Politics & Policy

No Time For Cheap Tricks

Remember the frontlines.

Last November, as John Kerry conceded and President Bush declared his second presidential victory–both graciously and in a spirit of unity (to the extent that is possible after two years of contentious campaigning)–Michael Moore did what a sore loser does: he displayed a collage of dead soldiers on his website, their faces collectively forming an image of President Bush.

#ad#Each election season typically includes its own share of ugliness, yet such low blows sting all the more during wartime, particularly when U.S. troops become a sparring point.

Moore’s collage sadly represents what he does best: He peddles images that make his political points, inconvenient realities be damned. He’s unconcerned with fair debates over why we’re deployed where we are: The mythology of his election season movie, Fahrenheit 9/11 has been well chronicled.

Thankfully, Byron York’s new book The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy has just put what should be the last nail in Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 coffin. In it, my NR colleague explains that the movie didn’t even do as well as Moore claimed it did: “Every single state that Bush won in 2000, it was the number-one film in it,” was the grandstander’s contention. Think again. Try: It did very well in blue states and in Canada–in other words, the performance one might have expected from an antiwar movie, the hopes of the Democratic National Committee to the contrary.

But factual handicaps–both in the movie and about the movie–are not what’s infuriating about Moore and his “Slacker Uprising.” It’s his disservice to the American serviceman–and juvenile disrespect for the commander in chief who leads them. (His shrillness is all the more frustrating because he does seem to be in part motivated by a respect for the troops–raising money for them and their families on his Web site, for instance.)

Perhaps I should be grateful to Moore. At least he is not peddling “Kill Bush” t-shirts, as some of his fellow travelers have been. He’s not even throwing pies, as some conservative pundits have recently gotten a taste of.

Don’t get me wrong, there should be plenty of room in an open society for debate. Even supporters of the president, or of the war effort in Iraq, specifically, will disagree here and there with him, as will members of his administration. But we have to be vigilant not to do so at the expense of our troops. Their efforts have not been in vain–as many an Iraqi who voted this past January in the first real election of their lives will tell you.

I was reminded of Moore’s disgraceful collage as I watched the heartbroken pride on the face of 11-year-old David Smith. He was at the White House on April 4, with his mother and sister, receiving the Medal of Honor from President Bush on behalf of his dad, Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith. The ceremony was held two years to the date of Sgt. Smith’s death. He was killed in action at Baghdad International Airport on April 4, 2003. The president credited him with saving the lives of 100 American soldiers that day.

Paul Ray Smith’s story is also a reminder of all the other members of our volunteer Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines whose names we all do not know. Those, like Smith, who do not return home. And those who come back broken–in one way or many others.

Country singer Wynonna Judd recently talked about her work with the USO. Of her visits to Washington-area Bethesda National Naval Medical Center and the Walter Reed Army Medical Center where wounded troops go for care and rehab–places where the sight of young men missing multiple limbs is commonplace–Judd said, “I walk out of there prouder every single time, prouder to be an American. You all have made me want to be a better citizen.”

That’s what we are called to be and what the men and women of our military inspire us to be. We can’t all pick up arms and fight those who want to do us harm or give physical aid to freedom lovers abroad, but we can support our troops, and, at the very least, with our words and deeds avoid dissing their service. Some give their lives; some give their youth; some give up any sense of normalcy in their lives, forevermore. And we owe them–even if you believe something different should be done.

In other words, it’s a time to put our best front-page website forward, not our worst.

And whatever our individual positions on going into Iraq in the first place (or Afghanistan, for that matter), this is no time for carelessness. Debate how long we should stay in, how many troops should remain, how long rotations should be, etc. But, keep it real.

“The toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad will be recorded, alongside the fall of the Berlin Wall, as one of the great moments in the history of liberty,” the U.S. commander-in-chief said during an April speech at Fort Hood in Texas. Folks disagreed vociferously with Ronald Reagan’s Cold War policies that helped bring down the Soviet Empire–even about the extent of the Evil Empire’s threat–but history is what it is. And our armed forces deserve the credit while their wounds are still raw and while their children still can remember the sound of their voices.

(c) 2005, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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