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Murray v. Rossi on Petraeus

As expected, the Senate confirmed Gen. David Petraeus as the commander in Afghanistan.

Also as expected, Petraeus became a bone of contention in Washington state's U.S. Senate campaign, although not from the candidates themselves.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray voted for Petraeus (as did everyone else in the Senate. "It is incredibly important that our troops on the ground have a qualified, experienced commander like Gen. Petraeus."

Republican senatorial candidate Dino Rossi also said nice things about the general: "The U.S. Senate's vote to confirm him today demonstrates they have the same confidence I do in Gen. Petraeus's ability to lead a successful counterinsurgency campaign."

Mark this day on the calendar, folks. Murray and Rossi are pretty much in agreement on a topical issue.

Rossi didn't mention Murray, but the state Republican Party lapsed into a "voted against before voting for" refrain. They called her vote a "direct contradiction" to a vote three years ago against condemning a smear campaign against Petraeus by

That's a reference to an ad the liberal group ran probably best known by it's headline "General Petraeus or General Betray-us" questioning his statements on the progress of the Iraq war when Congress was voting on the surge in that country.

The state GOP claims Murray was "AWOL" when Petraeus needed support. But it careful reading of the record shows that's not really accurate...

...In September 2007, Senate Republicans led by Sen. John Cornyn had an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act to condemn the ad. Senate Democrats countered with an amendment that condemned the ad plus the Swift Boat attacks on John Kerry in the 2004 presidential campaign and attacks on Sen. Max Cleland in the 2002 Georgia Senate campaign.

The Democrats' amendment was up for debate and vote first, and there was a fascinating debate (captured here in the Congressional Record) over whether there was a difference between the attack on Petraeus, who's not in politics, and the attacks on Kerry and Cleland, who as politicians are more or less leaving themselves open for such treatment. That amendment got 50 votes -- mostly from Democrats including Murray -- but needed 60, so it failed.

The Republicans amendment got the next vote, and it passed with 72 votes, and all the 25 no votes were Democrats (including Murray).They objected to singling out Petraeus rather than condemning attacks on all people serving honorably in the military.

But it's not correct to say Murray didn't vote to defend Petraeus, because the first amendment specifically mentioned him:"On September 10, 2007, an advertisement in the New York Times was an unwarranted personal attack on General Petraeus; who is honorably leading our Armed Forces in Iraq and carrying out the mission assigned to him by the President of the United States" and called on the Senate to "strongly condemn all attacks on the honor, integrity, and patriotism of any individual who is serving or has served honorably in the United States Armed Forces, by any person or organization."

The real argument on that day was whether the ad was so egregious as to warrant special condemnation or represented a trend that was reprehensible and needed general opprobrium.

By that yardstick, any Republican who votes against a Defense Appropriations bill because it has unwarranted spending or grows the deficit or for any other principled objection would be pilloried for "voting against the troops."

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The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.