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the Baltimore Sun

Microphone Marines

Oh, this is rich: Radio blowhard Rush Limbaugh, a man who cheerily accepted a military deferment because he had a cyst on his rear, has appointed himself the arbiter of which American soldiers are "phony" and which are real.

Speaking to his millions of "dittoheads" - people who have so thoroughly surrendered their capacity for independent thought that they agree reflexively with whatever position he espouses - Mr. Limbaugh complained that some members of the American military who speak to the media, presumably to tell the truth about the lies of the Bush administration and failures of the war in Iraq, are "phony soldiers."

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the Republican presidential candidate and certifiably un-phony former prisoner of war, quickly chimed in. "If Mr. Limbaugh made the remark he is reported to have made, it reflects very poorly on him and not the objects of his offensive comment," he said. "I expect most Americans, whatever their political views, will have the same reaction. He would be well advised to retract it and apologize."

Elizabeth Edwards, wife of Democratic presidential contender John Edwards, was less charitable.

"My classmates went to Vietnam; [Mr. Limbaugh] did not," she said. "He had a medical disability, the same medical disability that probably should have stopped him from spending a lifetime in a radio announcer's chair."

How foolish, these presidential candidates and their spouses, asking for apologies. They presume that some sense of internal integrity or personal embarrassment would prevent Mr. Limbaugh, and other demagogues like him on television and radio, from indulging in such hypocrisies.

But Mr. Limbaugh doesn't issue apologies. He calls for them, and he's not alone: A whole battalion of phony media soldiers is fighting with great ferocity from behind their bunkered desks in their sound-booth trenches. To read or listen to them, you'd think their blinkered cheerleading was as crucial to the war effort as the sacrifices made by the real troops.

These "microphone Marines," such as Mr. Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter, have convinced themselves that their outrage-filled rants, disinformation campaigns and challenges to others' patriotism constitute national service.


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A favorite, sickening tactic employed by this crowd - and the "think tank commanders" such as William Kristol and Richard Perle who have been consistently wrong in almost every prediction they've made about Iraq - is to wrap themselves in the troops' uniforms.

They do so to camouflage the Bush administration's long list of failures in Iraq. For good measure, they pounce on some passing phrase from a politician or group and declare that it has demoralized our troops abroad.

Why have the microphone Marines been reduced to this? Because nobody is spitting on troops when they come home. Nobody is calling them baby-killers. Heck, even when the documented atrocities of Abu Ghraib prison or the raping and burning to death of a young Iraqi girl and her family were brought to public light, Americans did not blame our servicemen and women as a group.

There are protests against the war, sure. But our soldiers and veterans are not hanged in effigy, and the administration has received from Congress every dollar for the troops it has requested.

The microphone Marines need enemies at home, even if they must invent them. They need to redirect blame domestically in order to divert attention from the real fatalities and casualties occurring abroad.

Cowards like Ms. Coulter - who wrote a book titled Treason, and recently suggested that we may need to take away American women's right to vote because they will endanger the country by electing Democrats - live for such moments. This is why so much fuss was made over's ad about Gen. David Petraeus in The New York Times that said, "General Petraeus or General Betray Us?"

America has "phony soldiers" in this battle, all right, but not in Iraq. They are fighting insignificant rhetorical battles here at home intended to obfuscate the truth about this war. And, despite the fact that many of them cut and ran when their time came to grab helmets and rifles, their favored tactic is to question the patriotism and resolve of other Americans.

This is the war they are fighting. And they're losing it, too.

Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is an associate professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and author of "Whistling Past Dixie." His column appears Wednesdays in The Baltimore Sun.

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