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.
Veterans Group Launches Anti-Limbaugh Ad
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 Mobilize Against Limbaugh Comments
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.
"It's ironic, if not remotely surprising, that Rush Limbaugh, who makes his living shooting his mouth off, would impugn the patriotism and service of American troops simply because they have voiced their opposition to this failed policy," said Dodd spokesman Hari Sevugan.
Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean called on Limbaugh to apologize.
This week 20 House Democrats introduced a resolution urging the House to condemn Limbaugh's "unwarranted slur." Forty Senate Democrats Tuesday sent a letter to Clear Channel, asking the company that syndicates Limbaugh's radio program "to publicly repudiate" Limbaugh's comments.
Mark Mays, president of Clear Channel, the parent company of Limbaugh's broadcast, stood behind his broadcaster.
"Given Mr. Limbaugh's history of support for our soldiers, it would be unfair for me to assume his statements were intended to personally indict combat soldiers simply because they didn't share his own beliefs regarding the war in Iraq," Mays said in a written statement.
So far, Democrats in Congress haven't been successful in persuading Republicans to sign onto their resolution condemning Limbaugh's comments.
And yet House Republicans were able to get Democrats to sign their resolution condemning the MoveOn.org ad attacking Petraeus.
Limbaugh Denounces Veterans Group Ad
Limbaugh publicly denounced the VoteVets.org ad, likening the Iraq War veteran featured in the ad to a suicide bomber.
"This is such a blatant use of a valiant combat veteran, lying to him about what I said, then strapping those lies to his belt, sending him out via the media in a TV ad to walk into as many people as he can walk into," Limbaugh said Tuesday on his radio program.
Limbaugh has said that his "phony soldier" comments were referring only to one soldier recently convicted of lying about his service. The radio talk show host has also attacked Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Pa., a retired Marine colonel and opponent of the Iraq War.
"I was not talking about anti-war, active duty troops," Limbaugh insisted.
However the liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters disputed Limbaugh's claim that his "phony soldiers" comment was taken out of context, pointing to the transcript as proof that the reference came two minutes before discussion of the discredited man.
"After referring to troops who disagree with him about Iraq as phony soldiers, he's gone on to compare one of our Purple Heart veterans from the war in Iraq to a suicide bomber," said Karl Frisch, spokesperson for Media Matters. "It's time for him to stop digging the hole and start being accountable."