A frustrating part of political discourse is the inability of both sides to agree on the facts. The effects of a new tax policy on the economy or the costs of a potential government program are often in dispute. But in the current dust-up about Rush Limbaugh’s so-called “phony soldier” comments, there cannot be a dispute about the facts. There is a transcript.
The transcript shows to whom Rush was referring when the phony solider comment was made. The conversation began with a caller complaining that the media never talks to “real soldiers” to which Rush says “The phony soldiers.” Moments later, he moves on to an example of a phony soldier—“Army Ranger Jesse MacBeth”—who had claimed to witness atrocities committed by American soldiers in Iraq. It turns out Jesse MacBeth wasn’t an Army Ranger at all. As Rush described:
In one gruesome account, translated into Arabic and spread widely across the Internet, Army Ranger Jesse MacBeth describes the horrors this way: "We would burn their bodies. We would hang their bodies from the rafters in the mosque."
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. Jesse MacBeth isn't an Army Ranger, never was. He isn't a corporal, never was. He never won the Purple Heart, and he was never in combat to witness the horrors he claimed to have seen.
Surely it isn’t out of bounds to describe someone who lied about his service a “phony soldier.”
Few people who hear the clip from Rush’s show in the media get to the part about Jesse MacBeth. They only hear the first short exchange between Rush and the caller. The caller says: “No, it's not. And what's really funny is they never talk to real soldiers. They like to pull these soldiers that come up out of the blue and spout to the media.” And Rush responds “The phony soldiers.”
Who is Rush referring to here? Arguably, it isn’t clear. It is clarified later when Rush discusses Jesse MacBeth, but even if you takes this clip in isolation, it is a gigantic leap to assume that Rush is referring to “our men and women in uniform who oppose the war,” as Senator Harry Reid has chosen to assume. The caller wasn’t talking about soldiers who oppose the war and Rush didn’t continue to talk about those who oppose the war, only to those who lie about their military service.
Yet the Democrats have used this exchange in an attempt to manufacture a scandal. Senator Reid is collecting signatures to urge Rush to apologize to the soldiers (for something he did not say). Senator Harkin in a speech on the Senator floor, not only accuse Rush of tarring soldiers in uniform, but assigns Rush the motive of greed: “Now what’s most despicable is that Mr. Limbaugh says these provocative things to make more money. So he castigates our soldiers, this makes more news, more people tune in, he makes more money.” For good measure Senator Harkin speculates that Rush might be “high on his drugs again.”
It is breathtakingly irresponsible behavior for a Senator to attack a private citizen like this on the Senate floor.
If we are in the business of assigning motives, let’s speculate about the Democrats’ motives for smearing to tar Rush. A few weeks ago Moveon.org ran a tasteless ad smearing a military general for “betraying” the country. The leaders of Democrats were uncomfortably silent about this attack on a public servant and soldier. Democrats have also just had the disappointing task of acknowledging that the American war effort is going better than they expected. Their push for an immediate pullout of Iraq has been stalled. Tarring Rush Limbaugh as anti-American soldier helps with both problems: it satisfies their base, who has been disappointed with Congress’s inability to exit Iraq, and gives them an opportunity to say that they support the military in spite of the attacks on General Patraeus.
It’s politics at its worst. The media has taken the Democrats’ bait and are covering this as a controversy, as if there is a question about the validity of the Democrats’ charges. There is no question. The facts are clear.
Certainly someone needs to apologize—but it isn’t Rush Limbaugh.