Swift returns, with more of the same

After years of self-imposed exile, former acting Governor of Massachusetts Jane Swift has reemerged onto the political scene. This time, rather than spending taxpayer money on babysitters and helicopter rides, she is heading - in all seriousness - the "Palin Truth Squad." This righteous group of fact-finding crusaders has come to the defense of Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, denouncing the nasty, truly despicable sexist slander cast by Obama and his camp.

Swift and Squad took issue with a recent Obama speech where he called out the absurdity of electing Republicans to fix the problems created by...Republicans. "That's not change," the Illinois senator said at a campaign event in a Lebanon, Virginia. "That's just calling something the same thing, something different. But you know you can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig."

And just hours after the remarks, Jane Swift was on a conference call with reporters. A new talking point was born. "Senator Obama...uttered what I can only deem to be disgraceful comments comparing our vice presidential nominee, Governor Palin, to a pig," Swift said. (The accusation was based on a joke Palin made during her RNC speech, saying that "the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull" is lipstick.)

By now, the faux-outrage has been thoroughly discredited. Obama has used the phrase countless times before. McCain even used it to criticize Hillary Clinton's 2007 Healthcare proposal. So like most campaign blather, this "shock" will quickly dissipate.

But Swift is hoping the opposite - a revival of sorts - will result for her career.

She is aligning herself with the newly anointed conservative queen, pointing out the similarities: both Swift and Palin hail from small towns, both were the first female governors of their respective states, and both gave birth while holding office.

The analogy falls short in one key aspect, as Boston Globe reporter Stephanie Ebbert points out. Swift was regarded, by both party and polis, as a failure.

After assuming the governorship (when Gov. Paul Celucci left to become the Ambassador to Canada) in 2001, she was embroiled in scandals, including the aforementioned helicopter rides and babysitting assignments. But while those may have generated headlines, an even more disturbing saga occurred under her watch, one that seriously undermines any moral soapbox on which she currently stands and from which she deigns to criticize.

The case involved the Amiraults, a working-class Malden family that ran the Fells Acre Day School, a childcare facility. In 1986, Violet and Gerald Amirault, and Cheryl LeFave (Gerald's sister) were accused of heinous and sadistic acts against children. From the beginning, it was clear that the case had major holes. It was largely based on testimony from the children, some as young as four years old. And the techniques used to obtain these stories are now widely discredited: coercive questioning, promises of reward for "right" answers, and suggestive use of anatomic dolls. The resulting stories were, by any measure, extreme - one child spoke of being tortured in a magic room by an evil clown. Others were downright bizarre - one depicted scenes of rape with butcher knives (though no wounds were found) and another claimed that 16 children were killed at the center (though no bodies were found).

Though the tales were dubious to say the least, they certainly made headlines. Even before the trial began, the Amiraults were guilty in the court of public opinion. And when the gravel pounded, the Amiraults were convicted of 26 counts of child abuse. Thus they were swept up in a disastrous hysteria of the 1980s in which sensational (and incredible) allegations, ambitious prosecutions, and a penchant for moral purity resulted in convictions based, in many cases, on evidence that had been pounded into the child-victims' heads and then predictably came out of their mouths. Indeed, it was a moral debasing of justice.

Fast-forward to 2000. Gerald Amirault, despite his wrongful conviction, had spent fourteen years as a model prisoner, taking college courses and staying out of trouble. His alleged co-conspirators, Violet and Cheryl, served eight years before being released - despite being charged with the same crimes. (Violet and Cheryl's release, interestingly, was predicated in part on their agreement to adhere to a suspicious condition imposed by the district attorney - that neither, once free, would discuss their case in the electronic media.)

Gerald Amirault's case came before the state parole board, a stern body known for little sympathy - from 1988 to 1997, the board considered 270 petitions for commutation, and granted only seven. Disturbed by the facts of the case, however, the panel led a six-month investigation, one of the longest in its history. In June 2001, the board delivered a unanimous ruling for the commutation of Gerald's sentence.

At the time, all that stood in the way of Gerald Amirault's freedom was Gov. Jane Swift.

Six months after the board's ruling, Gov. Swift spoke. Commutation, an official statement read, was "not warranted." By all accounts, she failed to give an acceptable justification. She continually cited Amirault's refusal to admit guilt, as well as his refusal to seek treatment, as reasons to keep him behind bars. She failed to account for the possibility - a thought that obviously occurred to the hard-nosed parole board - that he wasn't guilty.

Swift's repudiation of the parole board's recommendation that Gerald Amirault be released can be attributed to only two possible reasons: Either Swift did not understand the case despite the fact that the "evidence" against Amirault had been effectively and widely discredited, or she understood that he was innocent but decided to keep him in prison to further her own sinking political career. With the 2002 gubernatorial election looming, justice took a backseat to job retention.

But her calculation failed. With approval ratings in the single digits, she decided to hand over the Republican reigns to Mitt Romney and fade out of the spotlight.

Now, she has reemerged. As she has said, she is certainly qualified to defend Palin and lead the charge against Obama. Furthering her career has clearly come before any quaint notion like "truth" or "justice." Just ask Gerald Amirault.

| More

 Friends' Activity   Popular 
All Blogs
Follow the Phoenix
  • newsletter
  • twitter
  • facebook
  • youtube
  • rss
Latest Comments
Search Blogs
Free For All Archives