"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

A Man of Honor, And a Republican 

A few weeks back I mentioned that Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), the man responsible for the renaming of french fries as "Freedom Fries" in the cafeterias of the House of Representatives' office buildings, had come to question the invasion of Iraq. At the time, I dismissed his change of heart with a snarky headline that, in retrospect, I wish I could retract.

Jan Frel at AlterNet has written a more thoughtful piece on the subject that is worth a read. As it happens, Rep. Jones - a devout, conservative Republican who joined the Congress as part of the "Gingrich revolution" of 1994 - is taking a serious political gamble by questioning the Boy King's divine infallibility:
Jones' district is one of the most militarized in the country, if not the most. Sixty thousand veterans live in the 17 counties that make up his constituency, which on average voted at a mid-60s percentage level for Bush last November. There are three Marine bases that house thousands of active servicemen and their families; about 43,000 military and 5,000 civilians at Camp Lejeune in Onslow County; Cherry Point, the world's largest Marine Corp air station and Craven County's largest employer, which pumps $500 million annually into the economy; and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base which employs around 4,000 military and 500 civilians in Wayne County.

You can't be pro-military spending or patriotic enough for a congressional district like this. So no surprise then, that Walter Jones has a spot on the House Armed Services Committee or that he waded neck-deep in the propaganda effort to go to war in Iraq. Beside his Freedom Fries stunt, Jones has brilliantly shepherded his three garrisons out of Rumsfeld's massive base closure plans, presented to Congress this year.

Until recently, Jones was well-liked and respected by local Republican officials. The Republican county chairs I spoke with in his district told me they were caught flat-footed by his transformation. Steve Tyson, chair of Craven County (home of Cherry Point), told me he thought "it was more surprise than anything else for residents," whose reaction was this made him look "weak" on the military.

Bob Pruett, chair of neighboring Carteret County, and a 25-year veteran of the Marine Corps, said he was overwhelmed by the number of people who called him after Jones made his remarks. He said the general reaction wasn't that Jones called for the withdrawal of troops -- "which all of us of course want as soon as possible" -- but that it "sent the wrong message to the enemy" and worried veterans there might be a return to the Vietnam situation. "Some veterans were incensed," he said.

Henry Clay once said "I would rather be right than be President" - a point of view which now seems quaint and old-fashioned. Still, it is reassuring to know that there are still some men and women in public service who would risk their elected office to say the things which their conscience tells them must be said.

I do not doubt that Rep. Jones believes a good many things that I do not believe, and supports a good many policies I cannot support. Were I one of his constituents, I would probably vote against him as a matter of course. Still, I can't help but respect a man who is willing to face facts, and - more importantly - to insist that the Commander in Chief do likewise, even if such insistence might cost him his career. It is worth noting that, according to his open letter to his constituents, Rep. Jones is "NOT in favor of any immediate withdrawal nor ... setting an end date at which time all troops must be out of Iraq." Rather, he simply wants an honest and open discussion of our plans with respect to the future of the occupation and - one can dream! - for the administration to start telling the truth. Those seem like small enough things to ask.

Two more things I like about Walter Jones: First, with reference to my firmly held belief that you can tell a lot about a person by how he or she treats children and animals, Rep. Jones likes dogs:
The Raleigh News and Observer article that broke the story in May about Jones' switch on Iraq also reveals that he "is quicker to tears than to laughter" and that he's been trying to build a memorial to the dogs that have helped U.S. servicemen in war:
He flips through a book dog handlers gave him, leafing past stylized drawings of animals leading their masters through danger. He starts to read, then catches himself. "I better not read this now," he says. "I never get through it without crying."

And second, he actually does something to demonstrate his support of the troops:
In every single direction, Iraq is staring at Walter Jones in the face, and it's turned him into an emotional wreck. Jones hangs photographs of the fallen soldiers from his district at the entrance to his congressional offices, and their eyes meet his every time he enters the offices. More than 100 Marines from Camp Lejeune have lost their lives; Jones has written letters to the 1,300 family members who survive them. Mix in the closed-door sessions he attends with generals and intelligence experts telling him every single thing is going wrong, the despair of wives and children on the bases who have seen tours of duty extended, and the disquiet, misery and injuries of the returned combat veterans. Jones still talks about the funeral he attended two years ago of Sgt. Michael Bitz, who never saw the birth of his twin sons.

And so, let the record reflect that Rep. Walter Jones has attended at least one more military funeral than has this craven President.




Thank you for that thoughtful, insiteful post. It takes courage to risk everything to go against "official policy" these days. I am in deep fear of the effectiveness of the "boy king" and his handlers. Did you happen to catch Bill Moyers on Democracy Now! today? Love that man to pieces.
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