Odious comparisons by the left have been so pervasive, I long ago stopped caring. And all of us can be impulsive or vulgar or, well, over the top.
But give Durbin credit. Every third-rate hack on every European newspaper can do the Americans-are-Nazis schtick. Amnesty International has already declared Guantanamo the “gulag of our times.” But I do believe the senator is the first to compare the U.S. armed forces with the blood-drenched thugs of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge.
The appropriate response would seem censure, but time will censure in its own way (perhaps). So today, he apologized. McCain praised the apology; certainly such praise comes from a man who understands courage and surely other senators understand better than I what it is like to humble yourself (and metrosexually cry) on the Senate floor. But that apology prompts this post, because it reinforced the sense that Durbin was, well, not exactly on “our” side. (Indeed, that Steyn was right.)
He addressed the affronted families of Holocaust survivors, not we might note survivors of the Gulags or the Khmer Rouge, soldiers at Gitmo or their friends & families; indeed, not anyone with some sense who found this inappropriate from the mouth of a senator. Nor does he seem to understand that to whomever he apologizes, it is not the “words” but the ideas that are offensive. (I’ve about had it with this trope of “misunderstood words.”) He says he has met our brave soldiers. Well, that’s nice. But we are appalled that he could actually read that description (ugly as it seemed) and in any way compare Gitmo, where prisoners gain 13 pounds, with societies in which a third of the inhabitants were slaughtered. What’s wrong isn’t words.
Lincoln was beleagured. Is that Durbin’s perspective on himself? (I guess we can be thankful he didn’t imply he was crucified. And yes, certain members of the other party are also embarrassing. Everyone’s a victim.) An apology that ends with this allusion is not an apology – to anyone. Lincoln’s speech, with more context:
“If I were to try to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for any other business. I do the very best I know how – the very best I can; and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what’s said against me won’t amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference.” The Inner Life of Abraham Lincoln: Six Months at the White House by Francis B. Carpenter (University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1995), pp. 258-259.
(The passage he quoted is in bold.)
Perhaps Durbin feels, as the Blogfather contends, that the current successes in the Middle East have many fathers but any failures have only one – Bush (and our soldiers). Clearly some in the opposition see news about these soldiers as means to an end – an end that has little to do with democracy in the Middle East or security for America. Reynolds notes
Like too many people, these folks see the war as less important than their own immediate political objectives. Better to be President after losing a war than to suffer as a Senator in a nation that’s winning, apparently.
Well, that’s politics. We had the same thing from the Copperheads in the Civil War.
And with that remark we are reminded of how Europe viewed the “savage” Mr. Lincoln (read Henry Adams on those years with his father in London). Time gives heroes their due. And this will be true of soldiers who handle the Koran with gloves or a president who starts the dominoes falling.
A. Chris Muir has been running with the Durbin theme – beginning the 17th.
B. Thoughtfully giving Durbin’s words a broader context, Gelernter speaks of the importance of historical awareness. He’s right – we are in danger of losing our history and therefore our identity. Of course, history is still used even when not understood. Today’s apology & its allusion to Lincoln indicates Durbin (& how many others) sees history as a series of intensifiers–others may use “very”, he uses, what, “Pol Pot”? And, of course, cliches. Vietnam, for instance, is never the Vietnam of the boat people or the economy that was destroyed by yet another experiment by those “engineers of human souls.” Instead, it is the Vietnam of the New York Times and Frances Fitzgerald, of Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter. Not to diminish any of these, in the hands of modern politicians (and modern journalists) these have become allusions without context or seriousness.
C. I really don’t understand this (as AP reports:
His voice quaking and tears welling in his eyes, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate also apologized to any soldiers who felt insulted by his remarks.
“They’re the best. I never, ever intended any disrespect for them,” he said.
(Thanks to California Conservative).
To argue that that wasn’t his intention requires a rather tortured (say post-modern) reading of the text:
“If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags or some mad regime — Pol Pot or others — that had no concern for human beings,” the senator said June 14.
Now I have no doubt that Bush was his imagined target, but his “words” do not really bear that interpretation. We know what was in his heart, but apologies are for what is actually said. And, frankly, there is a problem when a man in a leadership position among the Democrats believes that the best way to attack the administration is to attack the troops. Not that we haven’t suspected this ever since, well, Afghanistan.
D. Finding a source for the Lincoln quote, I noticed another remark of his:
“Property is the fruit of labor…property is desirable…is a positive good in the world. That some should be rich shows that others may become rich, and hence is just encouragement to industry and enterprise. Let not him who is houseless pull down the house of another; but let him labor diligently and build one for himself, thus by example assuring that his own shall be safe from violence when built.” The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume VII, “Reply to New York Workingmen’s Democratic Republican Association” (March 21, 1864), pp. 259-260.
(After a yesterday with the Snopes & today with The Grapes of Wrath, this resonated.)
E. Perhaps the appropriate gut response was Ann Althouse’s:
I saw this on TV and found it … icky. What are you really crying about, Dick? Your own miserable little career?
(Added later Wed night.)