Politics & Policy

Do This for the Children!

Rushing beyond bitter partisanship.

I spent the better part of Wednesday trying to get Democrats to say something bad about Rush Limbaugh. You’d think this would not be a difficult task — but it proved surprisingly hard.

But first, some back story: As you might recall, there was a bit of back and forth between Republicans and Democrats over which was the most patriotic party. It started when MoveOn published the infamous “General Petraeus Betray Us?” ad in the New York Times. Subsequent revelations about progress in Iraq embarrassed MoveOn for questioning the General’s integrity. A recent Washington Post editorial noted: “It’s looking more and more as though those in and outside of Congress who last month were assailing Gen. Petraeus’s credibility and insisting that there was no letup in Iraq’s bloodshed were — to put it simply — wrong.”

But not satisfied with letting MoveOn discredit itself, Senate Republicans — in a fit of political gamesmanship — quickly passed a symbolic resolution condemning the ad. The resolution passed overwhelmingly but, notably, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton voted against it — likely fearing retribution, as the grassroots MoveOn organization could have a powerful impact in the primaries. Presidential candidate Barack Obama abstained from the vote, supposedly in protest, saying: “This amendment was a stunt designed only to score cheap political points while what we should be doing is focusing on the deadly serious challenge we face in Iraq.”

I think that’s actually a legitimate argument — which is why I don’t understand why Obama then hopped onto the next petty, partisan train to arrive at the station. Still smarting from the shaming of one of the Democrats’ most powerful grassroots movements, the liberal activist group Media Matters for America accused conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh of calling soldiers who protest the Iraq war “phony soldiers.”

Except he didn’t. Any honest person who listens to what Rush actually said realizes that it’s obvious that he was referring to war protesters who falsely claim that they served in the Armed Forces when they didn’t, as in the recently publicized case of Jesse MacBeth.

So now it was the Democrats’ turn to resort to “cheap political points” as opposed to addressing the “deadly serious challenge we face in Iraq.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hastily put together a highly publicized letter condemning Limbaugh for something he didn’t say, co-signed by 40 Democratic senators, including Clinton and Obama. The letter was then sent to Mark Mays, CEO of radio behemoth Clear Channel, which syndicates Limbaugh’s show.

The corporate brass promptly ignored the criticisms, obviously having taken the two minutes necessary to listen to what Rush said, but here’s where it gets interesting.

To capitalize on the media furor over these empty gestures, Reid’s letter was put up for sale on eBay with the proceeds going to charity. And not just any charity, mind you: the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation.

Founded in 1995, the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation gives educational bonds to the children of Marines and federal law-enforcement agents (in the FBI, DEA, Secret Service, etc.) who die while on active duty. The organization has been so successful that currently each child of a Marine or law-enforcement agent who dies receives a $30,000 bond from the organization; $31 million in educational bonds have been distributed during its twelve years in existence. The organization even briefly opened its coffers in 2003 to offer educational bonds to the children of all Coalition forces who died in the invasion of Iraq or Afghanistan. That includes $5.4 million in educational bonds to children of Army soldiers, over $800,000 to the children of soldiers from Great Britain, as well as bonds to soldiers from Poland and Italy.

The foundation has also helped:

‐ 141 children of members of the Army, Navy, or Department of Defense whose parent perished during the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon;

‐Dependents of Navy personnel who died on board the USS Cole;

‐Dependents of U.S. Air Force personnel who were killed at Khobar Towers in 1996;

‐Twelve children who lost a parent in the tragic Space Shuttle Columbia explosion (including the children of an Israeli astronaut — a gesture that prompted a flood of donations to the group from Israel).

Founded in 1995 just weeks before the Oklahoma City bombing, the group found itself immediately springing into action to deal with that catastrophe. The building in Oklahoma City contained the offices of numerous law-enforcement agencies, but the organization hadn’t yet accumulated the financial assets to help victims of the bombing. So the organization reached out to Rush Limbaugh, who publicized the charity on his radio program, raising over $300,000 that was then immediately distributed to the victims. Rush has been involved with the charity ever since, now serving on its board of directors. (Another notable on the board is former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace.)

Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation president Pete Haas insists, though, that the organization is not defined by Limbaugh. “We’re not in politics at all — Rush just happens to be involved,” Haas said. Though he does admit that the eBay sale has generated “some very violent anti-Rush Limbaugh letters.”

But the fact remains that that the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation is rated as one of the best charities in the country. Multimillion-dollar charities that are all-volunteer are almost unheard of. The group works out of volunteers’ homes and in donated office space in New York and has almost zero overhead. “It used to be a beautiful bedroom, now it’s covered in papers,” Haas joked about his spare bedroom.

The group also doesn’t do much in the way of conventional solicitations. They’ve never written a fundraising letter, relying primarily on word of mouth. Almost all money is raised from donated auction items or events such as golf tournaments that are often independently organized. Haas is awed by the generosity. He recently found out a woman is having a toga dance fundraiser for the organization. “I have no idea what that is, but it sounds interesting,” he said.

As of Friday morning, the Limbaugh letter is going for over $2 million. The auction ends today at 1 P.M., during Rush’s show. Previously, Limbaugh issued a public challenge to all of the senators involved to join him in matching the winning bid. “I would like to issue this challenge to Senator Reid and the 41 senators who signed his letter. You say you support the military. You say you’re big, and you think it’s patriotic, and that I was unpatriotic. Well, I would like for each of you, Senator Reid, and the 40 senators who signed, to match whatever the winning bid is. Show us your support for the U.S. military by all 41 of you pro-military people, Democrats in the Senate, match whatever the winning bid is and send that amount to the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation,” he said.

Given the huge bids on the eBay sale, I didn’t suspect that too many of the 41 senators’ offices would have that much cash lying around. But I called all of them to ask anyway. As long as the mood in Washington is a spitting contest over who’s more patriotic, maybe I could get some agreement over Limbaugh’s publicity stunt. Or, failing that, maybe a divisive partisan comment might drive the story back on to the front page, with the goal of further publicizing the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation.

No such luck. I called all 41 senators involved, and I spoke to press secretaries or left messages with 33 Senate offices (I tried repeatedly, and you’d be surprised at how many busy signals you get trying to get ahold of senators.) I told dozens of press secretaries all about the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation and Rush’s challenge. I got only two responses, and of those, only Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado proved himself above the recent pettiness. He issued a terse statement: “The Senator supports their [the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation] work and is pleased to hear that Rush does as well.”

Even when he’s not being misrepresented, Limbaugh is certainly a partisan figure in American culture. But, come on: We can at least all agree that helping out the children of soldiers who lay down their lives in service is something even Rush and Hillary can come together on. If you agree it’s a worthy cause, head on over to the website of the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation. Let’s have real patriotic gestures instead of meaningless ones.

— Mark Hemingway is an NRO staff reporter.

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