James Werrell

Does Congress have its priorities straight?

God forbid that serious congressional discussions about the war in Iraq might interfere with Congress' efforts to censure MoveOn and Rush Limbaugh.

Never let it be said that our elected representatives don't have their priorities straight. After all, what could be more important than expressing one's outrage at the work of left-wing Internet provocateurs or right-wing talk-radio blowhards?

Then again, could it be that all the politicians who claim to be so nonplused over these scurrilous incidents actually could be trying to divert our attention from more important issues? Hmmm, maybe we've been duped!

The headline on MoveOn's full-page ad that ran in the New York Times was a ham-handed pun: "General Petraeus Or General Betray Us?" The body of the ad accused Petraeus, top U.S. military commander in Iraq, of "cooking the books for the White House" in his testimony before Congress regarding the troop surge in Iraq. The ad went on to say that Petraeus had betrayed the nation's trust by cherry-picking facts and offering misleading data to sell the idea that the surge is working.

That's legitimate criticism. Petraeus has a personal stake in whether the surge succeeds, so we can't take his assessment entirely at face value. Plus, since when are we not allowed to question the judgment of a general?

But the oblique implication that Petraeus, a skilled and devoted military man and one who understands the nature of the Iraq insurgency better than most, is a traitor gave Republicans an opening, and they ran down the field with it. Both the House and Senate passed resolutions condemning the MoveOn ad, with the support of many Democrats.

As for Limbaugh's remarks, it is almost impossible to read the transcript of his Sept. 26 broadcast without concluding that he regards military personnel who oppose the war to be "phony soldiers." Limbaugh claims his remark was "taken out of context," the standard defense for anyone who has made a statement he would like to take back. And that may be enough to persuade loyal listeners.

But this isn't the first time that Limbaugh or, for that matter, the Bush administration and others fervent war supporters have impugned the patriotism of anyone who opposes the war. They even have accused war protesters of aiding and abetting the terrorists and hoping that the United States loses in Iraq. So, it would be no leap for Limbaugh to disparage soldiers who speak out against the war.

It was, in any event, enough to raise the hackles of congressional Democrats. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sent a letter signed by 41 Democrats to Limbaugh's boss, Clear Channel Communication's CEO Mark P. Mays, asking him to "publicly repudiate" Limbaugh's statements and to ask Limbaugh to apologize. Mays said he wouldn't get involved because Limbaugh was just exercising his right to express and opinion (and, though Mays didn't mention it, because Limbaugh is a cash-cow for Clear Channel).

Mays did, however, concede that "if Mr. Limbaugh's intention was to classify any soldier opposed to the war in Iraq as a 'phony soldier,' which he denies, then I, along with most Americans, would be deeply offended by such a statement."

And shouldn't we all.

What is phony is all the impassioned outrage being professed over these incidents. The Republicans scored political points by slamming the "Betray Us" ad, and the Democrats are looking for payback by lambasting Limbaugh. Does anyone not understand that?

These are diversionary tactics to keep voters from rationally analyzing Bush's determination to continue this disastrous war at all costs and the opposition's impotence in doing anything about it. The next election can't come soon enough.