Fred Hiatt and the "Triumphant Top Gun"

The Washington Post editorialist declared the Iraq war "won" four years ago and condemned Democrats for criticizing the leader who "looked great" in his fighter pilot costume.


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Glenn Greenwald
May 1, 2007 6:27PM (UTC)

(updated below - Update II - Update III)

Thus far in 2007, the most politically insightful observation was made by Rep. David Obey in responding to one of Fred Hiatt's war-mongering, patriotism-challenging screeds: "Let me submit to you the problem we have today is not that we didn't listen enough to people like the Washington Post. It's that we listened too much."

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As the Four Year Anniversary of "Mission Accomplished Day" approaches, and we fondly recall the inspiring media swooning over George Bush's glorious Declaration of Victory while prancing around in his fighter pilot costume, there are few commentaries as revealing as the Bush-worshipping Editorial in The Washington Post authored by Fred Hiatt on May 11, 2003.

The Editorial Hiatt churned out that day (via Lexis -- and also, via sysprog, here) -- devoted to mocking Democrats for criticizing the Leader's Mission Accomplished Festival -- by itself could serve as a time capsule conveying to future generations all that went wrong in our country during this period. First is the Editorial's headline:

Misfiring at 'Top Gun'

George Bush shows off his powerful "top gun." Democrats who criticize him "misfire." The Editorial begins, right in its headline, with drooling adoration for the Leader's faux masculinity so transparent and cringe-inducing that it actually rivals the incomparable Chris Matthews-G. Gordon Liddy session that included admiration for the size of the President's genitalia (literally) so candid and frank that it was virtually pornographic. These are our serious pundits and foreign policy analysts.

This is the first paragraph of Hiatt's Editorial:

DID PRESIDENT BUSH arrive by fighter jet when he could have taken a helicopter -- for $ 7 less per hour? Did the USS Abraham Lincoln delay its return by a day so that Mr. Bush could make his dramatic tailhook landing? Did White House press secretary Ari Fleischer lie when he said that Mr. Bush had to arrive by jet and then switched his story to say that the president chose to land that way? Are the Democrats who are raising these questions secretly working for Karl Rove?

Democrats who question the Leader's conduct or challenge the veracity of his statements are foolish and are inviting their own political doom. War Leaders are endowed with the prerogative of telling us Glorious Lies. It continues:

Presidential staffs -- and we know this is a shocking concept -- worry quite a bit about the way their visits will look on TV -- and they work to get the most picturesque backdrop! And a president who wins a war -- whether you agreed with that war or not -- pretty much gets to greet returning troops wherever he wants.

The Leader won the War in Iraq in May, 2003. Let's repeat that: Fred Hiatt declared, in May, 2003, that George Bush had won the Iraq War. And the triumphant Commander-in-Chief is entitled to engage in whatever Victory Rituals he wants without having to be questioned or challenged. Then:

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Not since the ado over whether Mr. Clinton held up Air Force One on the tarmac for an hour to get a $ 200 haircut has there been a controversy this fundamentally silly. The difference is that the Republicans scored political points with haircut-gate; here, Democrats are only hurting themselves with churlish and petty complaints.

The false "controversy" over Clinton's haircut was a powerful political weapon in the potent hands of the Republicans. But challenging President Bush's Declaration of Victory in a plainly not-yet-completed war, and objecting to the grotesque propaganda used to do it, is both petty and self-destructive. And:

Their real gripe with Mr. Bush is that he looked great; the president pulled off his "Top Gun" act as much as Michael Dukakis flubbed his spin in a tank.

George W. Bush is a real warrior who is strong, powerful, masculine and a genuine Man -- even swooningly hot ("he looked great") -- unlike the effeminate, clumsy loser Democrats.

The sober, serious Hiatt continued:

And what was the result of their agitating? Even more showings of the same dramatic footage of a triumphant commander-in-chief. The only rational explanation for this conduct is that it is a brushback pitch designed to intimidate the Bush campaign from using carrier footage in campaign commercials -- but even then, it seems destined (a) not to work and (b) to backfire.

George W. Bush was not a public servant. He was not even merely the President. He was the "triumphant commander-in-chief." Therefore, to do anything other than genuflect to his warrior greatness was both improper and stupid. After all, he just won the Iraq War. Finally:

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Yes, yes, Republicans seemed to demand investigations every time Mr. Clinton -- or Hillary Clinton, for that matter -- went outside the Beltway, but Democrats are sorely mistaken if they think the "they did it too" argument is going to have any sway with voters. Mr. Bush's visit to the USS Abraham Lincoln may have been the real kickoff of his presidential campaign. If the Democrats' tone-deaf handling of this episode is any indication, he may well get his four more years.

Just because Republicans investigated Bill Clinton for every petty accusation they could invent does not mean that Democrats should try to exercise oversight over the Triumphant Commander-in-Chief. Voters don't want the Victorious War President criticized, and to think otherwise is "tone-deaf."

Any decent human being who authored such idiocy -- who declared the War in Iraq to have been "won" back in May, 2003 and who openly drooled over the "top gun" of the "triumphant Commander-in-Chief" -- would feel a sense of deep shame and regret. But Fred Hiatt continues to prance around as the Serious Adult in Washington, the one who is sober and sophisticated about hard-nosed matters of foreign policy and war, and who continues to mock those who oppose the war as unserious losers -- as though Fred Hiatt's judgment is worth anything.

As Rep. Obey put it: "those of us who voted against the war in the first place wouldn't have nearly as hard a time getting us out of the war if people like The Washington Post and those who criticized us on the floor yesterday hadn't supported going into that stupid war in the first place."

UPDATE: The Politico -- appropriately enough -- is hosting the first debate for GOP presidential candidates, and is deciding which questions to submit based upon popular vote. Silent Patriot of Crooks and Liars had an excellent idea -- to submit a question asking the candidates to state their views as to whether the President has the power to imprison U.S. citizens without charges or process of any kind (a la Jose Padilla), in light of the prior revealing answers from Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney to that question.

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S.P. has now submitted the question to The Politico, and has also posted instructions for how you can vote for that question, to ensure that it gets asked (you basically go here, search for "Silent Patriot," and click the "I LIKE THIS QUESTION" button under that question; it's now the most popular question, so it should be at the top).

It's a worthwhile exercise, I think, in order to compel the GOP candidates to go on record as to whether they intend to claim the power to imprison American citizens without charges (I'd like to hear Democratic candidates answer that as well). Vote early and often (rules permitting, of course).

UPDATE II: One has to acknowledge that this commenter at C&L makes quite a good point:

I just can't believe that here in America such a question would be even asked. What the hell happened to our country? Can you imagine that question being asked in the past elections before 2004? No one would have even thought of it.

The most extremist behavior has become so normalized in the last five years that it is easy to forget just how radical it is. The fact that the question even needs to be asked at all -- let alone that most, if not all, of the GOP candidates will almost certainly embrace (or at least not reject) the tyrannical power of process-less imprisonment of U.S. citizens -- is itself rather remarkable.

UPDATE III: The question we submitted regarding lawless detentions of U.S. citizens is now at the top of the list as the most popular question (but keep voting for it to ensure it stays there). As a result, we have decided to submit as many questions as possible, to ensure that the GOP candidates are forced to answer real questions (the top 20 or so highest vote-getting questions will be asked of the candidates).

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Thus far, we have submitted these additional questions:

* Do you think the process of waterboarding -- where the U.S. takes prisoners, straps them to a chair, and pours water on their face so they are in terror of drowning to death -- is a practice consistent with America's moral credibility in the world? -- Vote for that question here (search for "Silent Patriot" or the text of the question) -- two of these questions are now on that page for the top vote-getters

* A recent worldwide poll showed that under the Bush presidency, America has become the third most unpopular country in the world -- right behind Iran and just ahead of North Korea. Why has that happened? -- Vote for that question here (search for "CrooksandLiars" or the text of the question)

To vote for those questions, go to the linked page, find the question, and click the "I LIKE THIS QUESTION" button under each questions (you may have to click to the next page to find it). If you have suggestions for more questions, feel free to email them or leave them in comments (there is a 250-character maximum, so they must be quite short and concise).


Glenn Greenwald

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