Rush Limbaugh’s ‘Phony Soldiers’
During the September 26 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh called service members who advocate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq “phony soldiers.”
This got even the likes of Steve Benen going. He begins his post, “Limbaugh calls service members who support withdrawal ‘phony soldiers’”,
Rush Limbaugh smeared countless U.S. service members — ranging in rank from private to general — who dare to believe that withdrawal from Iraq is a good idea. As Limbaugh described it, those in uniform who disagree with him are “phony soldiers.”
Matt Yglesias, though, comes within an inch of getting it right:
Rush Limbaugh calls anti-war troops “phony soldiers.” One wonders if he’s literally doubting the existence of such people, and thus proving himself to be an idiot, or metaphorically doubting their authenticity as soldiers, thus proving himself to be morally contemptible. Both are, obviously, plausible end-states for Rush.
If one looks at the transcript, it’s rather clear that it’s the former. Limbaugh is no idiot but one of his favorite rhetorical devices is defining a group in a very narrow way and then claiming anyone who doesn’t fit that definition but nonetheless identifies himself that way is either a liar, a plant, misguided, or the like. Indeed, there are several instances of this in the exchange in question (highlights mine):
RUSH: Mike, you can’t possibly be a Republican.
CALLER: I am.
RUSH: You can’t be Republican.
CALLER: Oh, I am definitely Republican.
RUSH: You sound just like a Democrat.
CALLER: No, but seriously, Rush, how long do we have to stay there?
RUSH: As long as it takes.
CALLER: How long?
RUSH: As long as it takes. It is very serious. This is the United States of America at war with Islamofascists. Just like your job, you do everything you have to do, whatever it takes to get it done, if you take it seriously.
CALLER: So then you say we need to stay there forever?
RUSH: No, Bill — (Laughing) or Mike. I’m sorry. I’m confusing you with the guy from Texas.
CALLER: I used to be military, okay, and I am a Republican.
CALLER: And I do listen to you, but —
RUSH: Right, I know. And I, by the way, used to walk on the moon.
CALLER: How long do we have to stay there?
RUSH: You’re not listening to what I say. You can’t possibly be a Republican. I’m answering every question; it’s not what you want to hear, and so it’s not even penetrating your little wall of armor you’ve got built up. I said we stay to get the job done, as long as it takes. I didn’t say forever. Nothing takes forever. That’s not possible, Bill. Mike. Whatever. Nobody lives forever, no situation lasts forever, everything ends. We determine how do we want it to end, in our favor or in our defeat? With people like you in charge, who want to put a timeline on everything — do you ever get anything done in your life? Or do you say, “Well, I wanted to have this done by now, and it’s not, so screw it”? You don’t live your life that way. Well, hell, you might, I don’t know. But the limitations that you want to impose here are senseless, and they, frankly, portray no evidence that you are a Republican.
Another Mike. This one in Olympia, Washington. Welcome to the EIB Network. Hello.
CALLER: Hi, Rush. Thanks for taking my call.
RUSH: You bet.
CALLER: I have a retort to Mike in Chicago, because I am serving in the American military, in the Army. I’ve been serving for 14 years, very proudly.
RUSH: Thank you, sir.
CALLER: I’m one of the few that joined the Army to serve my country, I’m proud to say, not for the money or anything like that. What I would like to retort to is that, what these people don’t understand, is if we pull out of Iraq right now, which is not possible because of all the stuff that’s over there, it would take us at least a year to pull everything back out of Iraq, then Iraq itself would collapse and we’d have to go right back over there within a year or so.
RUSH: There’s a lot more than that that they don’t understand. The next guy that calls here I’m going to ask them, “What is the imperative of pulling out? What’s in it for the United States to pull out?” I don’t think they have an answer for that other than, “When’s he going to bring the troops home? Keep the troops safe,” whatever.
RUSH: It’s not possible intellectually to follow these people.
CALLER: No, it’s not. And what’s really funny is they never talk to real soldiers. They pull these soldiers that come up out of the blue and spout to the media.
RUSH: The phony soldiers.
CALLER: Phony soldiers. If you talk to any real soldier and they’re proud to serve, they want to be over in Iraq, they understand their sacrifice and they’re willing to sacrifice for the country.
RUSH: They joined to be in Iraq.
CALLER: A lot of people.
RUSH: You know where you’re going these days, the last four years, if you sign up. The odds are you’re going there or Afghanistan, or somewhere.
To Limbaugh — at least Limbaugh the radio persona — if you disagree with his views, you’re not a Republican. If you say you’re a huge fan of his show but you disagree with him on this one issue, you’re a Democratic plant sent in with talking points, posing as a loyal listener to get past the call screener. If you claim to be a veteran or currently in the military and differ with him on military issues, you’re not really a soldier. Similarly, anonymous soldiers quoted in the press criticizing the war are fictitious. Liberal journalists fabricate them to spice up their stories.
He’s an exceedingly bright fellow — you don’t make yourself into a household name, basically invent a new medium, and last two decades doing three hours a day doing radio call-in otherwise — so my guess is this schtick is just an act used to bait the opposition and score points with his loyal listeners. I don’t think he actually believes this nonsense.
Regardless, it’s an infuriating and dishonest stance. Still, it’s not the same as what he’s being accused of here, though: Saying that soldiers who want to leave Iraq are therefore “phony soldiers.”
That said, as Media Matters, Benen, and others document, Limbaugh has a history of throwing around language suggesting that war opponents are un-American, un-patriotic, or worse.
As Media Matters for America has documented, Limbaugh denounced as “contemptible” and “indecent” MoveOn.org's much-discussed advertisement — titled “General Petraeus or General Betray Us?” — critical of Gen. David Petraeus, but has repeatedly attacked the patriotism of those with whom he disagrees. For instance, on the January 25 broadcast of his radio show, he told his audience that he had a new name for Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), a Vietnam veteran: “Senator Betrayus.” A day earlier, Hagel had sided
with Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in voting to approve a nonbinding resolution declaring that President Bush's escalation in Iraq was against “the national
interest.” Additionally, on August 21, 2006, Limbaugh said: “I want to respectfully disagree with the president on the last part of what he said. I am going to challenge the patriotism of people who disagree with him because the people that disagree with him want to
As Media Matters has also documented, on the August 2, 2005, program, Limbaugh repeatedly referred to Iraq war veteran and then-Democratic congressional candidate Paul Hackett as “another liberal Democrat trying to hide behind a military uniform” and accused him of going to Iraq “to pad the resumé.” On the day of Limbaugh's comments, Hackett narrowly lost a special election to Republican Jean Schmidt for Ohio's 2nd Congressional District seat.
This tactic is deplorable, if effective. It’s not solely a tactic of the Right, however: our debates on everything from abortion to affirmative action to welfare reform to Social Security is tinged with hateful language designed to put opponents on the defensive rather than focus on the merits of the policies under discussion.
There, is, however a not unimportant distinction in the Petraeus ad and Limbaugh’s outrageous attacks on Kerry, Hackett, and Hagel: The latter are/were politicians engaged in partisan contests to win political office while the former is a serving military officer constrained by his office from fighting back in kind.
Once one has taken off the uniform and entered the political fray, the gloves come off. Being a war hero doesn’t and shouldn’t give one a free pass in the political arena — although those who haven’t served should tread carefully, lest the attacks backfire. The attacks on the patriotism and military service of the likes of John Murtha, Max Cleland, Kerry, and Hagel are despicable; no more so, though, than other smear tactics (push polling, gay baiting, the race card) that have become routine in our campaigns.