Last week, President Bush said that he would welcome "an honest debate about Iraq" -- as long as "the tone of this debate is respectful."
Oh, really? Then he should start by denouncing the despicable smear campaign being launched against Jack Murtha.
The attacks, calling into question the military record of a decorated 37-year war veteran, and launched on the eve of Murtha's powerful appearance on "60 Minutes", are a vile, noxious, and blatantly obvious attempt to keep the press and the public from engaging in that "honest debate about Iraq."
They are the lowest form of character assassination -- cranked out by the GOP attack machine with ruthless efficiency (and almost comical predictability). A belly flop into the Beltway sewer that degrades a political culture already so befouled it might seem beyond further degradation. But then we get this effluvium -- and the stench hanging over our democracy becomes unbearable.
Bush must make it clear, immediately and in no uncertain terms, that, as a country, we need zero tolerance for this contemptible attempt to shove the reputation of a man who put his life on the line for his country into the media wood chipper. If Mrs. Alito cried over some of the questions asked of her husband, what should Mrs. Murtha do, slit her wrists?
Denouncing the swift-boating of Murtha would have the additional benefit of being something of a "do over" for the president -- a second bite at the Swift Boat apple. Another chance to finally do the right thing.
During the 2004 campaign, Bush was repeatedly asked if he would denounce the charges being leveled against John Kerry's war record by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. But he refused, dancing around the issue by calling on Kerry to join him in condemning all ads paid for by 527 groups.
From an August 23, 2004 press availability at the Crawford ranch:
Q: Why won't you denounce the charges that your supporters are making against Kerry?
BUSH: I'm denouncing all the stuff being on TV of the 527s. That's what I've said. I said this kind of unregulated soft money is wrong for the process. And I asked Senator Kerry to join me in getting rid of all that kind of soft money, not only on TV, but used for other purposes, as well.
It was the old, "I'm not going to call off my attack dogs in the middle of a campaign unless he calls off his" dodge. The politics of mutually assured personal destruction.
But, with Murtha, there is no presidential campaign going on -- and no one around Murtha is running ads against the president. What's more, Bush has called Murtha "a fine man, a good man, who served his country with honor and distinction as a Marine in Vietnam and as a United states Congressman."
So what's the president's excuse for remaining silent this time?
There is none. He needs to speak up and do the right thing. Now. Anything less will not only be a slap in the face of Murtha but in the face of all combat veterans and their families.
As G Joseph Duran, an active Marine currently serving stateside, put it in a comment on Murray Waas's and Bob Cesca's terrific posts on the smearing of Murtha: "No one, and I mean no one, has the right to impugn our service, or our credentials without expecting a defense. I am defending Mr. Murtha because he did in Vietnam what others would not do... And when I come home, will you be there to slander me too?"
What do you say, Mr. President?