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Rebutting the Most Senior Senator
In Dissent, Number One Hundred and Seven
by Brian S. Wise
13 May 2003

Anyone who reads into the record a speech insisting that George W. Bush is a "desk-bound president who assumes the garb of a warrior" probably should have some justifiable frame of reference.  Robert Byrd does not. 

If you visit the Senate’s official website, in quick order you can find the official Internet home of the Most Senior Senator, Robert Byrd (Democrat, West Virginia).  With clicking the “About Me” link, you can read the following biographical snippet:

“Unable at the time [this was during the Depression] to afford college tuition, Byrd sought employment wherever he found an opportunity – pumping gas at a filling station, working as a produce salesman, and then becoming a meat cutter – picking up new skills as he advanced.  One of those skills – welding – was in demand after World War II started, and he worked during the war years building ‘Liberty’ and ‘Victory’ ships in the construction yards of Baltimore, Maryland and Tampa, Florida.  At war’s end, he returned to West Virginia with a new vision of what his home state and his country could be.  In 1946, he made his first run for political office, and was elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates.”

Fast forward 57 years to the floor of the United States Senate, where last Tuesday the Most Senior Senator spoke out about the president’s landing on the Abraham Lincoln.  “I am loath to think of an aircraft carrier being used as an advertising backdrop for a presidential political slogan, and that is what we saw.”  And, “I do not begrudge his salute to America’s warriors aboard the carrier Lincoln, for they have performed bravely … but I do question the motives of a desk-bound president who assumes the garb of a warrior for the purposes of a speech.”  Last, “To me, it is an affront to the Americans killed or injured in Iraq for the president to exploit the trappings of war for the momentary spectacle of a speech.”
Certainly no harm would come from Republicans admitting what most Democrats are saying, that the president’s landing on the Lincoln ended up being a very pleasant thing, but that it seemed a waste of money for a speech where nothing of genuine importance was said, other than “Thank you.”  If odd expenditures were the Left’s genuine concern (hell, if they were anyone in the federal government’s genuine concern), I would be inclined to agree, if only to point out that five notable Democrats from the State of Washington were flown out to the Lincoln as well, and barely a word has been spoken about the cost of shipping them there.  (They were Governor Gary Locke, Senator Parry Murray, Senator Maria Cantwell, Representative Norman Dicks and Representative Rick Larson.)
But high finance is not the concern.  The federal government, upon spending 2.3 trillion dollars this year, will somehow muster the strength and courage to spend an additional four percent (if the president gets his way); a few extra hundred thousand will not disturb anything.  The concern is that the president will, 18 months hence, use the footage to rekindle within the people a certain emotional reaction, which he hopes to ride to a second term.  No kidding.  Anyone running for another turn in public office will ask the voters to reflect upon his best efforts.  Even Robert Byrd has done it.  And speaking of Robert Byrd …
There is a reason Ted Kennedy has had the common sense not to speak of the president’s old alcoholism; it is because Bush never killed anyone in the commission of his drinking problem.  It would be the ultimate example of the pot calling the kettle black.
Similarly, anyone who reads into the record a speech insisting that George W. Bush is a “desk-bound president who assumes the garb of a warrior for the purposes of a speech” probably should have some justifiable frame of reference.  He should not, for example, have spent more time sitting behind publicly financed desks than the president has lived, and he sure as hell should have never “assumed the garb” of the Ku Klux Klan, an organization whose motivations have never so much as sniffed the immense dignity and rightful purpose of the United States military.
I concede, in a reiteration of the earlier point, that the whole thing was rather silly and unnecessary.  Even taken as a part of the silly and unnecessary things undertaken by presidents in modern times, this is especially silly and unnecessary as a topic of debate.  Every president since Tyler has visited a naval vessel, at taxpayer expense … is it being said that none of these visits served a legitimate purpose?  For that matter, is it being said that the vast majority of presidential travel serves no purpose?  If that is the argument – and if it is being held that this and future presidents should save money by traveling much less – then those making the point have an ally here.  But in pushing this, the Left has lost the battle before it has begun, as there are important things to consider.

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