On Monday, Colorado Representative Mark Udall proposed legislation to officially condemn talk-show host Rush Limbaugh for comments he recently made referring to anti-war veterans as “phony soldiers.” In doing so, Udall escalated a partisan proxy war that has trumped any recent efforts in Washington to pass “actual legislation.” As one might expect, a slew of fellow Democrats and liberal advocacy groups had his back.
Nineteen co-sponsors signed on to Udall’s resolution, which states that “Congress condemns the personal attacks made by the broadcaster Rush Limbaugh impugning the integrity and professionalism of Americans serving the Armed Forces.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid demanded an apology from the controversial conservative, while the left-leaning Political Action Committee (PAC) VoteVets.org made plans to run anti-Limbaugh radio ads within the week. To cap things off, Senator Tom Harkin suggested that Limbaugh’s seemingly off-kilter comments might be due not only to a lack of compassion, but to a much more ignominious reason as well. “Maybe he was high on his drugs,” Harkin quipped, referencing the host’s prior drug addiction to the painkiller OxyContin.
A potent batch of strong anesthesia will undoubtedly be coveted by many if Congress’s newfound fad of issuing public condemnations lasts much longer. A quick and effective way to engage in partisan mudslinging, the emergence of the “condemnation” has allowed Congressional representatives to vociferously attack media pundits and interest groups under the guise of doing their occupational duty of passing legislation.
It was the Republicans who struck first, in late September. In response to its New York Times ad questioning the reliability of General David Petraeus’s upcoming testimony, GOP leaders lambasted liberal PAC MoveOn.org. President Bush described the ad as “disgusting” and denounced Democrats for not immediately condemning it. Other Republicans followed with an orgy of harsh criticism, before eventually drafting a four-page resolution officially condemning the ad. The text of the resolution, drafted by Congressman John Cornyn of Texas, consisted of a three-page summary of Petraeus’s military career, a paragraph describing the ad, and a few sentences re-affirming Congress’s support of the military. The resolution passed 72-25 in the Senate, with many Democrats joining Republicans in unified condemnation. Meanwhile, a Democratic effort to mandate more home time for combat troops stalled six votes short of overriding a potential GOP filibuster.
Happy to now be on the offensive against a conservative talk show host allegedly espousing anti-troop rhetoric, the Democrats will likely clamor for equal billing. However, the addition of another self-serving resolution will do little to breach the partisan divide in Washington. Instead, it will simply provide another smokescreen for Congress to hide its lackluster performance behind.
There is no legitimate reason for elected officials to devote time to quibbling with Rush Limbaugh or MoveOn.org, and despite their self-righteous proclamations of patriotic fervor, deep down many realize how ridiculous these pubic spats are. Democratic Presidential Candidate Barack Obama didn’t vote on Cornyn’s resolution and rightfully called the amendment a “stunt.” “By not casting a vote, I registered my protest against these empty politics,” he told reporters. However, minutes before, he had voted for a similar resolution drafted by Democrat Barbara Boxer, which criticized the MoveOn ad while also denouncing prior attacks on the military service of John Kerry and John Murtha.
It’s likely that the Limbaugh saga will be propped into the limelight through the news-week. Hopefully, it fades soon, and Congress returns to the business of passing legislation, instead of climbing hollow soapboxes in order to generate favorable media. In one of the few signs of rationality, Democratic House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer recently urged his colleagues to restrain themselves from passing resolutions against everything with which they disagree. “I have a zillion resolutions that I could think of pursuing that objective,” he said.
Personally, I can think of only one that’s worthy — condemn the frivolous condemnations, and get back to work!