October 29, 2019 | Reading Time: 2 minutes

QT: Honor means nothing

If they can tear down Max Cleland, they can tear down Alex Vindman.

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Alexander Vindman is an Army colonel who was on the call when Donald Trump extorted the Ukrainian president to investigate his domestic rivals in exchange for nearly $400 million US military aid. Vindman spent Tuesday testifying to House committees gathering evidence for the impeachment inquiry of Donald Trump.

In his Times article about Vindman’s testimony, Danny Hakim wrote: “The colonel, a Ukrainian-American immigrant who received a Purple Heart after being wounded in Iraq by a roadside bomb and whose statement is full of references to duty and patriotism, could be a more difficult witness to dismiss than his civilian counterparts.”

This was a widely shared sentiment on social media. It’s dead wrong.

Let me tell you a story.

There was once a man named Max Cleland. He was a US Senator, a Democrat from Georgia. In his youth, he enlisted to go to Vietnam. He fought with courage and honor. He eventually became a captain and respected leader. One day, when Cleland had only a month left on his tour of duty, he picked up a grenade that he thought had fallen from his flak jacket. Cleland lost his legs and half an arm after it blew up.

By 2002, Cleland had a reputation in the Senate for putting aside politics to get things done, especially when it came to the armed forces. That year he faced Republican Saxby Chambliss. Chambliss didn’t go to Vietnam. He had bad knees, you see. High school football. After a series of student deferments, he got a medical deferment.

But Chambliss wanted to win, so she attacked Cleland’s record of voting against various homeland security bills. In the week before the election, his associates ran TV spots featuring images of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. The signal was clear to George W. Bush-loving voters in rural Georgia. Cleland wasn’t to be trusted.

And Chambliss won.

By all objective measures Vindman is a model of patriotism, service and sacrifice. But that doesn’t matter to the Republicans unless you’re a Republican. If not, they will rejoice in tearing you down. Even if you lost your legs and an arm for your country.

—John Stoehr

PS: Rick Wilson was the guy who came up with the idea to question Cleland’s patriotism. Rick Wilson is also the guy who claims to be a diehard Never-Trump conservative. Rick Wilson is partly responsible for what he now says he hates.


  • Seth Masket has a new report on what Democratic activists want in a nominee.

  • Noah Feldman says a new federal ruling has made impeachment legitimate.

  • Another Trump appointee says Ukraine was all about quid pro quo.

  • Jason Stanley explains fascism in a video for the Times.

  • Voters in West Virginia don’t expect Trump to make things better for them.


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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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