Comments by conservative radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh that troops who oppose the Iraq war are "phony soldiers" are still stinging more than a week after he made them. The controversy comes only a week after the liberal group Moveon.org ran an ad in The New York Times calling US Army Gen. David H. Petraeus "General Betray Us." That event drew similar criticism, and some observers speculate that liberals are focusing on Mr. Limbaugh now to draw attention away from the ad incident. The continuing fallout has prompted some observers to remark that politicians who have pounced on the comments and the ad are both eager to sound off before the elections and unable to take a firm stance of their own on the war.
The controversy started on the Sept. 26 edition of Limbaugh's radio program, The Rush Limbaugh Show, when he spoke with a caller about antiwar protesters. The caller lamented that, "what's really funny is they [activists] never talk to real soldiers. They pull these soldiers that come up out of the blue and spout to the media." At which point, Limbaugh interjected, "The phony soldiers." The caller agreed, and after finishing that particular discussion, Rush summarized a news item from one of his earlier shows.
They have their celebrities and one of them was Army Ranger Jesse Macbeth. Now, he was a "corporal." I say in quotes. Twenty-three years old. What made Jesse Macbeth a hero to the anti-war crowd wasn't his Purple Heart; it wasn't his being affiliated with post-traumatic stress disorder from tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. No. What made Jesse Macbeth, Army Ranger, a hero to the left was his courage, in their view, off the battlefield, without regard to consequences. He told the world the abuses he had witnessed in Iraq, American soldiers killing unarmed civilians, hundreds of men, women, even children.
Now, recently, Jesse Macbeth, poster boy for the anti-war left, had his day in court. And you know what? He was sentenced to five months in jail and three years probation for falsifying a Department of Veterans Affairs claim and his Army discharge record. He was in the Army. Jesse Macbeth was in the Army, folks, briefly. Forty-four days before he washed out of boot camp.
In response to Limbaugh's initial exchange about "phony soldiers," an anti-Iraq war veterans' group, VoteVets.org, featured an ad where former Army Staff Sgt. Brian McGough showed scars on his head from a roadside bomb. In the ad, Mr. McGough says, "Rush, the shrapnel I took to my head was real. My traumatic brain injury was real. And my belief we are on the wrong course in Iraq is real." In response, Limbaugh compared him to a metaphorical suicide bomber. The Los Angeles Times reports that exchanges like these represent partisan "taunts" that will be exchanged in the upcoming election season.
With the 2008 presidential primary season at a fevered pitch, both sides of the political noise machine are cranking up the volume, looking for opportunities to slam the other side for bad behavior, bad word choice or bad intentions. Schoolyard-style taunts flung by irrepressible partisans are blown up into national debates.
This week, it was the Democrats' turn to wage all-out noisefare after Limbaugh made his "phony soldiers" remark during an exchange with a caller Sept. 26.
"This is why people hate politics in America and why they are so desperate for a change," said former GOP pollster Frank Luntz, a consultant for Fox News Network. "Everyone is looking for the political advantage. Everyone is looking for a story they can use to beat the other guy over the head."
Congress debated drafting a resolution condemning Limbaugh's remarks, as it did last week with Moveon.org's Petraeus ad. In his blog for the Congressional Quarterly, Craig Crawford, a news analyst for NBC, MSNBC, and CNBC, commented that this is what happens when "there is no overwhelming majority to take a firm stand about anything substantial regarding the war in Iraq."
Both sides in the Senate war debate seem to be searching for surrogates to argue about, since neither can muster enough votes for a clear position on George W. Bush's war agenda.
Indeed, many prominent officials have entered the debate. Former 2004 Democratic presidential candidate and former four-star general Wesley Clark has started a petition to remove Limbaugh's show from Armed Forces Radio. In his blog on the Huffington Post, General Clark called on readers to join him in telling "Congress to act swiftly to hold Rush Limbaugh accountable."
It's time to put real pressure on Rush Limbaugh. His show is broadcast on Armed Forces Radio, and this time we are going to go straight to the lifeblood of Rush's show – Congress. Congress has the power to remove Rush Limbaugh from Armed Forces Radio, and it won't be as easy for elected officials to ignore our call.
Tax dollars are used to fund Armed Forces Radio, and that money is not intended for radio show hosts to spout insults at our soldiers. These "phony soldiers" have simply exercised their right to free speech, as Rush Limbaugh does on a daily basis. Simply because a majority of our troops who return from Iraq disagree with Rush on Bush's failed war policy does not give him the right to dishonor their service.
Unlike Rush Limbaugh, members of Congress cannot casually brush off the concerns of citizens. Since Rush won't listen to us, we're going directly to Congress, who can prevent him from disrespecting and censoring the voices of our soldiers.
Some Republicans have come out in favor of Limbaugh, noting his longtime support of the troops. In response to a letter from Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada that was signed by 41 Democratic senators and called on Clear Channel, the broadcasting company that runs Limbaugh's show, to make the radio show host apologize, US Rep. Jack Kingston (R) of Georgia drafted a congressional resolution in favor of the embattled host, reports the Savannah Morning News.
Due to discuss the flap today on Fox News, Kingston said he has prepared and recruited 50 co-sponsors for a House resolution praising Limbaugh.
The resolution lauds the talk show host for his "relentless efforts to build and maintain troop morale through worldwide radio broadcasts and personal visits to conflict regions."
Kingston says he has not decided whether to introduce it but might do so if Democrats push an anti-Limbaugh resolution by US Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo.
For its part, Clear Channel has stood by Limbaugh, reports CNN. In a letter to Senator Reid, Mark Mays, CEO of Clear Channel Communications Inc., commended the radio show host's record of praising "the dedication and valor of our brave men and women in uniform."
"Given Mr. Limbaugh's history of support for our soldiers, it would be unfair for me to assume his statements were intended to personally indict combat soldiers simply because they didn't share his own beliefs regarding the war in Iraq."
A number of commentators and bloggers from both sides of the political divide have criticized Media Matters, the group that first publicized the transcript and attacked Limbaugh for his remarks, for focusing on only part of the transcript and thus misinterpreting the remarks. Dinesh D'Souza, a Rishwain fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, examines the transcript line by line in his AOL News blog.
The next caller, another Mike but this time from Olympia, Washington, informs Rush that as a 14 year active duty army officer he supports Bush. Then he says of the left, "What's really funny is, they never talk to real soldiers. They like to pull these soldiers out that come up out of the blue and talk to the media." Rush responds, "The phony soldiers." The caller adds, "If you talk to a real soldier, they are proud to serve." Now clearly the caller thinks that all real soldiers support the war, and this is clearly untrue. Surveys show high degrees of military support for Bush, especially among those who have served in Iraq, but even if 75 percent of the troops supports Bush, that still means 25 percent do not.
Who was Rush referring to when he made the reference to "phony soldiers"? Did he mean all soldiers who oppose the Iraq war? The context leaves this ambiguous. But later in the show Rush clarified. He gave an example of a phony soldier who reported atrocities in Iraq until it emerged that the fellow was never in Iraq. There have been several other cases of phony information attributed to military sources. The New Republic printed horror stories from Iraq penned by a pseudonymous writer identified as "Scott Thomas." Turns out his full name is "Scott Thomas Beauchamp" and that much of what he said is either exaggerated or fabricated. When Beauchamp's fellow soldiers protested that the events he described simply could not have happened, the New Republic launched its own investigation, still ongoing.