BEIJING – President Bush told reporters yesterday that members of congress who criticize the war in Iraq can still be patriotic. The president’s declaration came after more than a week of harsh rhetoric from some administration officials seeking to demean congressmen or women who oppose the conduct of the war.
The vitriolic attacks reached their high point when Vice president Cheney referred to Representative John Murtha (D-Pa.) as a “girly man who squats to pee” after Murtha had called for an immediate withdrawal of American forces from Iraq.
“Elected officials should not be afraid to express their opinions about Iraq,” said President Bush. “It hurts me when I hear people say, ‘If you don’t support the war, then you’re a girly man . . . or woman.’ I reject that idea. Discussions about the war should not degenerate into arguments over who’s a patriot and who isn’t. No one said Jefferson Davis wasn’t patriotic just because he took up arms against his government.”
The president’s plea for tolerance notwithstanding, other members of his administration do not appear to have shared in his evolution.
“Does this send the wrong message to the American people?” declared Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on Meet the Press. “If people think they can criticize the war without consequence just because some congressman does, we might as well not have a Patriot Act or secret detention camps.”
Vice president Cheney, speaking from Camp David where he had moved in for the weekend, predicted that Bush’s “conciliatory rhetoric” would damage the war’s popularity in the polls.
“The next time Zogby or Gallup or one of those other [sissies] asks people what they think about the war, popular support for the conflict will be as low as mine,” Cheney warned.
According to the latest polls, Americans give the vice president an approval rating of 27 percent, making him the most unpopular vice president since Spiro Agnew.
The White House, meanwhile, sought to spin the president’s remarks in order to mollify Republican hawks.
“The press, as usual, heard only what it wants to hear,” said presidential press secretary Scott McClellan. “When the president speaks, what he doesn’t say is often more explicit that what he does say. For example, the president was talking only about members of congress. He never said that ordinary citizens who oppose the war can still be patriotic. Furthermore, he did not say that people who oppose the war—inside of congress or out—are not homosexuals or adulterers or Al-Qaeda sympathizers.”
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