Sen. Bob Byrd’s outburst Tuesday, criticizing the president’s trip to the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, had the same desperate tone as Tom Daschle’s speech decrying the failure in diplomacy which, he claimed, had brought us to war. Byrd’s remarks were outrageous. Subbing for Ollie North on his radio show on Wednesday, I thought the audience would be interested — maybe Byrd’s remarks would make for a good half-hour of programming. Almost three hours later, some calls actually had to be cut off because we ran out of time. I’m sure Byrd never anticipated that his ravings would provoke such a response, but what he said hit home with a tremendous number of listeners — many of whom were not themselves veterans, soldiers, or members of soldiers’ families.
What Byrd said was intended as a partisan criticism of the president. Fine. That’s both Byrd’s right, and his job. But he went too far when he declared, “It is an affront to the Americans killed or injured in Iraq for the president to exploit the trappings of war for the momentary spectacle of a speech.” Think about that: Byrd was doing precisely what he was falsely accusing the president of doing. He insulted all those who served in Iraq, and especially the honored dead, by invoking them in a crass political attack on the president who had sent them in harm’s way. Caller after caller agreed when I said that, and their outrage only grew as we talked about it. So did mine.
How can it be an insult to our honored dead — to the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who fought — for the president of the United States to go to them, and demonstrate for all the world to see that he is one of them? For that is exactly what he did. Mr. Bush — a former F-102 pilot — put on a flight suit and helmet, sat in the co-pilot’s seat, and flew the S-3B Viking part of the way to the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln. By putting on that flight suit, he became forever a part of the crew of the Lincoln. By riding on the Viking while it made an arrested landing, he became a brother of every naval aviator who has ever caught a tail hook. And by shaking hands with and talking to those troops, he bonded with them in a way they — and he — will never forget. Pardon me, but isn’t that what a leader is supposed to do?
Senator Byrd should apologize to the families of everyone who died fighting for freedom in Iraq. He should go to Bethesda Naval Hospital and Walter Reed Army Medical Center — both an easy drive for limousine liberals like Byrd — and apologize to the wounded lying there. It is not for him to use their courage and admirable service for such base political purposes. The president has already been to those hospitals, paying tribute personally to the soldiers’ service, and handing out Purple Hearts.
What kills Byrd Brain and his pals is that no Dem since JFK — no, not Vichy John Kerry, but the real JFK — could do this without being laughed out of town. Bush can, because he understands the armed forces and respects them. They return the respect, and follow him with pride. If — heaven help us — Kerry or Dean or one of the other Nebulous Nine were to be elected, the troops would be polite, they’d do their duty, but they would suffer a tremendous lack of confidence in their president, because they could never respect him as they do Mr. Bush.
As bad as Byrd’s remarks were, Vichy John’s latest shot was even worse. At the Saturday debate in South Carolina, Kerry began by pillow-fighting with Howard Dean. Dean’s “claim” to national-security experience didn’t draw the giggles it should have, even though every governor has dealt with homeland security since 9/11. Dean wouldn’t be capable of directing a National Guard deployment to protect Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. What he said was nonsensical — but Kerry capped the night. He waited for his closing minute, then delivered the most disgraceful line I have heard in a long while.
Ever the Kennedy wannabe, Kerry paraphrased Bobby Kennedy’s “Don’t ask why, ask why not” speech by asking, “Why can’t America have a strong military that advances our values around the world?” Presumably, then, our troops are out there today fighting and dying for something other than freedom? Doesn’t Kerry’s remark have to mean that America’s dedication to liberty is not well served by the actions of our men in combat?
Kerry is a senator, and senators have a lot of privileges. I’d like to see Mr. Kerry gather up Mr. Byrd and take him on a short trip to the headquarters of the Third Infantry Division, or wherever young Captain Chris Carter is now. I suggest Kerry repeat his statement to Carter, and ask if he agrees. On March 31, commanding a company fighting its way over a bridge into Baghdad, Carter spotted an old woman stuck in a crossfire between his troops and the Iraqis. Carter ordered his Bradley onto the bridge. Then, following on foot, he ran into the line of fire and covered the grunts, who carried the woman to safety. I don’t know what values Sen. Kerry thinks are American values. I define American values by the actions of people like Captain Carter.
— Jed Babbin, an NRO contributor, was a deputy undersecretary of defense in the first Bush administration, and is author of the novel Legacy of Valor. He often appears as a defense commentator on the Fox News Channel and MSNBC.