Maligning Murtha

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 22, 2005; 11:06 AM

It is an age-old device in politics, making a personal slam sound more high-minded by attributing it to someone else.

Typical formulation: " There are those who say that Congressman X is a gutless wonder." Not that I'm saying it, I'm just faithfully repeating what some other critic said. Or: " I was talking to someone just the other day who questioned whether Congressman X is a gutless wonder." Or: " Now I don't agree with those who say Congressman X is a gutless wonder, but he does owe us some answers. . . . "

These are all ways of getting the gutless wonder thing out there, and politicians who use these tactics know exactly what they're doing.

Which brings me to Jean Schmidt and John Murtha.

Schmidt, the recently elected Republican congresswoman from Ohio, has every right to take on Murtha over his let's-get-the-troops-out stance on Iraq. She has every right to attack the Pennsylvania Democrat if she so chooses. But when she attacks him by attributing the denunciation to some colonel, let's be clear: She's still attacking him. The device of attributing it to someone else is just that, a device used by professional politicians.

By the way, after both Vice President Cheney and White House spokesman Scott McClellan ripped Murtha, President Bush used a version of the same technique: "I heard somebody say, well, maybe so-and-so is not patriotic because they disagree with my position. I totally reject that thought." Somebody ? So-and-so ? Who could he be referring to? The administration has apparently made the calculation that attacking a decorated Vietnam veteran who spent 37 years in the Marines was not the wisest political strategy.

Anyway, Schmidt's defenders say she didn't realize Murtha had been a Marine. But her Ohio nickname will probably stick, thanks to this NYT profile:

"She grew up in the rough-and-tumble of a family auto racing business, went through concealed-weapons training, and bears a local nickname seldom applied to shrinking violets: 'Mean Jean.'"

And who was the Murtha-basher she was quoting? HuffPost contributor Max Blumenthal has done some digging:

"On Friday, freshman Republican Rep. 'Mean Jean' Schmidt mounted one of the fiercest, most personal assaults Congress has witnessed since Preston Brooks caned Charles Sumner to a bloody pulp in 1856. The target of Schmidt's attack was Rep. John Murtha, a Vietnam vet who had just introduced a resolution calling for a withdrawal of US troops from Iraq within 6 months (which included several measures designed to ensure regional stability upon pullout).

"'A few minutes ago I received a call from Colonel Danny Bubp, Ohio Representative from the 88th district in the House of Representatives. He asked me to send Congress a message: Stay the course,' Schmidt declared from her lectern. 'He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message, that cowards cut and run, Marines never do.'

"By employing Bubp, a Marine reservist, as her surrogate attack dog, Schmidt sought to give the impression that the military rank-and-file overwhelmingly deplored Murtha's resolution. Murtha may have been a Marine a long, long time ago, but he doesn't understand the harsh realities of the post-9/11 world. But that tough-talking paragon of the modern warrior, Colonel Danny Bubp, whoever he is, sure as hell does. Or so Schmidt would have us believe.

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