It’s sweeps week in Washington. The Democrats are playing shamelessly to their base, as with teary eyes, they flog their two favorite whipping boys: Rush Limbaugh and President Bush.
Of course both parties engage in histrionics, but the Democrats’ recent performance is particularly egregious: They are smearing their opponents and playing the victim. Just as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is right in saying that “neither party holds a patent on patriotism,” he and his colleagues have shown that the Democrats don’t have a monopoly on ethics either.
This political drama opened on Sept. 26, when Limbaugh took a call from a U.S. soldier who decried the media’s coverage of the Iraq war and the “soldiers that come up out of the blue and spout to the media.” Limbaugh interjected, “The phony soldiers,” and the Democrats pounced.
Soon the Democratic chorus was singing on the Senate floor. Reid condemned Limbaugh for “calling our men and women in uniform who oppose the war in Iraq, and I quote, ‘phony soldiers.’” Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) chimed in with “disgusting and an embarrassment,” and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) won for best performance with his line, “Maybe he was just high on his drugs again. I don’t know whether he was or not. If so, he ought to let us know… But that shouldn’t be an excuse.”
The Democrats put on a great show, but they failed to consider the context of Limbaugh’s comment. Limbaugh was referring to Jesse Macbeth, a man who claimed to have killed over 200 people in Iraq but who never made it out of basic training—in short, a phony soldier. When pressed by a caller on Sept. 28 to explain his use of the plural, Limbaugh cited Scott Thomas Beauchamp, whose stories of war crimes by U.S. soldiers were retracted by The New Republic. And regardless of whether Limbaugh employed perfect grammar, a literal reading of the transcript shows he did not call soldiers who oppose the war “phony.”
But that was only the first act in the Democrats’ operetta. Last week, President Bush vetoed a bill to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Plan (SCHIP) by $35 billion over five years. Immediately, the Democrats yanked out the tissues. Reid called President Bush “heartless.” Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) moaned that “all [the President] cares about is war and more war.” And Sen. Edward M. Kennedy ’54-’56 (D-MA) wailed, “the same President who is willing to throw away half a trillion dollars in Iraq is unwilling to spend a small fraction of that amount to bring health care to American children.” The Democrats must have known for months that the President would veto such a large expansion of the program, yet they went ahead with it to score political points.
That’s fine, but now they talk the President up to the heights of Ebenezer Scrooge. Behind the scenes, President Bush has offered his own plan to continue the program with $5 billion over five years, but he opposes the Democrats’ proposal for pumping money into states that are spending their grants on covering mostly adults or, in some cases, families of four making over $80,000 a year—in other words, not poor children. President Bush also has stressed that since he took office, his administration has added 2 million children to SCHIP. In short, the President isn’t against “the children.”
The Democrats aren’t obliged to tell both sides of the story, but what’s maddening is that the Democrats insist they are above the fray. After the Congressional elections, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) proclaimed that the Democrats would reign over the “most honest, most open, and most ethical Congress in history.” Using the Senate floor to slur your political opponents isn’t exactly ethical.
Republicans are aware of their party’s flaws—just look at their disillusion with their presidential candidates. The Democrats, however, can taste victory in 2008, and they don’t mind defaming their opponents to win. What’s galling is that they say they’re better than that. And the saddest part is that people actually believe them.
Brian J. Bolduc ’10, a Crimson editorial editor, lives in Winthrop House.