In the following quotes, well-known cable news hosts express anti-war feelings to hawkish guests. Can you guess which quote is “anti-American”?
* “Explain to the mothers and fathers of American servicemen that may come home in body bags why their son or daughter have to give up their life?”
* “We’re sending 250,000 of our young men and women to die so that somebody in Washington can prove they’re tough. It’s not us. We’re not the ones that are going to die, they are.”
For many right-leaning pundits, these seemingly similar expressions of dissent are worlds apart. To them, the first quote–Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity (Hannity & Colmes, 4/6/99) expressing opposition to the Clinton administration’s 1999 Kosovo actions–is responsible criticism of the government. The second remark, said by then-MSNBC host Phil Donahue (Donahue, 2/13/03) in opposition to the war in Iraq, is disloyal, anti-American–possibly even treasonous.
Donahue’s kind of anti-war observation angers conservative pundits like Hannity and fellow talkshow host Rush Limbaugh. In a recent radio broadcast (quoted in the Baltimore Sun, 3/9/03), Limbaugh could hardly contain his contempt for opponents of the current war: “I want to say something about these anti-war demonstrators. No, let’s not mince words, let’s call them what they are: anti-American demonstrators.”
Limbaugh was more forgiving of opponents of Bill Clinton’s 1999 Kosovo involvement. He had to be; like Hannity, Limbaugh was part of that antiwar crowd. “Why Kosovo?” read a headline in the May 1999 issue of the Limbaugh Letter. The article scoffed at the declared humanitarian rationale for Clinton’s Kosovo policy, sounding like current anti-war protesters as it criticized the “shifting justifications” for war.
In another Limbaugh Letter story (5/99), an interview with retired Col. David Hackworth conducted during the war, Limbaugh seemed to countenance mutiny against the commander in chief. When Hackworth asserted that Clinton was “uniformly despised” within the military, Limbaugh responded: “How long, then, can it be before there is an uprising, and why hasn’t it happened before now?”
Limbaugh and Hannity aren’t alone among conservative pundits who opposed what they called “Clinton’s war” in 1999, but who today demand unqualified devotion to Bush administration military policies. In 1999, Joe Scarborough was one of 173 Republican members of Congress voting against the bombing of Serbia. As that war came to an end, Rep. Scarborough told Fox host Catherine Crier (Crier Report, 6/8/99): “This has been an unmitigated disaster…. Ask the Chinese embassy. Ask all the people in Belgrade that we’ve killed. Ask the refugees that we’ve killed. Ask the people in nursing homes. Ask the people in hospitals.”
Today, as the host of MSNBC Reports (4/10/03), Scarborough seems to have lost his taste for anti-war dissent: “These leftist stooges for anti-American causes are always given a free pass. Isn’t it time to make them stand up and be counted for their views, which could hurt American troop morale?”
Scarborough made that remark while interviewing his MSNBC colleague Michael Savage. Savage also bitterly opposed Clinton’s Kosovo actions (NewsMax, 11/30/99): “These international war criminals were led by Gen. Wesley Clark … who clicked his shiny heels for the commander-in-grief, Bill Clinton.” Today Savage calls for the arrest of anti-war activists and the restoration of the Sedition Act to silence dissent (Savage Nation, 3/8/03): “Then we can stop some of these maniacs who are encouraging our enemies, weakening our troops’ resolve and confusing the American people.”
Savage and Scarborough have both asserted or implied that critics of the Iraq War were actually traitors to the country. “I wonder, will Martin Sheen apologize now for providing aid and comfort to the Baghdad beast by working day and night against his immediate removal?” Scarborough asked after the Iraqi capital fell (4/10/03). Referring to Hollywood peace advocates, Savage said (4/10/03): “It’s not a laughing matter when we have influential idiots like this reducing troop morale, confusing the American people and emboldening our enemies. They are absolutely committing sedition or treason as far as I’m concerned.”
Ubiquitous pundit Bill Bennett is just one of many more double-standard dissenters. Appearing on CNN‘s Inside Politics in 1999 (4/16/99), Bennett dismissed U.S. Kosovo actions: “I think this policy is nuts.” Four years later on CNBC, Bennett dismissed dissenters: “Well, you shouldn’t listen to these protests because they’re obviously helping Saddam Hussein…. It is worth noting, however, that Saddam was much encouraged by these protests.”
In the bizarre world of conservative television pundits and talk radio hosts, loyalty means supporting the wars they support. Patriotism to them–to paraphrase Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass–means just what they choose it to mean, neither more nor less.