Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today on the floor of the U.S. Senate, urging Senators to sign a letter that calls on Mark P. Mays, CEO of Clear Channel Communications, to publicly repudiate Rush Limbaugh’s characterization of troops who speak out against the Iraq war as “phony soldiers.”
Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Freedom of speech is one of our country’s most cherished values. Nothing sets us further apart than the countries and regimes we oppose than our belief that everyone’s opinion matters, and everyone has the right to express it. That is why, when we hear things on the radio that are offensive, by and large, we tolerate them.
“But last week, Rush Limbaugh went way over the line – and while we respect his right to say anything he likes, his unpatriotic comments cannot be ignored.
“During his show last Wednesday, Rush Limbaugh was engaged in one of his typical rants. This rant was unremarkable and indistinguishable from his usual drivel, which has been steadily losing listeners for years – until he crossed that line by calling our men and women in uniform who oppose the war in Iraq ‘phony soldiers.’ This comment was so beyond the pale of decency that it cannot be left alone. And yet, he followed it up with denials and an attack on Congressman Jack Murtha, a 37-year active member of the Marine Corps.
“We have been debating the Iraq war here in the Senate and throughout the country for not months, but years. There are good, patriotic Americans who favor the war – and good, patriotic Americans who oppose President Bush’s handling of it. Neither party holds a patent on patriotism. I know all my Republican colleagues would agree with that.
“Yet Rush Limbaugh took it upon himself to attack the courage and character of those fighting and dying for him and for all of us. Rush Limbaugh got himself a deferment from serving when he was a young man. He never served in uniform. He never saw in person the extreme difficulty of maintaining peace in a foreign country engaged in civil war. Ye he thinks that his opinion on the war is worth more than those who are on the front lines.
“And what’s worse – Limbaugh’s show is broadcast on Armed Forces Radio, which means that thousands of troops overseas and veterans here at home were forced to hear this attack on their patriotism. Rush Limbaugh owes the men and women of our Armed Forces an apology.
“On Friday, many Democrats joined me in drafting a letter to the Chief Executive Officer of Clear Channel, Mark Mays that we will send out this week. Here is what we wrote:
‘Dear Mr. Mays,
‘At the time we sign this letter, 3,801 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq, and another 27,936 have been wounded. 160,000 others awoke this morning on foreign sand, far from home, to face the danger and uncertainty of another day at war.
‘Although Americans of goodwill debate the merits of this war, we can all agree that those who serve with such great courage deserve our deepest respect and gratitude. That is why Rush Limbaugh’s recent characterization of troops who oppose the war as “phony soldiers” is such an outrage.
‘Our troops are fighting and dying to bring to others the freedoms that many take for granted. It is unconscionable that Mr. Limbaugh would criticize them for exercising the fundamentally American right to free speech. Mr. Limbaugh has made outrageous remarks before, but this affront to our soldiers is beyond the pale.
‘The military, like any community within the United States, includes members both for and against the war. Senior generals, such as General John Batiste and Paul Eaton, have come out against the war while others have publicly supported it. A December 2006 poll conducted by the Military Times found just 35 percent of service members approved of President Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq, compared to 42 percent who disapproved. From this figure alone, it is clear that Mr. Limbaugh’s insult is directed at thousands of American service members.
‘Active and retired members of our armed forces have a unique perspective on the war and offer a valuable contribution to our national debate. In August, seven soldiers wrote an op-ed expressing their concern with the current strategy in Iraq. Tragically, since then, two of those seven soldiers have made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq.
‘Thousands of active troops and veterans were subjected to Mr. Limbaugh’s unpatriotic and indefensible comments on your broadcast. We trust you will agree that not a single one of our sons, daughters, neighbors and friends serving overseas is a “phony soldier.” We call on you to publicly repudiate these comments that call into question their service and sacrifice and to ask Mr. Limbaugh to apologize for his comments.’
“Just as patriotism is the exclusive realm of neither party, taking a stand against those who spew hate and impugn the integrity of our troops is a job that belongs to all of us. I can’t help but wonder how my Republican colleagues would have reacted if the tables were turned – if a well-known Democratic radio personality had used the same insulting line of attack against troops who support the war.
“The letter I read will be available on the Senate floor for the entire day. My colleagues on both sides of the aisle will have every chance to add their names to it, and I encourage all of us to do so. If we take the Republican side at their word that last week’s vote on another controversial statement related to the war was truly about patriotism, not politics, then I have no doubt that they will stand with us against Limbaugh’s comments with equal fervor.
“I am confident we will see Republicans join with us in overwhelming numbers. Anything less would be a double standard that has no place in the United States Senate. I ask my colleagues, Democrat and Republican alike, to join together against this irresponsible, hateful, and unpatriotic attack by calling upon Rush Limbaugh to give our troops the apology they deserve.”