Paul Greenberg

For every action in American politics, there is not just an opposite and equal reaction but an opposite and more than equal over-reaction.

Call it Greenberg's Third Law of Motion, and today's example is on vivid display in the Senate of the United States, where a general officer's more than deserved promotion to vice commander of the U.S. Air Force's space program is being held hostage to political correctness.

The general's name may be familiar to Gentle Reader, as it surely is to all who have kept up with American achievements in space. Because the lady and commander, scholar and explorer, is Susan Helms, who set a record in space flight yet to be equaled:

Gen. Helms (U.S. Air Force Academy, Class of 1980) made headlines as a crewman on four (4) space-shuttle missions and a passenger on two others, including an historic journey to the International Space Station in 2001 that took five and a half months. She'd been there just a couple of days when, along with fellow astronaut Jim Voss, she would conduct the longest space walk in history: 8 hours, 56 minutes to repair a docking device and keep America's leadership in space exploration unchallenged.

Naturally, her reward in the Congress of the United States is to be denied promotion by a single member of the U.S. Senate, one Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri and Political Correctness).

The general's commander-in-chief, a civilian named Barack Obama, had the good judgment to nominate her for this prestigious -- and key -- command back in March of this year. This leader in space, as in the American military, fully deserves the recognition and additional responsibility.

But back on the ground in Washington, where politics has a way of taking precedence over everything else but today's ideological hobbyhorse, the general's promotion has been held up. Literally. Sen. and would-be Gen. McCaskill has put what's called a Permanent Hold on the general's confirmation.

There was a time when, even worse, this kind of personal power play could be kept secret by a senator -- a confession of just how shameful this low tactic can be -- but now at least the guilty party can be identified. And should be.

Why would the Senate of the United States withhold its consent from so clearly warranted a promotion? Because the abuse of women in the U.S. military has become a national scandal and, even though the exact number of rapes and assaults may be debatable, there's no doubt something awful is going on, and that something needs to be done about it.

And so Sen. McCaskill, in the kind of over-reaction that has become common in American politics, does too much. (See third law of motion, above.)

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.