The Democratic-controlled Senate overwhelmingly passed a resolution on Thursday condemning a newspaper ad in which the Internet-based liberal group MoveOn.org questioned the credibility of Gen. David Petraeus, the top American military commander in Iraq. The vote came hours after President Bush in a press conference called the ad “disgusting,” and urged Democrats to denounce the ad.
Many Democrats criticized MoveOn, saying it handed Republicans an easy way to defend the war by suggesting that Petraeus lied about progress in Iraq to win support for Bush’s Iraq policy. The ad—which asked, “General Petraeus or General Betray Us?”—was published in The New York Times on the eve of Petraeus’ long-anticipated report on the war before Congress last week.
It was striking how “pointedly, fluently, and effectively” Bush positioned Republicans to “make hay on this issue,” said The New York Sun in an editorial. In his news conference, Bush said “he was disappointed that not more leaders of the Democratic Party spoke out strongly against that kind of ad,” forcing Democrats to side either with the military or the “MoveOn slanderers.” When the Senate voted 72 to 25 to approve the resolution, everyone who voted “no”—including front-running presidential candidate Hillary Clinton—put themselves in an awkward position indeed.
Bush struck at the Democrats’ “key vulnerability,” said William Kristol in The Daily Standard. He shamed them for their “silence” after the attack on Petraeus, and drew attention to their contentious relationship with the military. Bush sure “showed he still knows how to hit the Democrats where it hurts.”
Cheap shots often hurt, said John Nichols on TheNation.com. But this one was “one of the most remarkable—and politically petty—moments of a remarkable and politically-petty presidency.” All the MoveOn ad did was propose “the anything-but-radical notion that a failure of frankness on the general's part would be a betrayal of the troops and the country. That's hardly an unreasonable suggestion, coming as it does at a critical stage in the occupation when young men and women from the United States are dying at a rate of one every ten hours.”
It’s shocking that the Republicans—the daddy party, the tough guys—can be made to whimper so at the sight of a harmless newspaper ad, said Michael Kinsley in Time. The ad is indeed “tough,” if “witless.” The word “betray” could be taken to mean that MoveOn is accusing Petraeus of treason. Regardless, ”all the gasping for air and waving of scented handkerchiefs among the war's most enthusiastic supporters is pretty comical.” Oh, well. That’s Washington. “Welcome to the wonderful world of umbrage, the new language of American politics.”