Trump’s Words, Hillary’s Deeds
And the media's glaring double standards.
Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
If you believe the media and pundits, Trump’s recent gaffes and Hillary’s bounce in the polls spell disaster for the Republicans come November, even though we’re still ten weeks from the election. The Republican NeverTrump (NT) crowd are particularly vociferous, mixing schadenfreude and hysteria in equal measures. Whether it’s his comments about NATO or his spat with the Democrat parents of a soldier killed in battle, Republican dudgeon has reached stratospheric heights we’ve rarely seen from them in the case of Obama or Hillary.
Make no mistake, Trump’s habit of defending his elevated self-regard rather than hammering Hillary’s record of failure is politically unwise, though we’ll know that for sure only after the election. So far, every gaffe seems to delight his supporters, if only because of the outsized criticism it evokes from the maligned Republican “establishment,” which continues to be hell-bent on proving that they do exist and they do find more in common with the Democrats than with their own party’s base. When have you heard any Democrat other than Pat Caddell go after Hillary with the same gusto as the NT folks attack Trump?
What I find more fascinating is the inconsistency of Trump’s Republican critics. The Donald’s crude rhetoric apparently disturbs them more than Hillary’s long catalogue of policy mistakes and abuse of power. As PJ Media’s Richard Fernandez suggests, too many Republicans are content to be the hapless Washington Generals to the Democrats’ Harlem Globetrotters, while the Republican base wants to see a real basketball game played by the same rules for both teams.
Take Trump’s criticism of the Khan family, whose son died in Iraq in 2004. Mr. Khan delivered a blistering attack on Trump at the Democratic Convention, the substance of which had nothing to do with his son’s death. After Trump predictably gave a scorched-earth response, we heard lectures about the inviolability of parents who have lost children in combat, how their sacrifice should always be respected, and how only a boorish narcissist would say things that disrespect their loss. Even if those parents were at the Democrat Convention solely to deliver a vicious partisan attack on the other party’s candidate, one should show forbearance.
But were these lessons delivered as passionately against the progressive media when they viciously attacked Patricia Smith, also a Gold Star parent whose son was killed while trying to defend his fellow Americans in Benghazi? _National Review_’s Jim Geraghty conveniently collected some of the more despicable comments after her speech at the Republican Convention. It was called a “cynical exploitation of grief” (The Nation), an “unabashed exploitation of private people’s grief” (Independent), “the weaponization of grief” (The New Yorker), and an “early dip into the gutter” (Washington Post). Did Hillary condemn these comments about a grieving Gold Star mother? Has Charles Krauthammer mentioned these violations of what he calls “the most sacred political rule of all: Never attack a Gold Star family”?
I know what the NT folks will say: Hillary did not personally attack Patricia Smith. She’s not responsible for the rhetoric of others. But she doesn’t have to be, not when she has legions of media “buffers,” to quote Willi Cicci in Godfather II, to do her dirty work. The real question is, who benefits? Patricia Smith delivered a powerful indictment of Hillary, on a topic that displays both her foreign policy incompetence and flawed character. So her credibility had to be undermined. Advantage Hillary.
But the point is not that both sides have been equally at fault in exploiting grieving parents for political gain. In fact, the incidents are very different. Khizr Khan’s motive was clearly to denigrate Donald Trump’s fitness for office by using standard Democrat Party talking points. Unlike Hillary, however, Trump didn’t vote for the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq in 2002, which led to the Khans’ son’s deployment to Iraq. Trump has no personal responsibility for the events that led to his death. Indeed, he now claims he was opposed to the Iraq War. The Khans’ presence at the convention was purely political, and their grief served to juice the message with pathos.
Patricia Smith is a different story. Her son’s death was the consequence of decisions Hillary herself made or supported, and so her son was a victim of Hillary’s actions. Hillary had argued for the removal of Gadhafi, and as Secretary of State, she was ultimately responsible for keeping open a consular outpost with inadequate security in a lawless region filled with jihadist outfits. Worse yet, she lied about the cause of the attack, both to Patricia Smith personally and to the American people, when she said the four dead Americans were the result of “an awful Internet video that we had nothing to do with.”
We know now that during and immediately after the attacks she acknowledged to her daughter, the Libyan president, and the Egyptian Prime Minister that jihadist groups planned and carried out the attacks. And she has implied that Patricia Smith and Gold Star family members of two other Americans killed in Benghazi, Charles Woods and Kate Quigley, are lying about her telling them personally that the video was to blame. She has even implied that Patricia Smith is mentally impaired by grief.
So Trump’s impolitic quarrel with the Khans is evidence only of his insensitivity, thin skin, and lack of campaigning savvy. The attack on Patricia Smith carried out by media in the bag for Hillary is an attempt to divert attention away from Hillary’s deficiencies, which are much more salient for evaluating her fitness for office. Supporting the Libyan intervention bespeaks either massive ignorance of the region, or the willful sacrifice of our country’s security and interests in order to burnish her by then already tarnished foreign policy record. Her serial lying to the grieving parents and the country show her willingness to go to any lengths to cover up her mistakes in office and serve her ambition.
In other words, the attacks on Trump are based on style, the impressions created by his crude, unfiltered statements. “Words matter,” critics constantly preach, and they assume that his bombastic pronouncements are necessarily indicators of future policy. Indeed, words do matter, but in a democracy, as Demosthenes repeatedly warned the Athenians, “All words, apart from action, seem vain and idle.” Deeds matter much more than words. Talk is cheap, particularly coming from politicians and diplomats. Have Trump’s critics forgotten Barack Obama’s seductive “no red state, no blue state,” racial-healing rhetoric in 2008? Did those words matter? Only for camouflaging his true intentions, which his actions as a community organizer, Illinois State Senator, and U.S. Senator had made abundantly clear. With Trump, the relationship of rhetoric to action at this point is unknowable.
With Hillary, on the other hand, we have a long, copious record of deeds we can evaluate. Her supporters can dismiss this record as a fiction created by the “vast, right-wing conspiracy,” but by now few other than die-hard partisans doubt her mendacity and lack of achievements. That’s why 68% of voters find her untrustworthy. Her penchant for lying, for example, was demonstrated yet again last week, when she twice contradicted FBI Director James Comey by claiming that she “never sent or received anything marked classified” over her private email server. Even the Hillary-friendly _Washington Post_’s fact-checker gave her his worst rating, four Pinocchios.
But “Trump lies too!” critics will respond. No doubt, but as yet his lies are crude versions of the exaggerations that most politicians indulge in while running for office. The big difference is, Trump’s lies are not designed to cover up malfeasance as a public official who has sworn an oath to defend the Constitution, and who ostensibly serves the interests and security of the country. Trump may be betraying his supporters by misrepresenting himself and his statements, but he has not as yet betrayed the public trust. Again, it is dishonest not to discriminate between a celebrity businessman whose primary aim is to make money and get attention, with a public official whose aim should be to respect the law and serve her fellow citizens.
Trump’s deficiencies of character and lack of knowledge displayed in his words may be predictive of his presidency. That is a risk worth weighing. But Hillary’s flaws have been manifested for years by her deeds. The risk that she will govern the same way is much more certain. So what should be the focus of criticism and concern, Trump’s words or Hillary’s deeds?