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
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.