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Posts published in November 2019

Heroes until they cross Trump

johnson

For decades the national Republican Party literally owned the political debate over national security issues. Polls repeatedly indicated that American voters trusted Republicans more to properly handle military and foreign policy.

Republicans ruthlessly — and occasionally shamelessly — exploited this advantage. In his 1976 vice presidential debate with Walter Mondale, Republican Bob Dole infamously referred to “Democrat wars” and then he denied he had said it. “I figured up the other day,” Dole really did say. “If we added up the killed and wounded in Democrat wars in this century, it would be about 1.6 million Americans, enough to fill the city of Detroit.”

The implication was clear, if altogether sleazy: Democrats caused wars and Republicans prevented them. That logic mostly held until George W. Bush invaded Iraq in 2003 on what turned out to be false pretenses. We still have troops there, but they long ago gave up searching for weapons of mass destruction.

Polls now show that Americans are tired of what the president calls “endless wars,” which predicated his slipshod decisions of the last month to abandoned longtime Kurdish allies and create a foreign policy in the Middle East that changes hour-by-hour, based on the latest Twitter messages from the White House.

Republicans once owned the “we support the troops” trope as well, even if they occasionally slimed an opponent with a service record. You could at this point Google “swiftboating” or just remember a U.S. senator from Georgia by the name of Max Cleland.

Cleland was a wheelchair-confined Vietnam veteran who was elected to the Senate in 1996. He lost an arm and both legs at age 25 when another soldier’s hand grenade exploded near him. He was awarded a Bronze Star and a Silver Star and spent much of his Senate career working on veterans and security issues. When Cleland ran for reelection in 2002 his Republican opponent, a nonentity named Saxby Chambliss, broadcast one of the sleaziest attack ads in recent political history.

Cleland, the veteran without legs and missing one arm thanks to his service to the nation, was depicted in the ad along with photos of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. The message: The Democrat was “soft” on national security. John McCain was one of the few Republicans to condemn the slander, calling it “worse than disgraceful. It’s reprehensible.”

Cleland lost.

Still, Republicans continued to claim the mantle of support for veterans, at least until Donald Trump shredded all pretense of trying to uphold that fiction.

It was a remarkable moment this week when a combat veteran of five deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, a career military officer with a master’s degree from Harvard who has also served abroad in three different U.S. embassies and on the staff of the Joint Chiefs, came to Capitol Hill.

By now everyone knows that Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, who at age 3 emigrated from Ukraine with his parents, actually listened to the now infamous telephone call Trump held in July with the president of Ukraine.

Vindman confirmed, according to his written testimony, that Trump sought help from a foreign government to collect dirt on a U.S. citizen and political opponent. Vindman also confirmed what many suspected, the public version of the White House “transcript” of the call was incomplete.

Trump signaled in his very stable genius Twitter account that the military officer assigned to his National Security Council staff, who is the council’s Ukraine expert, was a nonentity who the president had never met, but was nonetheless branded “Never Trump.”

The Trumpian universe of apologists, enablers and sycophants took the cue and within minutes Vindman, who was wounded in Iraq, was trashed as an unworthy immigrant, a man with, as former GOP Congressman Sean Duffy said on CNN, “an affinity for the Ukraine, he speaks Ukrainian, and he came from the country, and he wants to make sure they’re safe and free.”

Or put another way, a guy who has chosen to make his career one of service to the United States, who has a twin brother who is also an Army colonel, who is an expert on that volatile piece of the globe, is somehow because he’s an immigrant a suspect patriot. And because Vindman believes the president acted improperly, he’s suitable to attack.

The reprehensible Laura Ingraham, a Fox News Trump toady of the first order, went even farther and without a scintilla of evidence. “Here we have a U.S. national security official who is advising Ukraine while working inside the Ukraine, apparently against the president’s interest. ... Isn’t that kind of an interesting angle to this story?”

Ingraham’s guest, a lawyer named John Yoo, who will be remembered, if at all, for authoring the memos providing legal justification for George W. Bush’s “enhanced interrogation” methods, suggested Vindman might somehow be involved in “espionage.”

In fairness to Yoo, which is more than he offered a decorated military officer, he later tried to walk back his comments, saying they had been deliberately misconstrued. (Yoo also misspelled the colonel’s name three times in his statement, but then little mistakes are inevitable when you slander on the fly.)

For Trump, the American military is just another prop, convenient for a photo op or to soak up the deference the military affords any president. It’s the individual accomplishment and sacrifice he disparages and the list of people who have served that have received his insults is as long as his own military record is short.

No one in the Idaho congressional delegation — to a man deeply concerned about due process for the president — rose this week to defend a military man slimed in the rightwing echo chamber. And we’ll almost certainly see most Republican officeholders quietly go along with these outrages because that’s what they do in the Age of Trump.

Trump is like many Americans who enjoy the little rituals that indicate we support the troops. We gladly let them board a flight first and maybe even mutter “thank you for your service.” But most of us are as removed from Americans in uniform as Trump is from the bone spurs that kept him from Vietnam.

Trump — and most of his followers — value “the troops” in the abstract; it’s the reality of the principled, ethical Gen. Jim Mattis, or Gen. H.R. McMaster, Sen. John McCain, Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Ambassador William Taylor or Lt. Col. Vindman that they hate.
 

What’s political?

stapiluslogo1

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare must have been surprised when social media giant Facebook rejected 14 of their ads, having to do with health care.

Such a denial sounds ridiculous on its face. But - and to be clear, this is in no way the fault of the department - the case is more complicated than that, and so is the surrounding issue, as the nature of our society and the role politics plays in it makes the situation complicated indeed.

And, in this time of off-season elections coming up and a big and maybe horrendous political season coming up, may point to more serious and deeper problems we need to confront.

The ads are the very model of inoffensive - or at least you’d think they would be - featuring pictures of babies or their families, with the subject matter involving ensuring their health.

More directly, they concern vaccinations; a standard tag line says, “Receiving the full number of recommended childhood vaccine doses helps protect children from vaccine preventable diseases.” The ads, in the form of Facebook posts, advise a visit to the department’s web site on the subject (immunizeidaho.com). There’s nothing unusual or particularly groundbreaking about them.

But, as the Daily Beast website reported last week, “Facebook promised to institute a stricter policy on anti-vaccination misinformation in ads back in February, a policy it expanded sitewide in March. That crackdown, however, appears to be penalizing some legitimate healthcare providers while letting some anti-vaccine conspiracies slide, even as the United States faces its largest outbreak of diseases preventable by vaccines in decades.”

Facebook spiked the ads, seemingly with the point of combatting vaccine misinformation from unreliable sources. Other reputable sources, like the Minnesota Hospital Association, also saw their Facebook ads killed. This, while ads from conspiracy theory sites like vaccineholocaust.com were approved.

The Idaho department figured, reasonably, that it simply got snared in Facebook’s algorithm, and has contacted the organization to get the ads reinstated.

Jump ahead to this month, when Twitter, doubtless watching closely growing criticism about online political advertising and posting practices - allowing for massive quantities of misinformation, especially in the runup to next year’s presidential election - says it is banning political advertising, period.

Which could amount to quite a lot of territory.

In our society, now, almost everything is political. Many people, observing a person walking down the street or checking out at a grocery store, may mentally slap on them a label of pro- or anti-Trump. Politics has always been a part of our lives; now it seems to have infested everything.

An ad about vaccination featuring a picture of a smiling baby? You bet that, these days, can be considered political. Granted that the vaccination debate - as anti-vaxxers continue to stay visible - straddles all sorts of otherwise normal ideological lines. It is a highly sticky political issue.

And so is much else. What vehicle you drive, where you dine - almost everything is political now. Where will the line be drawn when political advertising is banned? How can anyone be sure one side will be advantaged, or damaged, by the way those sides are drawn?

How, among other things, can a public health agency spread word about health problems and solutions?

Happy election season, ending for some cities and issues on Tuesday. The next election season awaits.