Maureen Dowd Totally Wrong About 'Moral Authority'

Cindy Sheehan is wrapping up operations in Crawford, Texas, and preparing to torment the East Coast with her "Camp Casey" circus, much to the delight of the cheerleading national media. In the New York Times, Maureen Dowd underlined the template of the Sheehan media blitz with her column’s declaration: "The moral authority of parents who bury children in Iraq is absolute."

Let us say this firmly: not so. Let us say this with equal vigor: Ms. Dowd and her legions of like-minded reporter peers are hypocrites. There are hundreds of other grieving family members loaded with moral authority who think Sheehan is wrong. Even Sheehan’s own family has denounced her street theater. Where are Dowd and Co. bestowing on them the mantle of moral authority?

These same journalists never cared much for the moral authority of grieving parents unloading their pain and bitter anger at the commander-in-chief during the Clinton years. Take the story of Randy Shughart, who earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for insisting he be dropped into a fierce firefight in Somalia on Oct. 3, 1993, to aid American soldiers grounded in a helicopter crash. His heroism cost him his life. Shughart was honored at a White House ceremony in May 1994.

The award ceremony drew minimal media coverage. The Washington Post dedicated a few hundred words on Page A-6. USA Today’s story on page 9A highlighted Clinton’s stage performance, with reporter Richard Benedetto touting a "visibly moved President Clinton" who "softly whispered" thanks to the widows. But softer than a whisper — missing, in fact — was any discussion of the Vietnam-style dawdling of Clinton and his defense secretary, Les Aspin, and the decision not to send armor and gunships to support American soldiers on the ground in Somalia.

Shughart’s father, Herbert, stood next to President Clinton at that awards ceremony — and after refusing to shake the president’s hand, told him off for not providing enough military support in the conflict. National media coverage of that hostile exchange was nonexistent.

The story eventually bubbled up, albeit packaged with sympathy for the "anguish" of President Clinton. One of the earliest accounts of this came over a year later, in the Jan. 22, 1995, Los Angeles Times Magazine. Reporter Doyle McManus wrote that Clinton had delayed meeting with grieving parents (no media criticism in that case) since aides explained he was shaken by "seeing his own orders lead to tragedy." Clinton extended his hand to Shughart, and the grieving father refused to take it. "You are not fit to be president of the United States," McManus recounted Shugart saying. "The blame for my son’s death rests with you."

Another account surfaced in the New York Times on Dec. 28, 2000, as reporter Jane Perlez looked back on Clinton’s strained relationship with the military. Perlez recounted that Shughart gave Clinton a "dressing down" instead of polite thanks. "I told him that for a man who dodged the draft, he wasn’t fit for the job," Shughart told the Times. It is nice that the Times was on the story — six years, seven months and one week after it happened.

Michael Durant, who broke a leg and his back when his Black Hawk crashed, recalled in his 2003 memoir that as he recovered, "I had begun to really understand how much my comrades resented the actions of the Clinton administration, and their anger and bitterness over the refusal to provide us with the armor and the air support we needed." As the one man saved by Shughart and his colleague Gary Gordon, Durant decided to reject an offer from the Clinton White House to attend the ceremony. "I wasn’t going to stand on the White House lawn and make it appear that all was forgotten and forgiven, while my comrades were barely cold in their graves."

Why didn’t Durant’s "moral authority" draw a crowd, Ms. Dowd?

Some parents of soldiers slain that day were more vocal. Larry Joyce, a Vietnam combat veteran who lost his son Casey, was angry enough to agitate in Washington, testifying before the Senate, and getting a meeting the night before with President Clinton. The New York Times reported that Joyce "stunned the voluble panel into silence with a moving eulogy for his son," but apparently, his moral authority was very limited, too. The Times didn’t quote him attacking Clinton. USA Today at least reported he said everyone should "know the consequences of foreign policy that is developed haphazardly and implemented by amateurs."

The contrast between Cindy Sheehan and these fathers who lost sons in Somalia is clear. The moral authority of presidential critics is directly related to how politically useful they are to the liberal agenda. Clinton was roundly criticized at the time for his bumbling in Somalia. But the critics armed with moral authority went ignored for years.


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