 2007). "Detecting More Than History?". PBS.
  18. ^ "Glossary: US elections". BBC News. Retrieved November 29, 2011. Swift-boating The name given by Democrats ...
  19. ^ a b Smith, Melissa M.; Williams, Glenda C.; Powell, Larry; Copeland, Gary A. (2010). Campaign Finance Reform: The Political Shell Game. Lexington Books. p. 105. ISBN 978-0-7391-4566-1. Retrieved February 17, 2012.
  20. ^ a b Rosen, Mike (October 26, 2006). "Story is none too 'swift'". Rocky Mountain News. Retrieved February 13, 2013.
  21. ^ "GOP strategists: Bain attack ads are this year's Swift Boat campaign". CNN. July 25, 2012. Retrieved August 19, 2012.
  22. ^ Shane, Scott; Kitty Bennett (August 15, 2012). "Ex-Officers Attack Obama Over Leaks on Bin Laden Raid". The New York Times. p. A12. Retrieved August 15, 2012.
  23. ^ Steinem, Gloria (November 7, 2016). "Clinton has been swiftboated by Trump and his acolytes". Financial Times. Retrieved February 24, 2019.
  24. ^ Cummings, William (September 10, 2016). "Hillary Clinton: You 'cannot be civil' with Republicans, Democrats need to be 'tougher'". USA Today.
  25. ^ Tyrrell, R. Emmett Jr. (June 4, 2006). "Swiftboating has become a hate term". CNN. Retrieved March 30, 2007.
  26. ^ Moore, John (November 16, 2006). "Behind the Scenes: Swift Boat Veterans vs. John Kerry". Useful Fools. Retrieved November 14, 2007.
  27. ^ Mike Allen; Jonathan Martin (February 21, 2008). "Rush, right rally to McCain". Politico.
  28. ^ Trip Gabriel (January 1, 2012). "Gingrich Says He's Been 'Romney-Boated'". The Caucus (blog). The New York Times.
  29. ^ Gibson, John (2009). How the Left Swiftboated America: The Liberal Media Conspiracy to Make You Think George Bush was the Worst President in History. HarperCollins. p. vii–viii. ISBN 978-0-06-179289-2.