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Senate Clown Show

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This past week, the U.S. Senate put on a clown show.

With most Americans wanting troops out of Iraq, Democratic leaders in the Senate failed to get enough Republican votes to overcome GOP filibusters for fairly tepid change-course measures. They could get only six Republican votes even for a Jim Webb proposal simply requiring that U.S. troops spend as much time at home as they spend deployed in Iraq.

But thanks to 22 Democratic clowns joining a Republican circus, the Senate was able to break the partisan impasse by overwhelmingly passing one bold measure: A defense of Gen. David Petraeus against a newspaper ad. The resolution expressed "full support" for the general and condemned "personal attacks on the honor and integrity of General Petraeus and all members of the United States Armed Forces."

Cable news networks that cheer-led our country into invading Iraq took a break from their latest all-O.J.-all-the-time binge to make an antiwar ad more controversial than the ongoing slaughter of Iraqis and Americans that the invasion predictably unleashed. And 22 Democrats were more desperate to distance themselves from the 3-million-member MoveOn than from less than 50 Republican dead-enders bent on prolonging the killing.

The 22 Democrats can be reached by dialing the Congressional switchboard: 202-224-3121. They are Baucus (MT), Bayh (IN), Cardin (MD), Carper (DE), Casey (PA), Conrad (ND), Dorgan (ND), Feinstein (CA), Johnson (SD), Klobuchar (MN), Kohl (WI), Landrieu (LA), Leahy (VT), Lincoln (AR), McCaskill (MO), Mikulski (MD), Nelson (FL), Nelson (NE), Pryor (AR), Salazar (CO), Tester (MT) and Webb (VA).

MoveOn's [ ad] in the New York Times – headlined "General Petraeus or General Betray Us?" – questioned whether the extremely political Gen. Petraeus would betray the truth and the facts about Iraq, as he had previously in echoing Team Bush. The ad didn't question his patriotism.

Yet 22 Democrats (plus, of course, Joe Lieberman) backed the pro-Petraeus resolution after hearing its rightwing sponsor declare that the MoveOn ad had "crossed a historic line of decency."

Are these 22 Democrats amnesiacs? Have they forgotten the Republican ads calling war-wounded Sen. Max Cleland a liar unwilling to protect us from Osama bin Laden? There was no Senate resolution defending the Vietnam Vet against those ads.

Nor were there Senate resolutions aimed at Disney, Rupert Murdoch, General Electric, Time Warner or Clear Channel for broadcasting the screeds of the O'Reillys, Hannitys, Coulters, Savages and Becks in which Iraq War critics were routinely referred to as treasonous and traitors.

Nor a resolution after Rev. Pat Robertson declared that Democratic criticism of Bush during wartime "amounts to treason." Or one condemning Bill O'Reilly for declaring that Democratic-backer George Soros "ought to be hanged." Or one denouncing Glenn Beck for wishing on-air for the violent deaths of war critics, including a member of Congress.

The Petraeus/MoveOn resolution had one main purpose: To get Democratic Senators to run in fear from the party's antiwar base. President Bush basically admitted as much in rehearsed remarks at Thursday's news conference: "I was disappointed that not more leaders in the Democratic Party spoke out strongly against that kind of ad. And that leads me to come to this conclusion: that most Democrats are afraid of irritating a left-wing group like – or more afraid of irritating them than they are of irritating the United States military."

And 22 Democrats fell for this Karl Rovian political ploy – a resolution that fraudulently purported to condemn "personal attacks" on "all members of the United States armed forces."

During the run-up to the Iraq invasion, I worked in cable news, when these networks relentlessly questioned the integrity and patriotism of former Marine officer and Gulf War veteran Scott Ritter. As the U.N.'s top weapons inspector, Ritter had stood up to Saddam Hussein's government for years. But when he forcefully questioned the grounds for invading Iraq, corporate media called him an agent of Saddam. . .and worse. No Senate resolution has ever condemned the personal attacks on Ritter.

And unlike Petraeus – who penned a ridiculously over-optimistic Washington Post column] (datelined Baghdad) extolling Iraq's security forces, timed just weeks before the 2004 election – Ritter's accurate analysis was never tailored to please any White House.

There is a struggle for power going on in our country between forces for peace and international diplomacy and open debate and civil liberties and social justice on the one hand – and the forces of intimidation and militarism and corporatism on the other. The Democratic base is firmly in the first camp. But not all Democratic leaders are.

When the forces of intimidation and their allies in corporate media cook up one of these obviously phony controversies to bully or distract the public – whether targeting a MoveOn ad or a Michael Moore movie or a liberal politician's minor misstatement – how should we react to Democratic officeholders so quick to aid the other side? Think P.C. – primary challenge.
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Jeff Cohen was director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, where he was an associate professor of journalism. He founded the progressive media watch group in 1986.

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