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Rip Their Lungs Out
By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | March 13, 2002
In 1988, in a hotel lobby near the New Orleans-hosted Republican National Convention, Tom DeLay gave a press conference to defend the military service record of George Herbert Walker Bush's Vice Presidential pick, J. Danforth Quayle. The press had begun to auger in on the fact that Quayle had apparently used family influence to avoid serving in the Vietnam War, and had instead defended the bucolic splendor of Indiana from being overrun by the Cong as a member of the National Guard.
DeLay did not bring up the awful confusion of those days. He did not speak of fear, nor did he mention loopholes created by influential family connections. Instead, DeLay offered what could go down as perhaps the most novel excuse for draft dodging ever spouted by an American in the entire history of the nation. Mr. Quayle was prevented from military service, claimed DeLay, because of all the minorities who had volunteered ahead of him. All the spots were gone when patriots like Quayle sought to serve, taken by ethnics seeking the excellent pay to be found in a life within the armed services.
The members of the press who assembled to hear this remarkable explanation did not know that Mr. DeLay felt the slings and arrows raining down on Quayle in a most personal way. DeLay came of service age in 1970, but somehow found his way into the bug-killing business instead. The assumption that the communist-killing business had no purchase within him, however, was put to rest in that lobby. DeLay and Quayle wanted to serve, but the Negroes were just too fast for them.
Never mind that the Houston Post claimed in 1988 that Delay avoided enlisting at the urging of his wife, yet another amazing excuse. For guys like Tom, it's always about the minorities at the head of the line.
If this is the first time you have heard this tale, do not castigate yourself for failing to pay attention. You did not know this because you never heard it repeated ad nauseam on a nationally syndicated radio show. You did not know this because no Senator or Congressperson on the Left took to the TV talking head circuit to pound this nail in front of every camera they could find. You did not know this because no syndicated liberal columnist mentioned it on a weekly basis in every newspaper from sea to shining sea.
You did not know this because it was a sword left hanging in its scabbard. If the situation were reversed, and a Democrat had dared uttered such a farcical excuse for an excuse, rest assured that the sword would have been drawn, and would have found meat to cleave. Yet this rhetorical bumper crop given into the hands of Democrats has gone un-reaped for fourteen years, repeated only in the smallest of circles and never given the prime-time airing it deserves.
In this time of darkness and war, there has been much chest-thumping from conservatives regarding the true definition of patriotism. When Senators like Tom Daschle and John Kerry stand upon their constitutional duties and ask where this apparently rudderless war is headed, when they seek a definition of victory, when they wonder why Osama bin Laden has eluded capture, they are dunned as traitors by Republicans who claim to occupy the high moral ground.
John Kerry served in Vietnam. He earned a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, and was three times awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received in battle. His detractors - Trent Lott, Dick Cheney, Dick Armey, George W. Bush, to name a few - avoided service in that conflict through deferments and powerful family contacts. There is ample evidence that Bush himself didn't bother to show up for the final year of his stint guarding the coastline of Texas from Viet Cong invasion. That these men dare impugn the patriotism and honor of a man like John Kerry bends the definition of hypocrisy into bold new shapes.
Do not abuse yourself if some of this information is new to you. Do not let the fact that George W. Bush, Dick Armey, Dick Cheney, Bill Bennett, Pat Buchanan, Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, Phil Gramm, Jack Kemp, Dan Quayle, Trent Lott, Pat Robertson, Ken Starr and George Will all managed to evade military duty, even if many of these men later lambasted Bill Clinton for the same offense. How could you know? These bullets were left mostly unfired in the last ten years of American political debate.
There is a war being fought across what Kerouac called the great bulge of America. Like any war, it requires funding. Such has been provided to ideological conservatives by men like Richard Mellon Scaife, heir to the Mellon Bank fortune. Scaife has spent upwards of $300 million funding right-wing newspapers and think tanks, and was the principal source of funding for those engaged in the jihad against Bill Clinton.
Scaife is motivated by a deep and resounding hatred of all things Left, a hate that bloomed during the upheaval of the 1960's. In many ways, Scaife's influence within conservative circles today is a reminder that the bloody business of that bygone era is not yet finished. Scaife is still fighting the protesters who dogged the Vietnam War. The fact that many of his contemporary conservative avatars dodged service in that conflict is merely an accent in the symphony of hypocrisy which serves as the score to this decades-old battle.
Scaife's politics found purchase within the hearts of those ideological conservatives who conspired to take over the Republican Party in the wake of Goldwater's defeat in 1964. By 1980 they had a champion in Ronald Reagan, and the days of a moderate GOP were done. The conservative world became one where the rainbow only shined in black and white, where anyone not 100% dedicated to any cause that sought to engage Communism, no matter how nefarious, was open to charges of treason.
The fall of the Soviet Union heralded a time of crisis among ideological conservative ranks. There was no longer an Evil Empire, no great enemy abroad to fight tooth and nail. That which defined this cadre had ceased to exist. Knives still drawn, these conservatives sought a new enemy. They found one soon enough. They found the American Left.
It began with the thwarting of Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court, and bloomed into a full-fledged Movement when Clarence Thomas faced a similar challenge. An army of conservatives, funded by men like Scaife, came to the conclusion that fighting fair was no longer an option. They would do whatever was necessary, distort whatever facts they could find, shriek whatever half-truth was available, all the while ignoring the flagrant hypocrisy represented by the yawning chasm between their words and their deeds, to further their political agenda and subvert the standing of any liberal within sight.
Consider the case of Rush Limbaugh, whose conservative radio show went national in 1988. Twice divorced with a reputation for extramarital dalliances, an avoider of church, Limbaugh nevertheless parlayed a career that began in comedy into a truly formidable force in American politics. Limbaugh, another victim of minority crowding in the lines headed for Vietnam, presents himself as the moral voice for the nation. He has lied many times along the way, once claiming that no one was indicted in the Iran-Contra scandal (there were fourteen indictments), and once stating that Congress had failed to support President Bush during the Gulf War (both Houses backed the President in the conflict).
Rush would be foolish if he were not so powerful - millions of people listen to his show daily on 450 different stations - and if weighty officeholders like Newt Gingrich (who, it should be noted, has smoked marijuana, dodged the Vietnam draft, and divorced his wife while she lay sick in bed with cancer) had not stolen pages from his playbook. Rush, Gingrich, and the cavalcade of conservative assassins who pollute the politics of the country do so from no moral high ground, but from a desire to win at any cost.
Gingrich, for example, made a point through his political action committee (GOPAC) to disseminate among the ranks of fellow conservatives an action memo instructing them to associate liberals with words like, "stupid," "corrupt," "anti-family" and "traitor." Someone once said that politics was the art of compromise. In this war, such thoughts were left by the side of the road with the cigarette butts. Scaife, Limbaugh, Gingrich and the rest of the officers in this conservative army have no use for compromise.
Yet here is the rub. This war has been waged against the Left for well over a decade. Concepts such as environmentalism, women's rights, racial equality and even the good use of government in the lives of the people have been denigrated almost unto dust. These ideas have not suffered because they are poor ideas in and of themselves; they have suffered because they are equated with liberals, and are therefore considered cannon fodder in this war. This makes the fight pertinent to the lives of every breathing American, because ideas that would vastly improve this American life are being gutted in a partisan war that has little to do with what is best for the people. It has become all about power, plain and simple.
In this fight, liberals have been woefully inadequate in pressing their side. Perhaps the Left considers itself above such prurient tactics. Perhaps the Left is too interested in an intellectual debate of the facts, and cannot fathom an enemy that uses fact the way a cat uses litter. Simply blaming a corporate/conservative media is not sufficient; it took Limbaugh fourteen years to gain his current standing. He got it because he let the sword find meat, and did not fear the knife fighting required of modern politics. There is a lesson here about media appetites the Left could well learn from.
America suffered a terrible blow on September 11th, one that came after these same conservatives spent eight years cutting the legs out from under a sitting President in a $70 million effort that spent Federal energy better used in other areas. These same conservatives, after gaining power in an election that could be called questionable at best, an election in which they once again stooped to mob action and fact distortion to gain an edge against liberal rivals who did not seem to have the stomach for a fight, would now use the horror of 9/11 to forever exterminate the standing of the American liberal for all time.
Given all that is at stake, the time has come for the American Left to rise up and finally, finally, engage in this war with full and complete commitment. For too long the Left has sought the intellectual high ground, and has left the trenches to those who care little for well-crafted arguments. In ten short years, the Left has lost a generation's worth of ground. It must be taken back.
Never let a man like Tom DeLay get away with the lame excuses he offered for his absence during the Vietnam conflict, for it was proven that he will capitalize on similar actions taken by a Democrat for gain, and be damned to the contradictions. Never let a mouthpiece like Limbaugh pretend to be the voice of morality in America when his lifestyle proves him a hypocrite. Never let a charlatan like George W. Bush speak of patriotism while he pushes a conservative agenda cloaked in the fog of an ill-defined war.
If you have a liberal bone in your body, then you have a dog in this fight. These people, who have spent the last ten years shattering every rule of decency and truth in an effort to gain power for the sake of power itself, and to avenge grudges held since the days of Abbe Hoffman, cannot be trusted to shepherd this country through this time of trial. There is too much at stake for people of such thin moral fiber to be allowed to run unchecked anymore.
Forget what you know of fair play. Leave aside notions of decency. Ignore hypocrisy and scream at the top of your lungs until they burst. The soul of this nation is at stake, the culture war continues unabated, and it is time for the Left to storm the battlements. It is past time. If you are cowed by tall Presidential ratings, you are of no use. If you have no stomach for a dirty fight, you aid the enemy. If you cannot take joy in the sound of a sword striking meat and drawing blood, step aside.
Believe that a liberal government can defend this nation while helping its citizens. Believe that a liberal President can be strong and sound. Believe that liberal policies foster a healthy economy. Believe these things because they are true. Believe that the conservatives who would call such truths lies do so for no other reason than to grasp, maintain and augment their power, for this is true as well.
Let the word go forth in this time and place that there are some things worth fighting for. The Right has known this for years, and has capitalized on it to our common woe. Unless we do the same, we shall indeed earn the title of traitor.
William Rivers Pitt is freelance writer and a regular contributor to t r u t h o u t. You can visit Will at : www.willpitt.com
-- Cherri (email@example.com), March 16, 2002