"Experience keeps a dear school," Benjamin Franklin wrote in "Poor Richard's Almanack," "but fools will learn in no other, and scarce in that."
So it's no surprise that some people who in 2004 were apoplectic about what they perceived as a personal assault on a political leader should be scarcely bothered in 2007 by a personal assault on a military leader.
The former case refers, of course, to the Swift-boating of John Kerry during the last presidential campaign.
"Swift-boating," like "neocon," is a malleable political term that can mean different things according to where and how it is employed. In theory, it refers to a campaign to smear Kerry's military service record. In practice, it's applied with a broad brush to just about any objective criticism of the senator from Massachusetts.
Quote Kerry's testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971, when he said U.S. military personnel in Vietnam had "committed war crimes on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command ... raped, cut off ears, cut off heads ... razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan," and you, too, might be accused of Swift-boating.
Whatever Swift-boating means, you'd think the people most appalled by it would be the people most sensitive to it. But, as Poor Richard observed, they're the ones most likely to foolishly excuse, rather than condemn from experience, the vilification of Gen. David Petraeus as a traitor.
Let's set aside for a moment that in 2004, Kerry was a presidential candidate who had made service in Vietnam his leading credential in a political campaign in the United States, while in 2007, Petraeus is the commander of a military campaign in Iraq. Is it really true that anyone who criticizes the left-wing smear against Petraeus organized by MoveOn.org is a Swift-boating hypocrite?
"For his military service, Kerry deserves our nation's eternal gratitude. Those who would impugn that service are acting beyond the bounds of propriety. Criticizing what Kerry has done since he returned from Vietnam from his false testimony about atrocities and illegal Christmas Eve incursions into Cambodia to his voting record during 20 years in the Senate is the essence of political debate in a free society."
That was from a column I wrote on Sept. 12, 2004. And this is from a column on Sept. 27, 2007:
"Everyone has the right to question reports of progress from Baghdad and the wisdom of maintaining a vast military commitment to Iraq. What no one has the right to do is impugn the loyalty of a decorated military commander. You can challenge his numbers, dispute his methodology and debate his recommendations in the toughest terms. What common decency suggests you cannot do is attack his integrity."
Hypocrisy? You be the judge. Criticizing is one thing. Silencing is something else altogether. That's what Marc Elias, general counsel for the Kerry campaign, and Joseph Sandler, general counsel for the Democratic National Committee, attempted to do in 2004 when they sent an intimidating letter to television station managers warning them not to air commercials produced by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
That kind of chilling, liberal intolerance for politically free speech has its corollary in 2007. After the House and Senate overwhelmingly passed bipartisan resolutions that criticized MoveOn.org's personal attack on Petraeus, a group of Democratic senators attempted to manipulate MoveOn's misstep into a mugging of conservative talk radio. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and 40 colleagues signed a McCarthyite letter to Clear Channel Communications Inc. CEO Mark Mays demanding that he "publicly repudiate" controversial comments by Rush Limbaugh, an inquisitor's call that met with curious silence among the self-proclaimed guardians of civil liberties.
Imagine if Dick Cheney sent a letter to New York Times publisher Arthur "Pinch" Sulzberger demanding that he publicly repudiate MoveOn.org. Do you think there might be just a few liberals wailing about censorship?
Hypocrisy? You be the judge.