Sunday, November 20, 2005

''They don't know Jack''

"Moments after Walter Cronkite, fresh home from Saigon, declared that the war in Vietnam could not be won and the troops should come home, President Lyndon B. Johnson, a political giant unaccustomed to retreat, knew he was finished.

"If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America," Johnson said.

From that moment in 1968, the Vietnam War consisted of a long, fatal denouement, every death a profound indictment not of a bad decision in 1964, but corrupt indecision between Tet 1968 and the day Richard Nixon welcomed home the POWs.

The loss of Vietnam rankled John Murtha deeply. I know this because I knew him 30 years ago, when I was a college sophomore and worked in the 1974 campaign that sent him to Congress. In a wretched little cubbyhole office on lower Bedford Street in Johnstown, I went through the Murtha family photo album looking for things to use in a brochure. One thing that stood out was a photograph of a photograph next to a framed document. It was Marine Reserve Maj. John Murtha's orders to Vietnam, next to his service photo.

He argued his way into Vietnam -- wanted to go, and once wrote an article for a service magazine about how the war could be won through motivation and leadership. The photo was fuzzy, faded and graphically useless even as it spoke with clarity about the man the Conemaugh Valley was about to send to Washington.

In Congress, Rep. Murtha has been a hawk among doves, a man filled with political acumen and suspicious of anything smelling of the post-Watergate reforms others in his congressional class embraced. When U.S. troops went to Lebanon, Mr. Murtha went to see them. When we invaded Grenada, he cheered them on. When America dabbled in El Salvador, he supported aid to defeat a communist insurgency.

Mr. Murtha was, in short, Johnstown: a place where working people expect others to work, are slow to embrace the new, and will happily join up for a war so long as the cause is good and they are sent there to win. Cambria County, in which Johnstown is the lone city, cast aside the leftover traditions of the New Deal last year and voted for George W. Bush. They voted for Mr. Bush because they believed him when he said the Iraq war was necessary, and because they accepted his sincerity about banning abortion, saving their guns and restoring old values that fit them like their fathers' steel-toed work boots. In short, they voted for George W. Bush because they believed he was like John P. Murtha.

Last week, with Walter Cronkite off the airwaves, and a once-aggressive press more than two decades at bay, George W. Bush lost Jack Murtha.

He lost Middle America.

Every death in Iraq from this moment on will be a mark of shame, first upon the president who took us there under an erroneous pretense, then upon a Congress that allows any more men and women to die while they cast about for a new pretense for staying.

But where Lyndon Johnson was a political giant, unwilling to lash out in revenge, President Bush is not. What remains ahead for Mr. Murtha is so obvious as to be harmless to him even as it is toxic to governance. Vice President Dick Cheney fired one of the first shots, questioning the congressman's judgment and, by implication, his honor.

"I like guys who got five deferments and never been there and send people to war, and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done," Mr. Murtha responded.

Expect Mr. Murtha's patriotism to fall into question. His morality in office will be questioned. Possibly his enemies will assign him Tom DeLay's finances and Bill Clinton's libido.

Soon the Swift Boaters will be afloat, suggesting that Mr. Murtha's Vietnam service was a charade (he won a Bronze Star), and that his Purple Hearts were undeserved. The Purple Heart gambit has been played before, first in 1982, then just last year. The answer to this nonsense will be the one that gave Mr. Murtha such cache as both a candidate and a member of Congress: big wound or small, he got it in Vietnam. He was there. They were not.

The second brick destined to crash through the Murtha family parlor window is Abscam. Mr. Murtha was one of eight members of Congress lured to a Washington townhouse by a team of FBI agents posing as representatives of a fictitious Arab sheik. They handed out briefcases filled with $50,000 in return for helping the sheik gain residency in the United States.

Mr. Murtha is on videotape telling the agents, "Not interested," but inviting the sheik to invest a few million in his struggling hometown, where unemployment reached 25 percent.

Mr. Murtha's probity might have been in doubt at that moment. Certainly he played the political coquette, suggesting they might do business later.

But where his companions were stuffing their pockets, he was trying to figure out how to get a fake prince to open a factory in Johnstown. Among agents of the government operating a fantasy, Mr. Murtha was attempting to get something real accomplished. That is what he is like.

Now, having learned through Abscam that good intentions cannot be achieved by appealing to false premises, Mr. Murtha is applying the same fresh truth to the Iraq war.

No man has more credibility on issues military and certainly none represents a district more attuned to the values Mr. Bush professes to love.

If Jack Murtha's district stands behind him on this, the Bush administration has lost that part of the body politic wherein the heart is kept."-Dennis Roddy in the Pittsburg Post-Gazette. (PA) I still can remember when Jack Murtha endorsed Howard Dean for the Democratic presidential nomination, before Iowa. That surprised people, too.


Anonymous said...

You should diary this on DailyKos, it is excellent

Howard Martin said...

thanks, man. go ahead and do it!!! I don't have time for the whole Kos deal.