The Disgrace of Walter Reed Is Indefensible

For conservatives, feeling besieged by the national media comes naturally.

Take Ann Coulter's little speech at CPAC last week where she called John Edwards a "faggot." After the incident, the national media pounced. Republicans were ordered to renounce Coulter, something the top tier of presidential candidates quickly (and rightly) did.

Simultaneously, many conservatives instinctively circled the wagons around the gránde dame of conservative shock "humor." They whined about how unfair it is that Bill Maher can offer assorted televised idiocies each week to an indifferent nation, but let Ann Coulter say one little slur and it becomes every talking head's favorite controversy du jour. Distrustful of a national media that they think is out to get them, many conservatives supported Coulter during her hour of self-induced crisis. The underlying matter of whether or not she deserved their support (she didn't) failed to penetrate the thinking of these fiercely tribal people.

The revelations regarding the conditions at Walter Reed Hospital are of course a story of an entirely different magnitude. Nonetheless, the thought of Henry Waxman brandishing subpoenas while The New York Times writes partisan editorials might make a lot of Republicans reflexively circle the wagons around the once again besieged Bush administration.

This is an urge that Republicans and conservatives should suppress. What happened at Walter Reed is a national disgrace, and leaves an unerasable blemish on the Bush administration. To pretend otherwise would do a disservice to our returning soldiers who have suffered at Walter Reed. The disgrace of Walter Reed is indefensible; a significant conservative or Republican movement to defend it will beg the inference that the conservatives doing so have sold their souls for partisanship.

The Walter Reed General Hospital opened for business in 1909, named for Maj. Walter Reed, who discovered that mosquitoes transmitted yellow fever. In 1977, the modern incarnation of the Walter Reed Medical Center came into being. The hospital has 5,500 patient rooms and is built around a network of courtyards. Every patient room has a view of the outside.

Dean Barnett is a columnist for Townhall.com and blogs daily at http://HughHewitt.townhall.com. The day the Red Sox won the World Series was the happiest day of his life.

Walter Reed has long been the flagship of U.S. military hospitals. That's why the revelations of the last couple of weeks have been so astonishing. Some of the physical conditions in the facility were disgraceful. In building 18, the epicenter of the scandal, 80 recovering soldiers had to endure soiled rugs and moldy rooms. When the workers finally arrived last week to clean things up, they had to wear protective masks.

And then there were the bureaucratic nightmares. Stories of veterans being treated with callousness, neglect and incompetence are as numerous as they are infuriating. Soldiers who sought additional treatments could get neither timely nor appropriate responses from the facility's dysfunctional operators. In short, our warriors who served our country so nobly were treated in an unforgivably shabby manner.

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