A Swift Boat Too Far

Former Reagan-era Secretary of the Navy James Webb slaps the Bush administration and its surrogates:

IT should come as no surprise that an arch-conservative Web site is questioning whether Representative John Murtha, the Pennsylvania Democrat who has been critical of the war in Iraq, deserved the combat awards he received in Vietnam.

After all, in recent years extremist Republican operatives have inverted a longstanding principle: that our combat veterans be accorded a place of honor in political circles. This trend began with the ugly insinuations leveled at Senator John McCain during the 2000 Republican primaries and continued with the slurs against Senators Max Cleland and John Kerry, and now Mr. Murtha.

Military people past and present have good reason to wonder if the current administration truly values their service beyond its immediate effect on its battlefield of choice. The casting of suspicion and doubt about the actions of veterans who have run against President Bush or opposed his policies has been a constant theme of his career. This pattern of denigrating the service of those with whom they disagree risks cheapening the public’s appreciation of what it means to serve, and in the long term may hurt the Republicans themselves.

Not unlike the Clinton “triangulation” strategy, the approach has been to attack an opponent’s greatest perceived strength in order to diminish his overall credibility. To no one’s surprise, surrogates carry out the attacks, leaving President Bush and other Republican leaders to benefit from the results while publicly distancing themselves from the actual remarks.

…and you have to love this part:

The political tactic of playing up the soldiers on the battlefield while tearing down the reputations of veterans who oppose them could eventually cost the Republicans dearly. It may be one reason that a preponderance of the Iraq war veterans who thus far have decided to run for office are doing so as Democrats.

A young American now serving in Iraq might rightly wonder whether his or her service will be deliberately misconstrued 20 years from now, in the next rendition of politically motivated spinmeisters who never had the courage to step forward and put their own lives on the line.

The Corner goes into cover-your-ass mode:

Mac, I recoiled when that congresswoman called Murtha a coward and don’t disagree with Webb. But one thing: Webb writes, “The political tactic of playing up the soldiers on the battlefield while tearing down the reputations of veterans who oppose them could eventually cost the Republicans dearly.” Is that an actual strategy out there? As I recall the White House tried to shut the Swift Vets down.

of course, Mackubin can’t break the habit, even when he tries:

RE: RE: PURPLE HEARTBREAKERS [Mackubin Thomas Owens]
This is a matter of perception. I don’t think the White house is behind this in any way, but it needs to publicly distance itself from Thibault and others who take this tack. When stuff like this happens, there’s always the danger that the public will perceive it as an example of “will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?”

I see signs of disaffection among military supporters of the president because of seemingly minor things like this. I remember cringing during the Republican convention when delegates were sporting the “purple heart band aids.” No matter that it was designed to mock Kerry’s alleged minor wounds, people who had received the award didn’t think. It conveyed the impression that people who were running this show didn’t understand that soldiers might believe they were mocking them. (my emphasis)

As opposed to mocking a war hero…because that’s different.

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Yeah. Like I would tell you....