Sunday, February 22, 2004

Shut up, Max

I wasn't in GA when Max Cleland lost his Senate seat to Saxby Chambliss in 2000. All I knew of him was that he was a Vietnam veteran who had lost both feet and a hand in Vietnam. This didn't entitle him to a Senate seat, however - even if such injuries conferred special talents, we don't have enough Senate seats to go around.

Enter John F. Kerry. Kerry is trying to create a legend about Vietnam and now embraces the veterans he once described as killers or worse on a mass scale in language that's hard to exaggerate. This makes Max Cleland a convenient ally, and Cleland can use some publicity to revive his otherwise faltering political career. So now we're hearing from Cleland again, and he appears to be bound to convince us that he's just another Democratic Party hack.

That's his decision, but once he descends into the muck he shouldn't expect to escape smelling like a rose. Unfortunately Cleland, like Kerry has played the Vietnam card too much and too arrogantly. This means that as unpleasant as it is, it's time to set the record straight about Cleland. To do so we have a much-reviled and courageous commentator and provocateur, Ann Coulter.

Ms. Coulter has written of Cleland on successive weeks here and here. In the most recent one she cites several newspaper sources that note that Cleland was maimed not in combat, but in an accident with a hand grenade which, because it wasn't in combat, didn't qualify him for a Purple Heart. She also notes that this shows that *all* military service is inherently dangerous (and one needn't have a long memory to recall a period in Iraq in which it seemed that US forces were getting more casualties from routine operations than from enemy fire). The conclusion is that it's asinine to draw such a bright line between the active service of Kerry and Cleland and the National Guard service (learning to fly a plane renowned for being dangerous) like George W. Bush's. And if you insist on auditing every last document on Bush's service you shouldn't complain when someone points to the public record about Cleland.

But Cleland isn't through yet. Now there is this:
Kerry has campaigned on his Vietnam combat record, which includes three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and a Silver Star.

Chambliss said Kerry, despite his service, has a weak record on military issues.

"He has a long history, particularly in the last decade, of not only voting to cut intelligence spending, but introducing bills to cut intelligence spending," Chambliss said.

Cleland, a Democrat, had some criticism for Chambliss.

"For Saxby Chambliss, who got out of going to Vietnam because of a trick knee, to attack John Kerry as weak on the defense of our nation is like a mackerel in the moonlight that both shines and stinks," he said.
Has Cleland been clever? Not particularly - it appears that he has forgotten Joe Biden's fall at the hands of Mike Dukakis. Cleland has recycled without attribution a line that is around two centuries old.

And he doesn't even use it right - the phrase is intended for those like Bill Clinton who combine spectacular talents with utter corruption. Does he mean to give Chambliss a backhanded compliment?

Why couldn't you just keep your mouth shut, Max?

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