War, political rhetoric and sacrifice

Today we will underscore our president’s desperate call for Americans to “sacrifice” so we can win at last our long war in Iraq.

We will highlight the president’s plea by recycling the words of President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, critics Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., and a onetime government spokesperson who hasn’t made much news lately, Donald Duck.

On Jan. 10, President Bush outlined what he called his “new strategy” that he promised will “change America’s course in Iraq.” He spoke from the White House Library, not the familiar Oval Office, because his advisers figured a new strategy should have a new look.

Indeed, his face bore a new look. His eyes and mouth looked desperate and unsure, quite the opposite of his swaggering and boastful Mission Accomplished days (also see: daze) — and quite the opposite of the carefully written words with which he ended last week’s prime time plea to a war-weary nation: “Fellow citizens: The year ahead will demand more patience, sacrifice and resolve. …We can, and we will, prevail.”

The president’s inspiring call for sacrifice begs two questions: Who? How?

Both questions came up on Capitol Hill the very next day. At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Senator Boxer put the question of sacrifice into very personal terms when she asked Rice: “Who pays the price? I’m not going to pay a personal price. My kids are too old and my grandchild is too young. You’re not going to pay a particular price, as I understand it, with immediate family. So who pays the price? The American military and their families.”

Since Rice is a single woman with no children, it played like one of those cringe-factor moments when the snippet aired on the TV news. Of course, Boxer would have been wiser to broaden her question to include more than herself and one unmarried career woman. After all, President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney both found ways to avoid serving in Vietnam War combat; their children never volunteered for military service. And the same is true for most war policy-makers and their congressional supporters.

But the question of who is sacrificing — in combat and back home — gets to a hard core truth we all must face. Thousands in our all-volunteer military are being sent back into combat for the third time. Many had to leave spouses, children and jobs back home. Many in the military reserves and National Guard are being redeployed as never before. And military service is not the only form of sacrifice in wartime.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Donald Duck was pressed into patriotic service at the request of the U.S. government. Our government asked Walt Disney’s team to promote an effort to encourage Americans to pay their income taxes in full — and pay them early. You see, federal taxpaying was voluntary, not mandatory, back then. And so on theatre screens everywhere, there was Donald Duck, quacking: “Taxes to beat the Axis!” A Gallup Poll estimated that 37 percent of the 60 million Americans who saw the cartoon paid their taxes early.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America’s homeland, President Bush asked for no new sacrifice from American taxpayers; in fact, he continued pursuing his huge tax-cutting agenda. As House Ways and Means Chairman Rangel noted in a statement last week: “It is the first time in an American war in which the populace has not even been asked to bear the burden of the war’s cost.”

The call for sacrifice, made by a conservative president, has been embraced and enlarged by liberal Democrats. Rangel has introduced a bill to re-start the military draft. This bill will go nowhere — but it gives Rangel a vehicle to drive home his point: “… If Americans are to be placed in harm’s way, all of us, from every income group and position in society, must share the burden of war.”

While President Bush has talked the talk on national sacrifice, only the families of America’s military volunteers have been paying the price for our national policy. “The rest of us have not been called upon to make any sacrifice at all,” says Rangel. Not in harm’s way, not even on tax-paying day.

“Fighting this war with borrowed money,” says Rangel, “we are leaving our children and their children to pick up the check that as of now is roughly $500 billion, and counting.”

They are the Americans who will be sacrificing, Mr. President, long after we are gone.

(Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail him at martin.schram(at)gmail.com.)


  1. Lynne Cuomo

    “The average American has lower middle class values.”
    as posted by John Hanks. John, while I totally respect and agree with your comments about our military, I totally disagree with you on this. I am an average American. Because of where I live, my income puts me in the lower middle class. I object to your assumption that my “lower middle class values” depict a half-educated thought process. In fact, I am very well read (it’s the cheapest entertainment), understand what happens in this world, outside my own, and I haven’t allowed this administation or the media to bamboozle me. Please, don’t put people like me in this context. Thank you.

  2. The South Point

    I say let’s send the twins, Jenna and Not-Jenna, over to fight in combat roles.

    No sacrifice is too great in the war on Terrorism!

  3. PK

    Ok. I’ll sacrifice. I will sacrifice my President, Vice President, Secretary of State, Attorney General, Karl Rove and the rest of the administration. They will go and take charge of the war FROM BAGHDAD.

    That way, they will have a better clue as to what is going on.

    We will (sniff!) just have to learn to live without them.

    Will you sacrifice them, too?