“This is not a time for political bias and political posturing.”
So said U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger in an official statement last week, just a few days after the “restore civility” crusader opened a tweet with the words “Dear left,” as if political ideology were immutably monolithic.
We can allow that Kinzinger might be entirely right about his version of the ongoing conflict (to use an overly sanitized term) between the United States and Iran.
After all, he served in the Air Force in both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, according to his official biography, and sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee as well as two subcommittees, one on Middle East, North Africa and International Terrorism and the other on Europe, Eurasia, Energy and the Environment, on which he is the ranking member.
Far beyond a single tweet, Kinzinger has made clear his view of the Iran situation long before the recent events and with notable frequency in recent days, on social media and with several broadcast outlet appearances.
Still, Kinzinger’s official Jan. 8 statement is somewhat problematic.
“This is a time of unity and showing our support to our heroes in uniform,” Kinzinger concluded, clearly implying the only way to do so is to fully accept his endorsed reasoning.
Supporting active duty military personnel can and should include a fair examination of whether they’re being deployed appropriately or put in harm’s way such that risk doesn’t outweigh reward. The fact Kinzinger has personally answered these questions doesn’t mean the rest of us — left, right or otherwise — are compelled to agree.
There were 16,652 active-duty and mobilized reservist deaths between 2006 and 2018, according to the Congressional Research Service, more than 1,280 per year. Although 73% of those deaths “occurred in circumstances unrelated to wars,” every death represents a sacrifice and a loss that ripples through families and communities.
Being released from active duty doesn’t mean a service member escaped unscathed. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports that between 11 and 20% of veterans of the operations in which Kinzinger served report post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in a given year. In isolation PTSD affects one veteran. More likely, PTSD affects that one veteran’s family and personal relationships, work life and other interactions.
“Veteran suicide is a very real and tragic reality,” Kinzinger wrote in an essay released in connection with the most recent Veterans Day.
He’s absolutely right. In 2017, 168 Illinois veterans died by suicide, part of 6,139 nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. That’s almost 17 veterans per day.
This isn’t to accuse Kinzinger of taking these statistics lightly. There’s no reason to doubt his genuine concern and respect for people who serve. But the Constitution those people served to protect expressly guarantees the right to speak freely — including floating the suggestion that perhaps the president isn’t always dealing in absolute truths or acting with the best interests of the country at heart, rather than what might be personally beneficial.
Kinzinger doesn’t appreciate being painted as in lockstep with the president and likely would suggest “the right” is an unfairly sweeping term that overlooks key distinctions among the various groups who lean red at the ballot box. “The left,” likewise, is a large tent covering people of varied opinions on all sorts of issues. There are some who swear allegiance to anyone so long as they’re a Democrat, and some who have the same fealty to any Republican. But plenty of folks try to look beyond labels and ought not to be disregarded for their commitment to discernment.
The average citizen can vote once or twice a year at most and usually with few options. Many reject the binary labeling those polling place choices seemingly engender, and for an elected official to preach unity one day while painting political opponents with a broad brush the next undercuts the message of civility.
“We can and should debate the ideas and argue over different policies,” Kinzinger wrote in July, adding, “This is an ugly time for political discourse, and we must ALL work harder to improve it.”
It was a strong position well stated back then, but one apparently relegated in importance when it comes time to start projecting ordnance about the fertile crescent.
Fair-minded Kinzinger observers know he’s more nuanced than tweets reveal. But voters will remember this refusal to consider a contradictory viewpoint. It may not cost him in November — it likely will help — but his constituents deserve better.
SCOTT T. HOLLAND is a former associate editor of The Times who continues to contribute his column plus help with editing and writing. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/salmagundi or twitter.com/sth749.