By November 26, 2012 2 Comments Read More →

“Waving the Bloody Shirt”

In American history, the expression “waving the bloody shirt” denotes the demagogic practice of politicians referencing the blood of martyrs or heroes in order to inspire support, avoid criticism, and to lay down the gauntlet to opponents. It originated after the Civil War and was mostly practiced by the so called “Radical Republicans” to arouse support for a punitive reconstruction process. As a general tactic, the bloody shirt is anything intended to revive or aggravate partisan animosity. It is rarely an honest endeavor and never a constructive one.

Since its inception in American history, “The bloody shirt captured the inversion of truth that would characterize the distorted memories of Reconstruction that the nation would hold for generations after.” It made a victim of the bully and a bully of the victim; it turned the very blood of their African American victims into an affront against white decency; it turned the very acts of white violence into wounded innocence; the way it suggested that the real story was never the atrocities white committed but only the attempt by their political enemies to make political hay out of it. “The mere suggestion that a partisan motive was behind the telling of these tales was enough to satisfy most whites that the events never happened, or were exaggerated, or even that they had been conspiratorially engineered by the victims themselves to gain sympathy or political advantage.”

Republicans pioneered the tactic during the Reconstruction Era and they have revived it during the post 9-11 “war on terror.” In 2012, its most prominent practitioner is Senator John McCain of Arizona. As was usually the case in the nineteenth century, the target of Senator McCain’s blood shirt demagoguery is an African American: Susan Rice, the U N Ambassador, who was appointed by another African American, President Obama. Remember, the Bloody Shirt is a rhetorical device intended to whip up a partisan frenzy and to divert attention from what really happened by offering an incendiary interpretation.

The real world event used as a pretext for this latest resort to waving the bloody shirt is the attack on U S diplomats in Benghazi, Libya. Senator McCain and some others are charging Ambassador Rice with deliberate deception though they provide no evidence to support these charges. McCain has also called for a Watergate-style Congressional committee to investigate the Benghazi attack and the Obama administration’s response, particularly the comments made by Rice. He said, “If this select committee clears her of any wrongdoing, besides not being very bright, because it was obvious that this was not a ‘flash mob.” In the Naval Academy, McCain came into conflict with higher-ranking personnel, and he did not always obey the rules, which contributed to a class rank of 894 of 899, despite a high IQ. Ambassador Rice attended Stanford University, where she received a Truman Scholarship, and graduated with a B.A. in history in 1986. She was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, attended New College, Oxford, and earned a Masters of Philosophy in 1988 and Doctor of Philosophy in 1990. The Chatham House-British International Studies Association honored her dissertation titled “Commonwealth Initiative in Zimbabwe, 1979-1980: Implication for International Peacekeeping” as the UK’s most distinguished in international relations. Based on their comparative academic achievements, which seems more likely to be “not very bright.”

Ambassador Rice has stated, “As a senior U.S. diplomat, I agreed to a White House request to appear on the Sunday shows to talk about the full range of national security issues of the day, which at that time were primarily and particularly the protests that were enveloping and threatening many diplomatic facilities, American diplomatic facilities around the world, and Iran’s nuclear program.” Because the United Nations General Assembly was opening its 67th session on September 18, 2012, it made sense for our U N Ambassador to make the rounds of the immediately preceding Sunday talk shows.

As a refresher, here is what Ambassador Rice actually said on September 16, 2012, “Well, first of all, Chris, we are obviously investigating this very closely. The FBI has a lead in this investigation. The information, the best information and the best assessment we have today is that in fact this was not a preplanned, premeditated attack… Obviously, we will wait for the results of the investigation and we don’t want to jump to conclusions before then. But I do think it’s important for the American people to know our best current assessment.”

McCain should have made it clear; he is not criticizing Ms. Rice’s assessment, but the assessment of the Director of National Intelligence. On the 28th of September, the DNI issued a statement saying that initially it was thought the attack “began spontaneously” but that new information has led to a new conclusion. How hard is this for Republicans like McCain to understand?

McCain has trotted out all of the Fox talking points about Rice, and then suggested that perhaps she could be cleared via a select investigative committee for “misleading” the American people. We should remember that McCain picked a secessionist supporter as his VP. Should he should be investigated for recklessly misleading the American people that his pick was qualified and/or mentally capable of being a Vice President.

We should not forget the painful memories of his Vice Presidential pick Sarah Palin. She thought a VP got to tell the Senate what to do, thought we shared a border with Iraq, and didn’t know the difference between North and South Korea. Sarah Palin was stumped by Katie Couric when asked what she read to keep informed. Palin never got over that gotcha. All of this should cause us to question Senator McCain’s acumen in assessing a person’s capabilities and qualifications for higher office.

We must genuinely respect the sacrifices made by four brave Americans who served their country in a dangerous place. We must genuinely respect the grief of their families and friends. We must not use their deaths as a pretext for political gamesmanship. Mitt Romney was so eager to seize political advantage that he rushed to speak out publically and falsely in order to exploit the loss of these four Americans. He tried almost up to the end of the Presidential campaign to make what was said in the aftermath of their deaths a scar upon the presidency of Barack Obama. His efforts failed as they fully deserved to.

Senator McCain and some of his colleagues have picked up the cudgel and still seek to wield it for their own nefarious ends. It is not just Senator McCain or just Republican senators who are doing this. On November 25, 2012, Representative Peter King declared that “She had access to all of the sensitive top secret classified information, and she knew that the story she was giving out was not entirely true.” In Mr. King’s mind, Ms. Rice should have revealed classified information rather than repeat unclassified talking points. Since the Republicans had already disclosed the existence of a CIA base in Benghazi through their intemperate conduct during an October Oversight Committee hearing, it is not surprising that Representative King has little regard for safeguarding classified information. Fortunately, Democrats are more circumspect.

The four Americans killed in Benghazi were serving under dangerous circumstances in an unstable country. They knew this, and we should remember that and honor them for their courage. No truly patriotic American, however, should use their deaths or anything related thereto in order to gain political advantage or publicity. We have an obligation to discover what went wrong, why it did, and what can be done to prevent a recurrence. To discharge this obligation honorably, however, we must pursue information in a civil manner and concentrate on finding solutions rather than fixing blame. It cannot be credibly asserted that any responsible official from the President downward wanted the fallen Americans to lose their lives. Anyone in or out of office who so contends is in the grip of derangement.

It is time to put away the bloody shirts of the four dead Americans. It is time to come together as Americans and ensure that those we send abroad to represent our country are as secure as their often dangerous assignments permit. The dangers they must face are real, but there is no justification for any action in the confines of the American government that makes their service more hazardous. Let us renew our commitment to a unified approach to foreign service once expressed by the adage, “Politics stops at the water’s edge.”

In any ongoing discussion of Benghazi and Ambassador Rice, Senator McCain should heed his own words. “If you’re going tell the American people something, make damn sure it’s true.” Words to live by senator; you should try it. For starters, stop waving the bloody shirts of four Americans who deserve much better.

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Posted in: Larry Conley, Politics, USA
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  • I’d love to see you revise this article citing today’s press conference by President Obama and his gun control executive orders. Be sure to tie in his rally following the Gabby Giffords shooting. But you apparently think only Republicans employ this tactic.

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    • Thanks for your comment. I did not see the President’s press conference live, but what I have been able to ascertain makes it difficult for me to equate what happened there with the nonsense regarding Susan Rice.

      His use of executive orders does not seem to me to be examples of waving the bloody shirt nor did his remarks in Tucson following the Gabby Giffords shooting.

      WtBS made a victim of the bully and a bully of the victim; it turned the very blood of their African American victims into an affront against white decency; it turned the very acts of white violence into wounded innocence; the way it suggested that the real story was never the atrocities whites committed but only the attempt by their political enemies to make political hay out of it.

      How do President Obama’s actions or remarks do any of that?

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