Whenever any public figure in Washington suffers criticism they immediatly have the label "embattled" and "under fire" attached to their names in subsequent news broadcasts. Due to the incident
in which Secretary Rumsfeld was hit with a pre-arranged question regarding Humvee armor, he has the dubious honor of having those labels attached to him.
Wesley Pruden, the editor-in-chief of the Washington Times, has a way with words that few can match. In today's editorial
he makes short work of the anti-Rumsfeld crowd:
Most of the Rumsfeld critics couldn't find a bottle of permanent blue-black ink if it fell into their laps. Ink and paper, 24-pound watermarked bond if you want to be as persnickety as the social pretenders are, are the only correct tools for this task. (You could ask Miss Manners). Just signing a proper condolence letter is not enough. If you're really serious about joining the hunt and polo club, you have to write out the whole letter by hand. All letters must be original; no fair copying a particularly eloquent phrase into a second or third letter.
Writing personal letters of condolence was something only company commanders were expected to do in previous wars. Families of soldiers slain at Gettysburg or Chancellorsville got the news in the newspapers; even in World War II, widows got only a telegram beginning " ... the president of the United States regrets to inform you ... ."
But sometimes any old stick will do, and the secretary sometimes asks for it. Tact is never found in abundance in the executive suites, where aides and flunkies stand at the ready to do the deed when the boss has to cough or burp, and Mr. Rumsfeld is blunter, plainer-spoken, "rougher and gruffer" than most. His reply to the Tennessee National Guardsman citing equipment shortages in Iraq — "you fight with the army you have" — sounds as if the secretary consults Marie Antoinette, not Miss Manners, for tips in the social graces.
The families of the soldiers slain in Iraq "would like to think that at least for a moment the secretary thought individually about this young man or this young woman," says Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, a Democrat. Agrees the easily astounded Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a Republican who dreams of being John McCain when he grows up: "This issue of the secretary of defense not personally signing the letters is just astounding to me."
Senators are frequently easily astounded, and can occasionally even be surprised. Frequent correspondents of these worthies might usefully compare the squiggles and squirts in their signatures; auto-pens are not unknown on Capitol Hill. Senators, like CEOs, have others to do their really fatiguing tasks, such as signing letters.
Shortcomings in Mr. Rumsfeld's schooling in social deportment are not actually the point of the sniping, which has become the gala sport of the festive season. The snipers include John McCain, of course, and even Trent Lott, of whom we had not heard since last Confederate Memorial Day. The critics are after George W., as usual, and the president understands that the Gaffe Patrol is itching for action after Bernie Kerik went down in flames (or at least in flagrante delicto) before anyone could fire a shot. But Donald Rumsfeld, an old fighter pilot, has turned out to be a canny and elusive target.
Ordinarily, thoughtless gaffes can take down Washington figures when real mistakes can't. But so far not this time. Saxby Chambliss, the Republican senator from Georgia, rightly calls the defense secretary "insensitive," but a good leader nonetheless. Sen. Richard Lugar thinks the secretary deserves to be kept after school to practice his penmanship, but "he should stay in office."
So Rumsfeld's biggest sin, as it turns out, has nothing to do with Humvee armor. It is in not personally signing the condolence letters that are sent to the families of soldiers killed in battle. He accused of being insensitive and not showing enough respect towards the families.
Such criticism is to a large degree the victory of style over substance, one that has permeated our society. Who has not sat through the mandatory HR class on "sensitivity" and "respect"? Who has not had it hammered into their heads that "everyone deserves respect" as a right by their existance? Sensitivity concerns now demand that we not utter the dreaded word "Christmas" in the workplace or the public schools.
I've never had much patience for that way of thinking. To me, respect is something you earn, it is not a door prize you get for showing up. Sensitivity
means "awareness of the needs and emotions of others". There is a time and a place for bluntness, and at other times when certain things just need not be said at all. Yet all too often speaking the plain truth with no icing on top is called "insensitivity" when it is actually just simple straight talk. Throwing out gratuitous insults and engaging in name-calling is insensitivity.
There is also a difference between "courtesy" and "respect", a point completely lost on some people. One can be plain-spoken, even blunt, and yet remain courteous. Indeed in my mind courtesy is demanded as a matter of principle. "Courtesy" and PC notions of "sensitivity" are quite different. But then, some people can't seem to understand the difference between "toleration" and "approval" either (file under "gay issues").
These are subtle yet important differences. In my own blog
I try to maintain a professional demeanor, not tossing out gratuitous insults to make a point. Here at Conservapuppies all the writers do the same, which is one reason why I am proud to be associated with them.
Public figures need to watch their words carefully. Yet the sniping at Rumsfeld over his alleged "gaffe" has gone to an absurd level. Of course, whenever McCain or Hagel get into the act you know that something is fishy. Fortunately for the Secretary, he has a stronger man
standing up for him. One who, unlike the good senators, is not all-consumed with his public appearance.
That we live in an age, and are fighting a war, in which it is even possible or conceivable for any one person to write or sign letters of condolence to the families of soldiers killed in action is amazing enough, when one stops to think about it. And it is something that we should thank the good Lord for.
(My complete take on the Secretary and the Humvee issue can be found on my other blog site here