Senator John Kerry, at a speech today, made some remarks, the reaction to which typify precisely what is wrong with American politics post-millennium.
Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, spoke to students at Pasadena City College in California on Monday. According to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, the senator took the stage to roaring applause before regaling the crowd with one-liners, Bush barbs and tales of surfing at nearby Mission Beach.
The White House chickenhawk Rapid Response Unit, knowing that Congressional Republicans have nothing to run on, quickly went into overslime mode:
Tony Snow, all puffed and huffed and fluffed, called the remark “an absolute insult”. He believes, as do other Republicans, that he speaks for all troops – all of these non-troops believing that they speak for the troops – how absurd!!! (In a real world).
House Majority Leader John Boner, taking a moment to distance himself from his legal woes, called the remark “disgusting and shameful”.
President Bush derided the remark as “shameful”, and demanded that Kerry apologize. Funny, how Kerry didn’t demand an apology from Bush when the latter flat-out lied about his record, but the rules really are different for Republicans.
Let’s take a look at the statement. Before we do, a general remark. Thanks to Karl Rove’s patented brand of smash-mouth politics, actual words no longer matter in political discourse. All that matters is how someone chooses, for purposes all of their own, to interpret those words. Distortion, in Bushworld, is not only encouraged but required.
So, the words: Kerry said if you make the most of education, if you study hard, do your homework, and make efforts to be smart, you won’t get stuck in Iraq.
A spokesman later said that what Kerry meant to say was, “I can’t overstress the importance of a great education. Do you know where you end up if you don’t study, if you aren’t smart, if you’re intellectually lazy? You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq.”
Strange, how even if he had made the latter comment, the righteous fury would have thundered just as loud, even though the latter comment was unequivocally directed at one person – President Bush – with no combat experience. Kerry, by the way, has combat experience. The Republicans who said that Kerry was calling soldiers “stupid” therefore believe (since they believe Kerrry has an overinflated estimate of his intelligence) that Kerry all of a sudden believes (given what he thought about Vietnam) that he is stupid!! Another example of projecting: Republicans insulting your intelligence by claiming someone else insulted your intelligence.
Kerry wasn’t calling anyone stupid. He simply said (regardless of what he meant to say) was: stay in school and take it seriously. Do your best to earn good grades and to try to learn something. If you don’t MAKE THE EFFORT (notice how he did not say “IF YOU’RE NOT SMART), military recruiters will prey on you, because they prey on those whom they consider to be intellectually vulnerable, and you’ll get stuck in Iraq.
That recruiters do this is a well-known fact. That they permit high school dropouts is as well. That they go to high schools and are allowed to initiate contact with students and to compose a database of the students’ contact information – unless students sign a highly unpublicized “Opt-Out” form is a fact.
So, basically, what he was saying is, take your education and intelligence seriously – because the military sure doesn’t.
But the Republicans, adrift in a sea of pedophilia, commodes, Jack Abramoff and Macaca, don’t see it that way, of course. They live in what Roger Ebert calls “a world of Rambo patriotism” – a world where someone can fancy himself a military man simply because he watches military movies, and a world where someone can beat genuine debate over the head by unquestioningly shouting “Treason!” whenever a critical comment is made about an American institution that Republicans happen to dislike. Note how in such a world, it is not reality, but the perception of reality that counts: As long as I “feel” that I am a soldier, I am one, so no one dare criticize “my” military. The military belongs to no one. Not to a senator, not to a snow job, and certainly not to the Commander-in-Chief. It belongs to all of us.
President Bush, in unsurprising disregard of these facts, countered Kerry’s comment by assuming the role of military man himself, stating that the comment demeans military families, dead soliders, and further stating that people in the military are “plenty smart”. How would he know about their intelligence? He has none when it comes to making military decisions. The man sees our troops as cannon fodder. Perhaps to him, serving as cannon fodder IS a measure of intelligence. More importantly, though, Bush actually has no special insight as to what comments “should” or “do” demean anyone. People who profess to have such insights are too afraid to let the subjects of derogatory comments think for themselves about what the comments mean. After all, if such thinking occurs, well, for a lack of a better word, some people might not get stuck in Iraq. I know – I “shouldn’t have said” that comment. What does that mean? “Shouldn’t have said” according to whom? Many soldiers hated Kerry’s guts in 2004 for no more reason than the fact that his definition of patriotism was at variance with theirs, so whom should he not have directed his remarks at such that one can idly mouth the phrase “he shouldn’t have said that?” If by “shouldn’t have said,” the keyboard commandos mean “shouldn’t have said the comment because it might hurt Democrats’ chances a week from now,” that point may be valid, but moral outrage should not be confused with pre-election jitters – let’s be clear on “why” the comment shouldn’t have been said.
Republicans believe the comment should not be said because they believe patriotism is their exclusive domain. They trashed Kerry’s service while he was in Vietnam, making baseless allegations that he falsified his claims of being wounded. Shouldn’t THEY not have said that? Why isn’t such a comment, by THEIR logic, an “insult” to all military families and dead soldiers? Shouldn’t they REALLY not have said that when the truth came out (for the fourth or fifth time) and the Armed Forces published a statement saying the wounds were in fact inflicted? No, of course not. The double-standard here is breathtaking. Republicans assume that because they TALK about their fantasies of using the military, and because they TALK about how much they love the troops (while treating them and veterans like dirt), that they actually DO care about our Armed Forces. I suppose that’s why we continue to have no plan for Iraq and why we’re losing. Because of all of this love.
While Kerry LITERALLY did not call any soldier stupid (he said that people who don’t care about their minds may get stuck in Iraq; as a logical matter, that comment does not imply that he said if you do care about your mind, you’ll be “stuck in Iraq” – after all, by “stuck in Iraq”, he simply meant someone who, owing to a failure to examine the truth for himself, finds himself in a situation where last-minute revelations of thought are too little, too late) – and did not say that smart people stay out of the military (rather, his implication was that people who made an effort to think do go to Iraq – which is fine – but they are not STUCK there, because they made a deliberate, thinking decision rather than having made a non-thinking non-decision that renders one “stuck” in a pool of mental vacuosness), he did, perhaps inadvertently, hit upon something interesting about the psychology of the military: soldiers are supposed to obey orders without question. Someone who makes no effort to be intelligent will thus, if he follows this directive, obey orders without knowing their purpose. The person won’t appreciate what exactly it is about the chain of command that is so important for the military to function. By contrast, someone who makes the attempt to think will follow the order, but will understand just WHY it is so important to do so. We need people like this in our Armed Forces – as opposed to needing mindless drones who don’t REALLY appreciate what they’re fighting for in that they think the uniform and the mission are one and the same.
I think it’s eminently fair to say that Kerry meant nothing more – and nothing less – than this: please try to think things through in life before you make important decisions – lest those decisions be forced upon you. What on Earth is wrong with saying this?
The answer, of course, is that nothing is wrong with it. But this country has engaged in a centuries-long semantical dance when it comes to the military anyway, so this latest high-dudgeon outrage should come as no surprise. “I support the troops but not the mission,” some say. “I support the troops but not the President,” others say. On some level, both of these statements cannot be internally reconciled. Uttering them, though, makes us feel good – it makes us feel that we care about those sent to be put in harm’s way – and it makes us feel satisfied that we have simutaneously managed to curse those who have put them there. Americans – Republicans especially – have been “having it both ways” like this for decades. They’ve never been called on it. They’ve never been called on their incredible notion that the “military” is a concept that allows them to cry “treason” when someone insults the president, when the President is a Republican, but is somehow a different concept altogether when the President is a Democrat – a concept embodied by nothing more than a handful of individuals serving a meretricious cause. Shouldn’t REPUBLICANS not say these kinds of things? After all, as Bush loves to chant, what kind of message does THIS send to troops? That UNTHINKING (here’s the difference between Democrat and Republican cricitism of the other side as Commander-in-Chief) will be inspirational?
Republicans don’t care about inspiring. They care about using troops as lab rats for pet military projects. If those lab rats need the best equipment and the best protection from injury to serve their purpose, that’s unfortunate, they believe, deep down. (and some, not so deeply). I cannot imagine a greater way of calling troops stupid than by treating them in this fashion – by bopping them over the head with slogans like “stay the course,” by implementing backdoor drafts of reservists, by stretching the National Guard beyond its breaking point, by, in violation of law, calling people up for sixth, seventh, and eighth tours of duty.
These actions explain why Kerry’s comment had to be “swatted down,” swiftly and with as much Faux (and Fox) outrage as possible.
In a movie I once saw, a little boy was sitting next to his grandmother, who hands him a piece of chocolate. The boy, reminded of the fact that his stern, hypocritical mother doesn’t want him to have chocolate (for no good reason) tells the grandmother, “Sorry, but mom says I’m not supposed to” The grandmother offers a polite but firm smile, as she gently intones, “You shouldn’t worry so much about not supposed to”.
In other words, would it kill people, just for once, instead of fixating on whether “someone shouldn’t have said something”, actually focus on the substance of the comment, and whether it makes sense? Rove doesn’t want you to do the latter; it’s not just the troops that Republicans think are idiots. Rambo patriotism strikes again, and the Republican slime machine claims another victim and stifles another legitimate point of discussion.
If these people were one-millionth a degree concerned with winning this war as they are with spinning it, who knows where we would be now? I know – the answer doesn’t matter. I “shouldn’t have asked the question”.
Sen. John Kerry got into a verbal sparring match today with the White House and fellow Sen. John McCain over remarks they called an insult to U.S. troops in Iraq and Kerry called a misinterpretation of a “bad joke” about the president’s leadership.
At issue was a comment the Massachusetts Democrat made Monday before a young crowd at Pasadena City College in California in which Kerry joked about the need to get a good education.
“If you make an effort to be smart, you can do well,” he said. “If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”
By this evening, the comment had been called “shameful” by President Bush.
The political slugfest began early in the day, though, when White House spokesman Tony Snow called Kerry’s comment “an absolute insult.”
“Sen. Kerry not only owes an apology to those who are serving, but also to the families of those who’ve given their lives in this,” Snow said.
McCain, R-Ariz., also said in a statement that Kerry “owes an apology to the many thousands of Americans serving in Iraq, who answered their country’s call because they are patriots and not because of any deficiencies in their education.”
Kerry responded first with a statement e-mailed to reporters. Referring to Snow, he said “I’m not going to be lectured by a stuffed suit White House mouthpiece standing behind a podium.”
In an afternoon meeting with reporters, a clearly agitated Kerry said his remarks at Pasadena meant that if people such as President Bush aren’t well-educated, they could find themselves making bad decisions, like going into Iraq.
Kerry charged that the Republicans knew what he meant and were trying to distort his statement.
“If anyone thinks a veteran would criticize the more than 140,000 heroes serving in Iraq and not the president who got us stuck there, they’re crazy,” Kerry said.
Kerry, a Vietnam veteran, also made a clear reference to the “swift boat” attacks on his military record during the 2004 presidential campaign to which he has acknowledged he was slow to respond.
“This is the classic GOP playbook,” he said. “I’m sick and tired of these despicable Republican attacks that always seem to come from those who never can be found to serve in war, but love to attack those who did.”
About two hours later, President Bush weighed in.
At a dinner-hour campaign rally in Georgia, Bush said “the senator’s suggestion that the men and women of our military are somehow uneducated is insulting and it is shameful. … The members of the United States military are plenty smart and they are plenty brave and the senator from Massachusetts owes them an apology.”
The controversy came one week before the midterm elections in which the Iraq war is a major issue for voters.
Also calling on Kerry to apologize: House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, who described the senator’s remarks as “disrespectful and insulting to the men and women serving in our military;” and Paul Morin, national commander of The American Legion, who said he is “outraged.”
For its part, the Kerry camp released a statement from Vietnam veteran and former Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., saying that “John Kerry should apologize to no one for his criticism of the president and his broken policy in Iraq. George Bush is the one who owes our troops an apology. This is text book Republican campaign tactics.”