Joe Conason's Journal

How Pat Robertson and others use military fiction to pump up their patriotic credentials. Plus: The best media critic in the nation.

By Salon Staff

Published October 15, 2002 3:30PM (EDT)

Liquor officers and other veterans
Writing about that fraudulent flag-waver Ralph Reed reminded me how prevalent a certain brand of pseudo-patriotism is in his circles. Pat Robertson, Reed's old boss at the Christian Coalition, used to claim he had served in Korea as a "Marine combat officer." (In fact, his Web site still suggests that he somehow earned three battle stars.) The truth, revealed by two former members of Congress, was that Robertson's father, Virginia Sen. A. Willis Robertson, used his influence to get the future televangelist out of combat duty. Instead, he held down a soft job at Marine headquarters, where he was known as the "liquor officer." The full unflattering story, including Robertson's boomerang libel lawsuit, is told here.

Another Reed buddy, South Carolina Rep. Lindsey Graham, resembles Robertson in his tendencies to puff himself up as a superpatriot -- and to inflate his military record beyond recognition. Graham likes to be called a "Gulf War veteran," although he never shot off anything more dangerous than his mouth. Several years ago, the Hill exposed the discrepancy between his actual record as a military lawyer who never left South Carolina during the Gulf War and the description of his service in the bogus biography he wrote for his congressional Web site. (This was his feeble answer. Don't skip the editors' response.) Amazingly, Graham's Web site still lists him as an "Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm veteran." That must be why newspapers, including this story from the Washington Post last month, continue to misidentify him.

In keeping with this theme, Graham has resuscitated a phony patriotic issue -- the constitutional amendment to prevent flag desecration. He wants people in South Carolina to believe that if he is elected, that will somehow stop the occasional loony who wants to burn the flag. (Very few people notice these profane gestures unless posturing clowns like Graham call attention to them.) But anyone who checks the Senate tally on the last occasion when this amendment was defeated in 2000 will see that installing Graham in the place of retiring Sen. Strom Thurmond will do nothing to improve the chances that this act of constitutional vandalism will pass. (The tally is here, though you have to scroll down to click onto voting records from the 106th Congress.) The proponents are still four votes short of the two-thirds margin they would need to revive this ill-considered legislation -- and only two of the 37 no votes are even remotely in danger of losing their elections to the 108th Congress. Graham can count votes and he knows this "issue" is going nowhere. Like his military record, it's just boob-bait.

Dan Kennedy is back
The best media columnist in America, by a very wide margin, is the Boston Phoenix's Dan Kennedy. Today's good news is that he is back at the newsstand.
[2:35 p.m. PDT, Oct. 15, 2002]

Bali low
The fallout from the hideous Bali blast, amid strong suspicions that the responsible parties are affiliated with al-Qaida, revealed the myopia and deficiency of current American policy. As Al Gore and others have pointed out -- to self-satisfied derision from conservative pundits and Republican politicians -- the drive toward unilateral war on Iraq directly conflicts with the civilized world's overriding interest in creating an international coalition against Islamist terror. The unspoken assumption of the Bush hawks is that the main threat to international security is Saddam, not Osama; the corollary is that America can act alone to handle both.

This is dangerous idiocy, personified in political commentary by the likes of Michael Kelly. The excitable columnist should be well and truly mortified today by this juxtaposition of Gore's San Francisco comments and Kelly's response to them. Whether Osama bin Laden is dead or alive, his organization remains deadly and determined -- and this administration's approach is worse than inadequate.

Anti-American, unpatriotic and cowardly

Speaking of Osama and Saddam, their images provide the backdrop for what may be the single most nauseating, cynical and un-American political advertisement of the midterm campaign. The ad promotes the candidacy of Saxby Chambliss, the Republican Senate candidate running against Democratic incumbent Max Cleland in Georgia, by suggesting that Cleland, who lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam, lacks the "courage to lead" on defense and national security issues. The idea that either Chambliss or the Georgia GOP chairman responsible for this outrage, Ralph Reed, possess more courage than Cleland is ludicrous and offensive. They are cowards who hide behind a television commercial to attack a one-armed man in a wheelchair.

That's right, Ralph. You're an unpatriotic coward.

And in a superb column, Army veteran Jeff Berry says much the same about Saxby "Trick Knee" Chambliss.
[8:25 a.m. PDT, Oct. 15, 2002]

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