Remembering the right-wing freakout over Bush's 2002 Memorial Day in France

The conservative media are hopping mad that President Obama would dare insult this nation's military by spending Memorial Day at a military cemetery in Illinois instead of Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Fox News' Brian Kilmeade said this morning that Obama is “breaking tradition” and intimated that it's “a slap in the face to veterans,” while National Review's Andrew McCarthy said Obama “doesn't want to be associated with the traditions” of the military because he sees it as a “necessary evil.”

But if you think that criticism is harsh, you should have seen how right-wingers unloaded on George W. Bush when he spent Memorial Day 2002 at the Normandy American Cemetery in France.

Fox News could barely contain their ire -- here's John Gibson on May 27, 2002:

GIBSON: President Bush honors the dead during a Memorial Day ceremony on Normandy's D-Day beaches. He's in Rome tonight ahead of a landmark NATO summit meeting welcoming Russia to the alliance.

Rough stuff, but it's nothing compared to the tongue lashing the president received from Beltway Boys hosts Fred Barnes and Mort Kondracke on May 25:

BARNES: Item number one, Mort, Monday is Memorial Day, and President Bush will be at the U.S. cemetery at Normandy Beach in France.

KONDRACKE: I'm sure it'll be a, an, an emotional and eloquent moment. I -- Bush undoubtedly will link the heroism shown by people who fought in World War II to the heroism now involved in fighting, fighting terrorism, and make the point that the struggle to protect freedom never ends.

BARNES: You know, I've been to the cemetery at Normandy. It's a, it's a fantastic place. I challenge any American to go there and keep their eyes dry. It can't happen.

And they had been lobbing bombs like this for days -- here's Barnes and Kondracke a week earlier:

BARNES: Obviously the meeting with Putin in Moscow is very, very important, though hard to see what more Putin can do. He's really come our way. You know what I'm most interested in, Mort, will be to see Bush's speech on Memorial Day on that holy ground at the American cemetery in Normandy.

KONDRACKE: Right. Will he match Reagan '84?

BARNES: Be hard to do.


Bush had to have been smarting after that one.

As for Andrew McCarthy's National Review, they were so incensed at Bush that they reprinted his speech at Normandy in its entirety, presumably to illustrate to their readers how wantonly the president was flouting tradition. They also invited a guest columnist to inveigh against Bush's callousness, writing: “It is a mark of greatness in a man to understand his part in the drama unfolding around him. ... On Normandy beach last Monday, President Bush showed he understood the part he was playing.”

But as nasty as all of this is, it's comforting to know that the right-wing media prize the traditions of Memorial Day and the military so highly that they would never subordinate them for the sake of cynical political attacks.