Monday, June 20, 2005

A conversation with Senator Durbin's office

John Hinderaker at Power Line called Senator Dick Durbin's office today on the topic of the senator's recent comments comparing the actions of American troops at Guantanmo with the actions of Nazis, the Khmer Rouge and Soviets in their gulags, and to find out what explanation his office had for Durbin's remarks.

A staffer Durbin's office gave Hinderaker some excuse that perhaps the senator had been talking about contractors, not US troops. But the staffer backed down when Hinderaker pressed her.

I decided to follow Power Line's lead and call Durbin's office myself. I got a different story from what Hinderaker got. Turns out, according to a Durbin staffer, there were two reasons I might be upset:
  1. I had only read excerpts of the speech, not the whole thing in context. (But I have read the whole thing. But I digress...)

  2. My views are colored by slanted press coverage. (You know, it's that mainstream media which is always trying to make Democrats look bad by twisting their words. Anything to make Bush and the war effort look good.)
Here is the conversation, as much as I can reconstruct it from my notes [Initial introductions omitted]:
David M: I'm calling to convey my disappointment in Senator Durbin's comparisons on the Senate floor of the actions of US soldiers to the actions of the Nazis, Khmer Rouge and Soviets in the gulags. And to see if someone there can explain the rationale for the Senator using such charged comparisons.

Staffer #1: I'll note your opinion. But I am not here to give the rationale.

David M: Is there someone there who can?

Staffer #1: Please hold. [Brief silence]

Staffer #2: Hello.

David M: Can you explain to me why the senator would use such charged language on the floor of the Senate--comparing the actions of US soldiers to the actions of Nazis, the Khmer Rouge and Soviets in the Gulag?

Staffer #2: I'd urge you to read the senator's remarks in full. He explains himself well.

David M: I've read everything I can find that the senator said on the topic.

Staffer #2: You should read the Congressional Record.

David M: I've read what you've put on your web site, including the senator's speech-- I believe it's there in full--where he made the remarks and then the follow-up statements by the senator on subsequent days. I still do not see any reason for the senator to have compared US soldiers' actions to those of some of the most murderous regimes of the past century. The senator knew those comparisons were charged with symbolism, and he made them anyway, and he has not retracted them. This seems inappropriate to me. And I suspect the bulk of Americans agree with me.

Staffer #2: I disagree.

David M: You think most Americans think it's okay to compare our soldiers to Nazis?

Staffer #2: You said "the bulk." That means much more than a simple majority.

David M: I'm not sure it means that. But in any case, do you think a simple majority of Americans think it is okay to compare US soldiers to Nazis? Do folks in your office think it's okay?

Staffer #2: I can't speak for the others, but I think what the senator said, in context of his speech, was appropriate. The reason people are so upset about this is because they've received a slanted view of what the senator said.

David M: But I've read the senator's actual words, in context. And I've read his follow-up comments. How then are my feelings colored by slanted coverage?

Staffer #2: You likely read slanted coverage before you read the full speech.

David M: So are you telling me that, despite that I read the senator's words myself, the only reason I could be upset with the senator's words is that I've gotten a slanted view from the media?

Staffer #2: Well, what I'm saying is [pause] Click. [Dead line.]
So, to summarize the aide's points, I'm upset because the media are slanted against Durbin and because I haven't read enough to understand the full context.

That makes me feel much better.