Faux Outrage

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American History, Bush Administration, Congress, conservatism

Regarding all the weeping and wailing from the Right over recent comments by Rep. Pete Stark, I agree with Digby that their outrage seems a tad calculated.

Are these macho tough guys really offended that some congressman made these comments in a debate? Are their feelings hurt on behalf of the president? Does CNN really believe that’s what’s going on? Does anyone think that what Pete Stark said on the floor yesterday truly upset the Republicans? Of course not. These are the same people who spent month after month calling president Clinton a rapist and worse, for crying out loud. They are not shrinking violets who believe that there are limits to acceptable rhetoric about the president. They don’t believe there are limits to any rhetoric.

Everyone knows exactly why the Republicans sent out “statement after statement” about this obscure congressman’s words yesterday — distraction. Does anyone point that out? No. In fact, the damned Democrats go right along with this nonsense and “hold meetings” and leak to the press about how they agree with the Republicans agreeing that Stark caused the distraction, and basically showing themselves to be a bunch of pathetic fumblers falling for this nonsense over and over again.

For the record, here’s what Congressman Stark said:

“I’m just amazed that the Republicans are worried that we can’t pay for insuring an additional 10 million children. They sure don’t care about finding $200 billion to fight the illegal War in Iraq.

“Where are you going to get that money? You’re going to tell us lies like you’re telling us today? Is that how you’re going to fund the war? You don’t have money to fund the war or children.

“But you’re going to spend it to blow up innocent people if we can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the President’s amusement.

“This bill would provide health care for 10 million children and unlike the President’s own kids, these children can’t see a doctor or receive necessary care.

“Six million are insured through the Children’s Health Insurance Program and they’ll do better in school and in life.

“In California, the President’s veto will cause the legislature to draw up emergency regulations to cut some 800,000 children off the rolls in California and create a waiting list. I hope my California Republican colleagues will understand that if they don’t vote to override this veto, they are destroying health care for many of our children in California.

“In his previous job as an actor, our Governor used to play make believe and blow things up. Well, the President and Republicans in Congress are playing make believe today with children’s lives.

“They claim we can’t afford health care and say the bill will socialize Medicine. Tell that to Orrin Hatch, Chuck Grassley, and Ted Stevens, those socialists on the other side of this Capitol! The truth is that the Children’s Health Insurance Program enables states to cover children primarily through private health care plans.

“President Bush’s statements about children’s health shouldn’t be taken any more seriously than his lies about the War in Iraq. The truth is that that Bush just likes to blow things up – in Iraq, in the United States, and in Congress.

“I urge my colleagues to vote to override his veto. America’s children need and deserve health care despite the President’s desire to deny it to them.”

Here’s the video:

[Update: From the “lies and the lying liars who tell them” department — rightie blog Gateway Pundit accuses Crooks and Liars of misquoting Stark. But Gateway Pundit lies. C&L quoted Stark accurately. What Gateway Pundit quotes as the “accurate” statement is a different part of the same statement. Gateway Pundit also called Stark’s statement “anti-military,” and I believe that is a lie; I don’t see anything anti-military about it.]

Is that really so outrageous? Maybe the line about “kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the President’s amusement” was hyperbole, if only because Bush might have noticed that soldiers are getting tougher to replace. But the rest of it seems fairly mild. I know I could have come up with something a lot harsher.

The double standard about what one can say about a President has been going on for a long time. I was a teenager during the LBJ years, and I doubt any president ever got slammed harder than Johnson did. And that was by the press, the public, and other politicians across the board. I can’t say he didn’t deserve it. Maybe I missed it, but I don’t remember that anyone complained much that a president ought to be treated with more decorum, if only out of respect for the office.

But that changed during the Nixon years. Television reports of criticism of Nixon frequently were “balanced” by expressions of outrage that anyone would say such things about a President of the United States. No end of sweet-faced matrons, tears in their eyes and quivers on their lips, expressed shock that anyone would talk about a President so. Burly men with VFW caps pounded tables and thundered, they’re saying these things about the President, as if public criticism of a President were somehow beyond the pale of civilized conduct. Never mind that most of “these things” turned out to be true, and never mind that Johnson was treated, IMO, much worse than Nixon was, at least by the standards of Nixon’s first term. The Watergate scandal did let the dogs loose, so to speak.

President Ford was ridiculed frequently, and my impression is that the Right didn’t exactly have his back. True righties didn’t care for Ford, possibly because they truly despised his Vice President, Nelson Rockefeller. President Carter also was ridiculed mercilessly through his presidency.

But after Saint Ronald was elected, suddenly conservatives became very protective of the dignity of the office. And the White House press corps of the Reagan Administration was a muzzled and castrated thing compared to that of the Johnson years. Something had changed.

And as soon as Bill Clinton was elected, it was open season on Presidents again.

There’s no doubt in my mind that this shifting of of standards is being orchestrated from the top of the rightie power pyramid. But I don’t think rank-and-file righties are capable of seeing the double standard as a double standard. In their minds, the only legitimate presidents are the conservative ones, and the rest are interlopers, never mind that they were elected.

But that takes us to another question, and let’s keep it hypothetical. Let’s say frank, harsh criticism of a head of state is unacceptable and cause for public censure, unless the head of state is a tyrant. We tend to think that people who stand up to a tyrant are being courageous and heroic. Where is the line drawn? A remark that seems unfair to the head of state’s supporters might seem perfectly fair to lots of other people. At what point does the needle flip from “not OK” to “OK”?

I say it’s not always clear, particularly in the case of an up-and-coming tyrant who hasn’t yet gained full dictatorial powers. Early in their political careers even the great tyrants of history — Mao, Hitler, Stalin — didn’t seem that bad to everyone.

My questions:

Are people supposed to keep their mouths shut until after freedom of speech has been lost?

If people are intimidated by societal pressure from speaking frankly about a moderate, democratic leader, how will they find the courage to speak out when the real tyrant shows up?

Every president is slammed by some part of the public, including members of Congress who are, after all, representing the people. I don’t agree that Congress critters have to hold their tongues out of some sense of beltway propriety. They’re supposed to be speaking for us. If our representatives can’t speak frankly, who will?

If the criticism is genuinely off the wall, it’s fair to criticize it back. If someone makes false accusations about a President, by all means speak up loudly and set the record straight. Let the court of public opinion judge the matter. But let’s stop playing games about what commentary is appropriate or disrespectful of the office. I say that if a citizen, politician or otherwise, is thinking something, he shouldn’t be afraid to say it.

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13 Comments

  1. Bonnie  •  Oct 20, 2007 @2:41 pm

    The people complainng about Stark’s comments are the same people who tried to convince the public that Bill and Hillary murdered Vince Foster. I think Stark’s comments were too close to the truth for most people, which why they are upset. W doesn’t care about the men and women he has sent in harm’s way; and, I think he demonstrates that on a daily basis. He is a very callous and uncaring man. If there is a democratic Senator who is going to put the callousness and sociopath of this President in words, more power to him. No retraction is necessary. No one retracted the lies about Vince Foster; and some people still bringing them up when writing about Hillary’s campaign, which shows that protectors of the callous President have their own callousness and uncaring attitude towards people who are not like them. Just like the way they smeared the Frosts. You know the old expression of people who live in glass houses . . . The rightwingers and the President live in glasses and constantly throw stones at other people. They need to continue to get a taste of their own medicine and have a few of the glass houses broken down.

  2. Doug Hughes  •  Oct 20, 2007 @5:05 pm

    Democratic Talking Point: Well are we talking about WHAT he said or HOW he said it? Senator Stark pointed out we can’t afford the war, and it is perhaps not looked at enough – by the media – that the president wants tax cuts for the most wealthy to be permanent while we finance this war by borrowing from China. Those are the facts that Senator Stark was alludiing to when he questioned the priorities of sending GIs to their deaths in a civil war that has nothing to do with and is actually diverting our resources and attention from – the war on terrorism. I don’t think I would have used the work ‘amusement’, but that’s just me. Overall, I stand behind what the Senator from California said with such passion.

  3. jayskew  •  Oct 20, 2007 @5:11 pm

    Why not just say that Stark was right, and as for criticising the president, let me quote a famous Republican:

    “The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else.”

    –Theodore Roosevelt, “Roosevelt in the Kansas City Star”, 149 May 7, 1918
    http://www.theodoreroosevelt.org/life/quotes.htm

  4. erinyes  •  Oct 20, 2007 @5:34 pm

    As I heard on Hardball last night, what citizens are saying in private or thinking are far beyond what the congressman said.
    The man was passionate and spoke the truth.

  5. felicity  •  Oct 20, 2007 @6:23 pm

    Where are you Lenny? Couldn’t you just resurrect for just a bit and “peel back the veneer of hypocrisy and deception, stick pins in pompous windbags, puncture inflated egos…(protect us) from bigots and fakers, potential Caesars and misguided do-gooders?” Bill Mauldin, cartoonist and satirist extrodinaire.

    So, isn’t this president the one who after invading a country under false pretenses made a mockery of the Oval office as he ran around smirking and joking about it not containing any weapons of mass destruction? Nevermind that he did it while thousands of men, women and children were being killed and mutilated in the name of weapons of mass destruction. And we’re supposed to respect this guy?

  6. c u n d gulag  •  Oct 20, 2007 @6:23 pm

    Doug Hughes,
    Love ya, babe! But he’s a Congressman, not a Senator. I agree with what you wrote, though.

    Republicans, who attack with vigor, have a hissy-fit everytime someone hits back: “Stick’s and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt… What? WHAT did YOU just say!?! HOW DARE YOU?! OUR Commander-in-Chief!?!?!?”

    Can’t someone get Shrub a BJ so our national nightmare can all end? Hell, I’ll even volunteer to do it – and I’m a straight male. Sacrifice for my country and all that, you know…

    Nah, never mind. They’ll keep him in office no matter what. They’ll say he needed a release. They’ll call it a Patriot Job. Or a Clean Brief’s Act. They’ll say he had a wide stance in his dream and was the victim of nocturnal submissions…

    They wouldn’t get rid of Shrub if they found him in bed with a live girl, a dead boy, The Flying Wallenda’s, a marsupial, Hugo Chavez, Mark Foley, Barbara Bush, nipple clamp’s, a fetus, and a cattle prod.

    You go, Congressman Stark. Keep speaking truth to glower (intended)! Keep the pressure on them. Hit ’em back!

    Hey Harry and Nancy, who taught you to play politic’s? Mother Teresa?
    Keep
    The
    Pressure
    ON!!!

    ‘Nuff said…

  7. Doug Hughes  •  Oct 20, 2007 @7:23 pm

    Right you are, Gulag, and I thank you. (I knew that, too, because it was the House that folded.)

  8. joanr16  •  Oct 20, 2007 @7:32 pm

    The people complaining about Stark’s comments are the same people who tried to convince the public that Bill and Hillary murdered Vince Foster.

    Word!

    Some Congressional droid is going to author a resolution, though, and a bunch of Repugs and Bush Dems will vote for it, and Pete Stark will get a good smack for being so mean. And in the time it takes to accomplish that, another hundred or so Americans, and a thousand Iraqis, will die violently.

  9. Swami  •  Oct 20, 2007 @9:27 pm

    Bush is a lying sack of shit… And I’m glad that someone in Congress found the backbone to include that fact into the Congressional record.

    The office of the presidency is only worthy of the respect that a President can bring to it by their moral character, the office doesn’t exceed the man. Bush is a proved liar, and his deceptions are such that they go beyond need for legitimate state secrets, and have become deceptions of a personal agenda outside of duty.

    Bush is a scoundrel of the highest order who has no allegiance to America. He’s worse than a liar…he’s a self serving hypocrite who is morally impaired. A shit bag with a cheap lapel pin.

    No matter how you view it..Bush has thoroughly trashed the office of the President…It’s now devoid of honor and truth.

  10. Swami  •  Oct 20, 2007 @9:35 pm

    Seeing how we’re praising Bush..Let’s not forget how he mocked Carla Faye Tucker’s pleas for mercy. If I remember my Bible correctly, mocking the cries for mercy doesn’t go over too big with Jehovah. I guess it’s about as anti-god as you can get…It’s evil.

  11. c u n d gulag  •  Oct 20, 2007 @9:55 pm

    Swami,
    I agree.
    Jesus, do I agree!!!
    But the righties imbue the office of President with magical power’s. “Our” “Commander-in Chief” can never be wrong. HE just sprinkles some magic Executive Fairy dust and everything will be right. FAR RIGHT!
    HE is all powerfull.

    That HE is on the left looking to the right at the evolution chart is immaterial to him/them. That HE has to shave between his eyebrow’s proves nothing…. HE is (has) a tool; and HE can use it – the media.

    He is the someone they have suckled, weaned, and nurtured to be “The Commander-in-Chief.” Too bad he’s just a President to the rest of us – the ones not in the miltary.
    And the WORST ever, at that!

    Not enough bad $#!t can happen to this man and his follower’s. And, righties, that’s all he is – a man. A badly flawed, man. An egotistical, cruel, self-rightious man. And an evil one, at that!

    Go, STARK!!!
    Respect for the office of President?
    HAH!
    Or, should I say, Heh, heh, heh….

    F^$% BUSH!!!!
    Oh, Hell…
    FUCK BUSH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  12. Zeus  •  Oct 20, 2007 @10:44 pm

    I agree with Doug – I wouldn’t have used the word ‘amusement’ either.

    Let’s see –

    He cavalierly sent our sons, daughters, mothers and fathers off to die in an unnecessary war;

    Countless numbers of Iraq’s sons, daughters, mothers and fathers are dead – but that of course is the expected collateral damage

    How many could have been saved if he had bothered to pay attention to Katrina, and continue to suffer today.

    Were there any innocent prisoners sent to their deaths because he couldn’t bother to get involved while governor.

    And now I wonder just how many children will inadvertantly suffer or die because of lack of health care due to Bush’s strike of the pen.

    I think ‘total disregard for human life’ would be more appropriate.

  13. Marshall  •  Oct 20, 2007 @11:28 pm

    I hope that Stark holds his ground. The one thing that’s missing is that, the first time you get a lot of heat, it’s news. Second time, maybe. The third time, it’s not, _if you do not back down_. Reagan sure knew that, as does W.

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