Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Swift Armada

James Webb, who served this country as Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration and as a Marine platoon and company commander in Vietnam, has a few stern words for the modern-day Republican Party - and the Bush team itself - that bear repeating. Webb's Op-Ed tracks nicely with my earlier condemnation of the repeated tactic by the Bush team to attack the war records of distinguished veterans when politically expedient. Webb provides useful information, and at least one key observation that I omitted in my prior post (emphasis mine throughout):

It should come as no surprise that an arch-conservative Web site is questioning whether Representative John Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat who has been critical of the war in Iraq, deserved the combat awards he received in Vietnam.

After all, in recent years extremist Republican operatives have inverted a longstanding principle: that our combat veterans be accorded a place of honor in political circles. This trend began with the ugly insinuations leveled at Senator John McCain during the 2000 Republican primaries and continued with the slurs against Senators Max Cleland and John Kerry, and now Mr. Murtha.

Military people past and present have good reason to wonder if the current administration truly values their service beyond its immediate effect on its battlefield of choice. The casting of suspicion and doubt about the actions of veterans who have run against President Bush or opposed his policies has been a constant theme of his career. This pattern of denigrating the service of those with whom they disagree risks cheapening the public's appreciation of what it means to serve, and in the long term may hurt the Republicans themselves.[...]

Now the Cybercast News Service, a supposedly independent organization with deep ties to the Republican Party, has dusted off the Swift Boat Veterans playbook, questioning whether Mr. Murtha deserved his two Purple Hearts. The article also implied that Mr. Murtha did not deserve the Bronze Star he received, and that the combat-distinguishing "V" on it was questionable. It then called on Mr. Murtha to open up his military records.
In my piece, I forgot to mention the shameful treatment that John McCain received. The slandering of McCain is illustrative of the mindset on display: regardless of whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, if you step out of line, or challenge Bush, your entire career, including and especially your war record, is "fair game." How patriotic. Tie me up with yellow ribbons.

During the 2000 primary season, John McCain's life-defining experiences as a prisoner of war in Vietnam were diminished through whispers that he was too scarred by those years to handle the emotional burdens of the presidency.
As Webb notes, Bush and his closest advisors take some care to erect a wall of deniability between themselves and the hatchet men, but a simple scratch of the surface reveals the symbiotic and cooperative relationship that lies, barely concealed, underneath.

Cybercast News Service is run by David Thibault, who formerly worked as the senior producer for "Rising Tide," the televised weekly news magazine produced by the Republican National Committee. One of the authors of the Murtha article was Marc Morano, a long-time writer and producer for Rush Limbaugh.
I know that many commenters on the Right will argue, when necessary, that Limbaugh is a fringe character and, as such, he is not representative of the modern-day GOP. But that is more wishful thinking and useful spin than reality. His radio show is patronized by Republican officials, spokespeople and politicians, he repeats the Republican Party line with amazing discipline and consistency, is listened to by an extremely large audience of Republicans and other right leaning citizens and, ironically, his show is carried by the Armed Forces radio network (adding insult to the injuries received in the line of fire). If Limbaugh is an outlier, then it's time to treat him as such. Cut him off from contact, sever ties and at the very least take him off the taxpayer-funded radiowaves that service our men and women in uniform. You can't have it both ways.

Personally, I don't think that a veteran's war record should ever come under such scurrilous attack, but in the case of Murtha, it seems particularly baseless and reprehensible.

The accusations against Mr. Murtha were very old news, principally coming from defeated political rivals. Aligned against their charges are an official letter from Marine Corps Headquarters written nearly 40 years ago affirming Mr. Murtha's eligibility for his Purple Hearts - "you are entitled to the Purple Heart and a Gold Star in lieu of a second Purple Heart for wounds received in action" - and the strict tradition of the Marine Corps regarding awards. While in other services lower-level commanders have frequently had authority to issue prestigious awards, in the Marines Mr. Murtha's Vietnam Bronze Star would have required the approval of four different awards boards.
I really can't condemn this tactic enough. And you know what, this shouldn't really be a partisan issue. Let me repeat that with emphasis, this should NOT be a partisan issue. In this highly charged and polarized environment, if Republicans and Democrats cannot agree to condemn this scourge of cheap shots and dirty attacks on the people that have so selflessly served our country with such courage, sacrifice and distinction, then I must confess that I think our Republic is in serious trouble. Loyalty to Bush should not interfere with this obvious truth. Further, the only thing that will make Bush and his team refrain from launching future Swift Boat's of Slander is the bi-partisan condemnation of these acts that should be so clearly off-limits.

Just for a moment, close your eyes and imagine if Democratic politicians and pundits, instead of their Republican counterparts, were pursuing these lines of attack with such frequency. Can you imagine all the righteous (and justifiable) outrage that would usher forth from the right side of the aisle? I may be wrong in this, but something tells me that the Democrats would not have been able to get away with it the same way the Republicans have - that such vitriol would not be given the "he said/she said" balanced treatment on CNN and other "liberal" outlets that the Swift Boat folks got. Just an educated guess.

In closing, I want to say thank you Mr. Webb, for your service and clear vision. Oh, and you might want to watch your back. No doubt some GOP vehicle is putting together a dossier of misinformation on you as I type. Such is the state of affairs in the modern-day GOP. But it doesn't have to be this way.

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