Lessons Not Learned

Ken AshfordBush & Co., Iraq, Republicans, SheehanLeave a Comment

Paul Begala is talking here about the smears of the right wing against Sheehan (although it is hard to tell).  He’s nailed it:

It seems to me the American people never really forgave the Democrats for being right about Vietnam.

The left was right, of course, about Vietnam.  Even my CNN colleague Bob Novak, who was extraordinarily hawkish on Vietnam, now admits America should have pulled out years before we did.

And yet, despite being right, the left lost politically when America lost militarily.  Why?  And what can we who oppose President Bush’s war in Iraq learn from that?

One of the grave sins of the anti-Vietnam War movement was, I think, a conflation of the conflict with the combatants.  Instead of focusing their fire and their ire on the commander in chief, too many liberals wound up blaming the conscripts who so bravely fought Mr. Nixon’s war.  This was a tragic error.  First, and most important, because decent, honorable men were smeared.   Some were called "baby killer."  Others were tainted by popular media that depicted them as unstable.

So one important lesson of Vietnam is, the first casualty of an unwise and unjust war are the American troops called on to fight it.  Their service should be honored.

Second, what we political consultants call the "optics" matter.  The popular memory of the anti-war movement calls to mind (even for those of us too young to clearly recall it) the indelible image of young Americans burning the American flag.  Cops were called "pigs."  Cherished American icons were trashed.

It seems to me the new anti-war movement has learned these lessons well.  And it is the pro-war right that is repeating the mistakes of the past.

Read the whole thing.