The War Hero and the Chicken Hawk appeared on my screen early Tuesday morning. Written by Timothy Egan for the New York Times, it is—in the word of Mona Lisa Vito (Lisa Tomei) in My Cousin Vinny—“dead on balls accurate” in explaining why, on torture, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) is right, and former Vice President Richard Cheney is not.
About chicken hawks. There are three conditions for being one: 1. You had a chance to fight; 2. You did not fight; and 3. You’ve never met a war you did not think America should fight. Famous chicken hawks include … gee, so little space, so little time. No, seriously, The New Hampshire Gazette offers up the Chickenhawk Hall of Shame. It goes deep, and is a great reference. Listed individuals include at least one POTUS, one VPOTUS (the afore-mentioned Cheney, who got five deferments and had “other priorities” during Vietnam), members of Congress and other elected officials, and plenty of Sabbath Gasbags and men about town. (By the way, and only because I caught some guff about using the term, here’s Calvin Trillin, term inventor and writer extraordinaire, addressing Sabbath Gasbags, Speak Up for the New York Times on June 1, 2013.)
And about blowhards, some of whom are also chicken hawks (including the afore-mentioned Cheney). Two who quickly come to mind are Governor Chris Christie (R-N.J.) and Senator Ted Cruz, (R-Tex.). These men are just plain rude, telling people to shut up. Being belligerent and just plain awful. And reveling in it. Here’s Governor Christie, reported in Chris Christie blows his top after angry constituent confronts him at press conference, reported by Jean Hayden for Daily Kos on October 30, 2014. And here, from Outside the Beltway on February 15, 2013, is Ted Cruz Unites Both Parties in Belief Ted Cruz a Jerk by James Joyner.
So what is the attraction to these phony war-mongering men, and to those too young to have been drafted who are just plain fowl? I just don’t get it.
This is not a totally new phenomenon. Jerome Corsi aside, Secretary of State John Kerry is a war hero. A bit pompous, yes, but a real-life war hero. Somehow, though, in the 2004 presidential election that focused on two wars, Senator Kerry was inauthentic and President George (Chicken Hawk) Bush was the authentic man.
Thirty-plus years earlier, in 1972, we had an election between two men who did serve in World War II, President Richard Nixon and Senator George McGovern (D-S.D.). While President Nixon served in the South Seas Islands doing nothing special, Senator McGovern’s record included flying dozens of bomber missions over Europe, bringing home a shot up plane, and receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross. Senator McGovern appreciated why war should be done sparingly; President Nixon did not. And in the election Senator McGovern was a joke, and President Nixon was the real leader.
Back in the day President Theodore Roosevelt had as his philosophy “speak softly and carry and carry a big stick.” That sentiment seems lost to the ages, along with authenticity. Senator McCain brought back his authentic voice on the Senate floor, and it resonated deeply, on many levels.
In closing, I welcome any insights into what may be an explanation for much of what’s wrong here.
P.S. I mean no disrespect to President Nixon’s memory when I mention his war record. He served, and I only said “doing nothing special” to contract his record with Senator McGovern’s.