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Paul Begala

Paul Begala

Posted: September 20, 2007 01:18 PM

Democrats Should Attack Bush, Not MoveOn


Before a single Democrat condemns MoveOn's ad, they should insist that George W. Bush and the Republican Party repudiate the anti-military smears on war heroes that have been the hallmark of Mr. Bush's political career.

Too many Democrats still think Mr. Bush's presidency is on the level. Let's be clear. Mr. Bush is not leading a serious, sober discussion about public discourse during a war. He wants to divide progressives and score political points. We should not let him. Throughout his career he's been willing to tolerate and benefit from vicious lies about military men. We should not concede that he is legitimately angry now.

Mr. Bush is, as he likes to say, a loving guy. But by golly the MoveOn.org ad criticizing Gen. David Petraeus has him madder than Larry Craig in a pay toilet.

When a "reporter" asked him a loaded question about the MoveOn ad (not mentioning, for example, that Petraeus wrote an op-ed in support of the Bush Iraq policy a few weeks before the 2004 election), Bush swung for the fences. But then again, he's always been pretty good at T-Ball - and this was definitely teed up for him.

He slammed MoveOn, repeating language he used Wednesday in a meeting with right-wing columnists, saying that criticizing Petraeus is tantamount to attacking the entire US military, and expressing astonishment that leading Democrats have not attacked MoveOn as courageously as Bush has.

Before Democrats fall all over themselves to agree with a president whose trust and honesty rating from the American people is even lower than his IQ, let's look at the real record of Bush's cowardice when it comes to speaking out against attacks on military heroes:

  • In the 2000 South Carolina primary, George W. Bush stood next to a man described as a "fringe" figure - a man who had attacked Bush's own father - at a Bush rally. With Bush applauding him, the man said John McCain "abandoned" veterans. McCain, who was tortured in a North Vietnamese POW camp, was incensed. Five U.S. Senators who fought in Vietnam, including Democrats John Kerry, Max Cleland and Bob Kerrey, condemned the attack and called on Bush to repudiate it. When pressed on it at a debate hosted by CNN's Larry King, Bush meekly muttered that he shouldn't be held responsible for what others say. Even when he's standing next to them at a Bush rally.
  • In the 2002 campaign, draft dodger Saxby Chambliss ran an ad with pictures of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, then said Sen. Max Cleland lacked courage. Max Cleland left three limbs in Vietnam as an Army captain. Mr. Bush's political aide, Karl Rove, later refused to disavow the ad, saying, "President Bush and the White House don't write the ads for Senate candidates."
  • Also in the 2002 campaign, the PAC for the Family Research Council, a close Bush ally, ran an ad in South Dakota that pictured Sen. Tom Daschle and Saddam Hussein. "What do Saddam Hussein and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle have in common?" the ad asked. Apparently, they both opposed drilling in the Arctic wilderness. First, I had no idea that supporting drilling in the wilderness is a family values issue. Second, I have seen no reporting on the late Iraqi dictator's position on Alaska drilling. But I do know Tom Daschle is an Air Force veteran. Mr. Bush never disavowed the smear.
  • But perhaps the worst was what was done to John Kerry. Kerry earned five major medals in combat: the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts. And yet supporters of Bush and Cheney decided to smear his war record. The despicable, dishonest Swift Boat attacks alleged that Kerry fabricated reports that earned him the Bronze Star. The Swifties also suggested that Kerry's wounds were insignificant - and that one was even self-inflicted. Kerry's wounds were certainly more serious than Mr. Bush's, who suffered a cut on his finger from popping a beer can while avoiding his duty in the Alabama National Guard. At the 2000 GOP convention, rich, white Republicans were photographed gleefully putting Band-Aids with purple hearts on their chubby cheeks. Mr. Bush refused to condemn the attack - blandly noting he didn't like 527 groups generally - and later nominated one of the men who financed the smear to be Ambassador to Belgium.

Mr. Bush is a coward and a bully. He knows he'll never be the kind of hero his father was. He knows he lacks the heroism of John Kerry or Max Cleland, so he overcompensates with bluster and bravado. In fact, he told bloggers recently that he wishes he were fighting in Iraq. The Washington Post's Dan Froomkin reported that Bush told a blogger in Iraq that he'd like to be carrying a 50-pound pack and an M-16, but, "One, I'm too old to be out there. And, two, they'd notice me."

So Mr. Bush is too old to fight in Iraq, and he was too rich and well-connected to fight in Vietnam. But he's itchin' for a fight with a progressive interest group. Does anyone believe he'd have the same outrage if a right-wing group were attacking war heroes? Of course not.