Mr. Kerry's advisers said they believed that voters would turn against Mr. Bush if they were convinced that he was behind what several described as unethical campaign behavior.
That's an interesting "if," because it means that if Bush is not behind the ads, it suggests a hope of gaining the advantage by creating the impression that there is a connection.
A senior Kerry adviser, Tad Devine, said in an interview that there had been a number of instances over the years in which outside groups had run damaging advertisements against Democrats in races involving Mr. Bush or his father.
"When those connections are made in this campaign and are imputed to this president, it's going to be a very bad thing for the president," Mr. Devine said.
How is this not an open admission of a smear campaign against Bush?
Bill Carrick, a Democratic strategist who is not involved in the presidential race, also said: "It may be voters presume there are two sides in this contest and one side is attacking the other and they blame Bush for the attacks."
So it seems that Kerry's idea for how to deal with this huge Swift Boat Veterans problem is to churn up a swirly mass of impressions and imputations and then hope that he is the one who looks clean in the end. The Kerry people seem to be hoping that people are too dim to understand that a group of Bush supporters could operate independently or conspiracy-minded enough to think they all coordinate behind the scenes in plain violation of the law. There is a separate point Kerry has made that Bush should openly denounce the ads and that his failure to do so signifies a willingness to reap the advantages they bring him. That's the clean point, but it has been made, and it apparently hasn't done well enough, because we now see the campaign boat steering over the border into right-wing-conspiracy land.
But what is the solution for Kerry? I'm sure his people are racking their brains now. But they should have thought this through earlier, back when they were so sure that if the candidate stood up at the convention as a war hero that he would be greeted with candy and flowers. They convinced each other that what they wanted to believe was true, and, as a consequence they never had a plan for how to deal with the attacks that they should have known were there.