A couple weeks ago, political news website Politico used the phrase “slow bleed” to describe John Murtha’s plan to end the war in Iraq by making war-fighting virtually impossible for George W. Bush. (See the first sentence of that link for the usage.) Murtha wanted to pass a bill requiring things like higher readiness standards for troops and longer leave times between deployments that would essentially cut off the flow of troops available to make war — in time, the war would have to come to a grinding stop.
So, okay. It’s a plan to slowly kill the war in Iraq. Immediately after the Politico story was released, the Washington Post, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, and other news outlets used the phrase “slow bleed.” What was the problem — after all, it seems like a fitting description of the plan? Republicans started using the phrase to highlight its morbid qualities, pounding away with it over and over on the floor of the House and going so far as to say that Democrats were using “slow bleed” as a title for the plan (which was false; Politico’s story was the first usage). The whole situation just looked insensitive (and bumbling) on the part of the Dems: how could they name a plan that potentially endangers the troops, so the argument goes, with a phrase that evokes a wounded or dying soldier?
Eventually, after left-wing groups started hammering Politico for creating the mess, an editor at the website came clean, saying that he had thrown in the phrase to punch up the prose and that the Democrats and the writer of the story had nothing to do with it. Here are his feelings on the subject:
Please note the context: What is slowly bleeding away is the administration’s political support to keep fighting the war. Republicans pounced on the phrase because of the ease with which that context could be shorn away, to give the impression that what Democrats were slow-bleeding were the bodies of troops in Iraq.
That willingness to wrest words from context — and to attribute the phrase to Democrats even though it was not theirs — was demagogic on the part of Republican operatives. But it was never my plan to make their work so easy.
I would agree that blame for the situation rests with the Republicans if I felt that blame deserved to be assigned. I see no problem with the phrase. I’m not scared off by the fact that it might bring to mind the image of a bleeding soldier; we’ve been at war for four years and tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people are dead. Are we so squeamish? And are Americans such nit-wits that their attention to the Iraq debate can be short-circuited by a poorly chosen turn of phrase? Highlighting the words “slow bleed” instead of debating the plan on its merits was a cheap trick by the Republicans, I agree, but what everyone should have done was ignored their attempts to derail serious debate on a serious topic and instead push ahead with the plan — which most Americans support.
Murtha was finding new and innovative ways to end the war in Iraq. A prefectly descriptive label with unfortunate connotations was applied to it. Are we really so immature that we focus on the latter and can’t see the former?