In what has become the latest partisan battle over the Iraq war, congressional Democrats and a veterans group are expressing outrage over comments made by conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh on his talk radio program last week.
The war of words began last Wednesday when Limbaugh, a longtime conservative radio talk-show host, insinuated that veterans who question the war in Iraq are "phony soldiers" on his talk-radio program.
Limbaugh was responding to a caller who argued that anti-war groups "never talk to real soldiers."
"They like to pull these soldiers that come up out of the blue and talk to the media," the caller said.
"The phony soldiers," Limbaugh responded.
Since then, Democrats have pounced on the controversy -- amplified by bloggers, interest groups and news media outlets -- calling on Republicans to condemn Limbaugh's comments. On Wednesday VoteVets.org, an Internet-based political veterans group, launched a television and radio ad attacking Limbaugh's comments.
It's a sign that in the lead-up to the 2008 election, with their congressional efforts to effect a change of course in Iraq repeatedly thwarted, the Democrats are stepping up their public relations game to portray perceived slights against the troops as proof that the GOP and other war-supporters do not care as much as they do about military veterans.
"Maybe Rush Limbaugh hasn't heard, but there's a new sheriff in town -- America's troops and veterans, who are not going to sit idle while he and his ilk demean the service of those who oppose the president's failed policy in Iraq," said Jon Soltz, chair of VoteVets.org and an Iraq War veteran.
The veterans group spent $60,000 on a national ad condemning Limbaugh on cable news outlets last Wednesday and Thursday. They also aired a radio version of the ad during the Rush Limbaugh show in Washington, D.C., and in Palm Beach, Fla. -- Limbaugh's home market.
"More and more troops and veterans of Iraq believe George Bush's military policy has been a disaster," wounded Iraq veteran Brian McGough says in the ad. "I am one of them. Rush Limbaugh called vets like me 'phony soldiers' for telling the truth about Iraq."
Over pictures of his head wound, McGough says to camera in the ad: "Rush, the shrapnel I took to my head was real. My traumatic brain injury was real. And my belief that we are on the wrong course in Iraq is real. Until you have the guts to call me a 'phony soldier' to my face, stop telling lies about my service."
Democrats called on their Republican colleagues to condemn Limbaugh -- just as Republicans called on Democrats last month to condemn an ad by the liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org that was critical of Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq.
"All these Republicans went running to the mic and the TV cameras when MoveOn ran their ad about Gen. Petraeus. Now let's see if they really mean it," Democratic candidate and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards said Saturday while campaigning in New Hampshire.
"Let's see if they'll speak out against Rush Limbaugh. Let's see if they'll challenge him about men and women who have worn the uniform of the United States," Edwards charged.
Democratic candidate Sen. Chris Dodd's, D-Conn., spokesman also jumped on the controversy.