October 3, 2007 | Op-ed

Phony-Soldier Sympathizers Stoke a Phony Controversy

Rush Limbaugh, one of this nation’s single-most ardent supporters of the military, was briefed on the news story by his staff and was, unsurprisingly, offended by it.

Rush alluded to the said phony soldiers during his hugely successful daily radio broadcast, prompted by what he reasonably believed was a caller’s reference to it.

As a result, he is being castigated for dishonoring authentic troops in a trumped up controversy generated by Media Matters — a Left-wing propaganda machine with pockets lined by Left-wing activists. The charge is being led by top Democrats who, when not busy defending other top Democrats for smearing our troops as “reminiscent of Genghis Khan,” terrorists, murderers, and comparable to “Nazis, Soviets in their gulags or some mad regime — Pol Pot or others — that had no concern for human beings,” fall mute when the vanguard of their hard Left base, MoveOn.org (abetted by the New York Times), describes the general heroically leading our forces in Iraq a traitor.

And this is a story?

Rush is, of course, the maestro of the most popular, most entertaining talk-radio show in America. He has an audience of millions, including people who vigorously disagree with his politics.

Why do they listen? Because “talent on loan from God” — for all its insight, passion, and biting satire — has a hallmark notably absent from the other side’s one-note polemics: unfailing civility.

On a typical excursion into broadcast excellence, there will be a liberal or two who call in to engage. These are often the finest moments of the program. The reason is good will.

There is no snarky “get off my phone!” Rush, instead, engages in a rare form of dialogue once known in Washington as civil discourse.

To be sure, there’s no mistaking where the host is coming from as he makes his points and endeavors to sway. But neither is there bitterness. The listener, and even the caller, can’t help but come away charmed — maybe not convinced, but entertained and enlightened by the exchange, rather than dismayed by the seeming hopelessness of what divides us.

Which is all a long-winded way of observing how preposterous is the slander at the center of this phony storm.

Those tirelessly manipulating Rush’s words into something they weren’t contend that by “phony soldiers” he was referring to those who’ve served honorably and now conscientiously object to the war. For anyone who actually listens to the program, that is simply a ludicrous interpretation.

Even if you take the position that Rush’s remark was ambiguous — I think that’s a strained construction, but let’s assume it for argument’s sake — the logical step when confronted by ambiguity is to place words in a broader context. How do they fit, not just in the surrounding circumstances of the conversation but in the full body of the man’s work?

In context, Rush was talking about the actual phony soldiers — those who pretend to serve. But in the body of his work, it is inconceivable that he was libeling honorable service men and women who disagree with him.

Let’s leave aside the indisputable track record of his program, where Rush daily demonstrates he is as zealous and consistent a proponent of our armed forces as there is. Let’s put aside radio promotions like his “Adopt a Soldier” initiative that encourage public support for our troops while making his features more accessible to the countless troops who want them. Let’s even ignore for the moment his visits overseas to those in combat and stateside to those wounded in combat.

We are talking about someone who raises and contributes out of his own pocket millions of dollars to provide scholarships for the children of Marines and other personnel killed in action.

There has never been an ideological test for that support. The Marines and their families needn’t agree with Rush’s politics to qualify. Instead, it is and it has always been an expression of heartfelt gratitude for service.

What Rush Limbaugh has ceaselessly honored is military service — love of country, not ideological purity.

Agree or disagree with his politics, it is shameful to suggest otherwise.

— Andrew C. McCarthy directs the Center for Law & Counterterrorism at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.