Hypocrisy, observed La Rochefoucauld, “is the homage that vice pays to virtue.” A political campaign is always an appropriate time to remember it especially for those who toil in the media vineyards. In recent days there has been heated huffing and puffing in the national press over the endorsement of George W. Bush by a group of 27 retired admirals and generals. Vice and virtue are less at issue here than fairness and intellectual honesty, but a remarkable amount of homage is involved.
A notable example, as reported by this paper’s Rowan Scarborough, was Dan Rather’s deep concern that the endorsements suggest growing politicization of the active-duty military, a logical leap that Mr. Rather didn’t bother to explain since the Bush backers were all retired flag officers.
An on-air reporter followed by saying, “there’s no law against it, but the sight of so many admirals and generals throwing their prestige behind the candidate causes concern among other retired officers.” In the patois of television spin that sentence suggests that there ought to be a law against such endorsements, and then carefully omits the names of any retired admirals or generals who are concerned.
But more to the point, Mr. Rather didn’t inform viewers that in 1992, CBS had not a critical syllable to offer when retired Adm. William Crowe and 20 of his brethren saluted Bill Clinton’s candidacy. And CBS twice rolled out Mr. Crowe to rebut campaign criticism of Mr. Clinton for avoiding service during the Vietnam war.
The big boys of the newsprint empires have been as transparent in this instance. The New York Times quickly quoted an unnamed Gore aide de camp as saying of the endorsements, “This is the kind of thing you see in the Third World all these generals lining up behind the politicians.” Say what?
The Washington Post came at the matter from the flank. It ran an op-ed column by a former chief historian of the Air Force who hammered the endorsements. “When senior retired military people endorse a presidential candidate… it marks a major step toward politicizing the American military,” this eminence fumed.
That’s high-octane partisanship, to be sure, and legitimate enough on a paper’s opinion pages. But it would have been equitable for The Post to inform readers that in 1992 it took quite a different approach. The paper editorially then called the list of former admirals and generals firing a salvo on behalf of the Democratic candidate “quite impressive” and “intended to counter charges by the Bush campaign that Mr. Clinton was not fit to be commander-in-chief.” Yes and that differs how from this year?
There does seem to be rising political sentiment among serving officers, worried about increasing deployments and diminishing resources under the present administration. But they’ve kept these opinions to themselves and soldiered on in traditional subordination to the nation’s civilian leaders. However, when retired senior officers are sufficiently anxious about the state of the armed forces to feel compelled to speak out as civilians why should this be so ferociously assailed? It is a puzzlement.
As Charles Krulak, former commandant of the Marine Corps, put it, “To suggest that, having taken off our uniforms for the last time, we somehow are not entitled to the same right to enjoy full and active participation in the selection of our elected officials as other citizens of this great land is an insult to our service.” Just so.