Whatever cretin at MoveOn.org hit on the idea of running a full-page ad in The New York Times describing General Petraeus as "General Betray Us" probably never gave a moment's thought to the implication of that expression. And that tells us something sad about the level to which political debate in this country has sunk.
To portray a decorated war hero and four-star general as willing to betray his country to "cook the books" on behalf of President Bush must have seemed a trivial price to pay to smear someone who was preparing to give Congress a more favorable review of the war in Iraq than American leftists who run MoveOn.org are willing to permit. The words "betray us" happened to rhyme with "Petraeus" -- a felicitous coincidence if there ever was one. (Perhaps we should count ourselves lucky that the general's name isn't "Season," or something else that rhymes with "treason.") The general had no means of retaliating effectively; he could only ignore the attack, and hope that most Americans would dismiss it -- as, happily, they did.
And one mustn't overlook the appalling complicity of The New York Times, which not only accepted the ad, and as a highly literate publication surely cannot plead ignorance of its implication, but cheerfully charged MoveOn.org only $65,000 for running it, instead of the standard rate of $181,000. Both MoveOn.org and the Times knew, or would have known if they had given it a moment's thought, how false and unfair to Gen. Petraeus the ad was. But they calculated, correctly, that rotten eggs of this sort, thrown by the Left at an honorable public figure in the course of a political debate, would not, today, rouse public anger to any effective extent. We are simply too numb to say "Ouch!"
At that, MoveOn.org's ad was simply the most over-the-top of the whole series of attacks on Gen. Petraeus launched by the Democrats, and by leftists in general. When he agreed to return to the United States and testify under oath before Congress to the progress of the war in Iraq, the Democrats in Congress evidently made a command decision not only to attack and discredit him, if possible, but to do so in advance of his testimony. The barrage they thereupon laid down was awesome to behold. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nevada) charged that Gen. Petraeus had a long record of making erroneous statements. Presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton (New York) told him to his face that his views required "a willing suspension of disbelief" -- or, in other words, that he was a liar. The "General Petraeus or General Betray Us?" ad was right in step.
William Rusher is a Distinguished Fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy and author of How to Win Arguments .
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