There's a hole in the bottom of the ocean. Unemployment is still near 10 percent. There are two wars underway. And what are conservative pundits fretting about? That this year President Obama won't be laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day.
The liberal watchdog outfit, Media Matters, has been keeping track of this latest right-wing meme:
- Glenn Beck says, "Obama is skipping out on a Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington Cemetery because he'll be in Chicago on vacation. I'm sorry, I don't ever, ever question the president's vacation. I didn't under Bush, I didn't under Clinton, I don't under Obama. . . . I have no problem with the man taking a vacation. But I am sick and tired -- sick and tired -- of people believing the lie that this administration has respect for the police or has respect for the soldiers of our country. I'm tired of it."
- Erick Erickson, a conservative blogger and CNN contributor, tweeted, "Obama skipping the Tomb of the Unknowns this weekend for Chicago is offensive. Chicago can wait. The Commander-in-Chief has a job to do."
- Noting that Vice President Joe Biden will assume the wreath-laying duties this year, Doug Powers, a guest blogger for conservative Michelle Malkin, grouses, "President Obama went to Arlington Cemetery to lay the wreath last year, but this year Obama's handing the wreath to [Biden] and heading off to the more welcoming political climes of Chicago. . . . Obama will however make it back to Washington in time to honor Paul McCartney next week. Boy, I'm starting to think that West Point speech [Obama gave this past weekend] wasn't from the heart."
You'd think these folks would have better things to gripe about. And Obama is not retreating on Memorial Day. (What president would?) Instead of visiting Arlington cemetery, Obama and the first lady will participate in a Memorial Day ceremony at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Ill., about 50 miles south of Chicago. Moreover, not every president has spent Memorial Day at Arlington. In 1983, President Reagan was at a summit meeting, and the deputy secretary of defense -- not even the veep! -- placed the wreath. Nine years later, President George H.W. Bush passed off the wreath to Vice President Dan Quayle (who had used family connections to get a slot in the National Guard during the days of the Vietnam War draft). And in 2007, Vice President Dick Cheney took on the wreath mission, while President George W. Bush was in Texas, perhaps clearing brush.
This wreath scuffle is yet another silly episode in the right's never-ending campaign to persuade Americans that Obama doesn't care about U.S. troops and is weak on national security. It shows how unserious these bloviators can be. Obama is in the middle of sending an additional 40,000 troops to Afghanistan and has boosted the number of drone attacks aimed at al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Still, conservative wingnuts insist on questioning his commitment to the defense of this nation. (I'm skeptical of the Afghanistan surge, but it certainly is a commitment to the war -- for at least the time being.)
Obama appears to approach his commander-in-chief responsibilities in an appropriately profound manner. Last fall, he made a midnight visit to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to witness the return of dead GIs -- which his predecessor never did. Two weeks later, he was in Arlington cemetery on Veterans Day, placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and greeting mourners who had come to this garden of stones and death on that cold and wet day. One of those was James Gordon Meek, a reporter for The New York Daily News, who happened to be at the cemetery visiting friends and relatives buried there. Afterward, Meek wrote a wonderfully poignant column:
What I got was an unexpected look into the eyes of a man who intertwined his roles as commander in chief and consoler in chief on a solemn day filled with remembrance and respect for sacrifices made -- and sacrifices yet to be made.
I'm sure the cynics will assume this was just another Obama photo op.
If they'd been standing in my boots looking him in the eye, they would have surely choked on their bile.
His presence in Section 60 convinced me that he now carries the heavy burden of command.
So what the hell do these conservatives want out of Obama? And does it matter if Obama throws some leaves on a tomb?
The president is now prosecuting two wars, both of which are insufficiently covered in the media -- which includes conservative talk radio and blogs. The war in Afghanistan hit the artificial milestone of 1,000 dead U.S. soldiers last week, and it is costing taxpayers around $100 billion a year (which could finance, say, up to 2 million teaching jobs annually). Yet the war is hardly debated on Capitol Hill. It registers barely a blip in the cable news world. I don't see right-wing agitators paying much more attention to this endeavor than anyone else. As Memorial Day approaches, it is a perfect time to reflect on this ongoing war -- whether it is worth the cost in lives and treasure, whether it is being waged in an effective manner, whether it is truly making us safer. Instead, conservative pundits absurdly turn Memorial Day into political ammo to further their vicious crusade against the president. That dishonors those who rendered the ultimate sacrifice for this country.
You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.
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