A Gutter Pol Retires

By Jeffrey Page

Saxby Chambliss, the senior senator from Georgia, has announced he will retire next year. In this, there is a modicum of justice, for it was the loathsome Chambliss who reached new depths in electoral sliming a decade ago when he defeated the incumbent, Max Cleland. Do you remember?

Chambliss’ late-campaign strategy was so offensive and so false in its message about Cleland – admittedly a rare breed in Georgia, a moderate Democrat – that even some of Chambliss’ fellow Republicans forced him to yank an ad that suggested Cleland was an incompetent soldier. Chambliss even questioned Cleland’s patriotism.

During his service in Vietnam, Max Cleland was awarded the Silver Star and two Bronze Stars for his actions on the battlefield. Both medals are awarded for valor.

For the record, this is part of the Silver Star citation about Cleland’s conduct in early 1968 during the bloody three-month siege of Khe Sanh, where 700 American and South Vietnamese troops were killed: “When the battalion command post came under a heavy enemy rocket and mortar attack, Capt. Cleland, disregarding his own safety, exposed himself to the rocket barrage as he left his covered position to administer first aid to his wounded comrades. He then assisted in moving the injured personnel to covered positions.”

A few days later, while exiting a helicopter, Cleland leaned down to retrieve a grenade he thought had fallen from his pistol belt. The explosion nearly killed him. He survived but lost both legs and an arm. Displaying incredible determination, Cleland underwent grueling physical therapy and later entered government service, and then politics. He headed the Veterans Administration under Jimmy Carter, and then served 14 years as the Georgia secretary of state. In 2002 he was elected to the U.S. Senate.

Saxby Chambliss challenged him six years later. Chambliss’ advertising contained separate newsreel footage showing Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and Max Cleland – hint, hint – and went on to suggest there was something thoroughly unpatriotic, un-American, about Cleland’s votes against some of George W. Bush’s homeland security proposals. In Chambliss’ world view, the fact that Max Cleland left three limbs in Vietnam counted for nothing.

Chambliss’ ad campaign against Cleland was so outrageous that among its strongest critics were two GOP senators, John McCain and Chuck Hegel. They had served in Vietnam and understood war as Chambliss never could. Responding to them, Chambliss pulled the ads but the damage was done. The voters bought his trashing and Cleland was finished.

Chambliss’ military record: Four student deferments, followed by ineligibility due to a bad knee.

How bad a knee? In 2005, Roll Call reported that one afternoon while the Senate was in closed session to discuss the intelligence that led to the Iraq War, Chambliss was playing a round of golf with Tiger Woods back home in Georgia.

You’d think people would learn something about common decency after witnessing what Saxby Chambliss did to Max Cleland. But some politicians never seem to understand that there are times when you keep your mouth shut.

In the recent election, Joe Walsh, a Republican freshman from Illinois was challenged by Tammy Duckworth, whose wounds were eerily similar to Cleland’s. Duckworth lost her legs and the use of one arm when her helicopter was hit by enemy fire in Iraq. In words he surely will remember for the rest of his life, Walsh said of Duckworth’s injuries: “My God, that’s all she talks about. Our true heroes, the men and women who served us, it’s the last thing in the world they talk about.”

Walsh’s military record: None.

Duckworth beat him in November.

Here’s to the voters who sent Walsh packing.

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2 Responses to “A Gutter Pol Retires”

  1. Richard Bennett Says:

    Good work Jeff. I lived in GA for a while and picketed his office for a variety of issues. I think the people of GA are either childish or pig headed or both to have voted for this guy over Cleland.

  2. bill hogan Says:

    It doesn’t surprise me any more that people are so dumb as to believe outrageous lies and then go on to elect such dumb asses to office. The dumb asses deserve him, and the rest of us have to live with him until booted from office.
    Good article Jeff. A few more nails would help keep him buried.

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