What was that about ’empty rhetoric’?

WHAT WAS THAT ABOUT ‘EMPTY RHETORIC’?…. Throughout the better part of Bush’s two terms, if Democrats opposed spending bills for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Republicans attacked. To vote against “funding the troops” during a time of war, the GOP said, was necessarily a betrayal. It was the basis for countless speeches, ad campaigns, and attacks.

Whether a lawmaker was fully satisfied with individual provisions in the spending bill was irrelevant — the troops are fighting wars and they need the money. Excuses, Republicans said, won’t give servicemen and women the resources they need. It became the single most frequently repeated GOP talking point when it came to national security: Dems voted against the troops during two wars.

In fact, just last year, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) argued, “[T]here is a clear distinction between saying you support the troops and backing up those claims with genuine action. [Obama] once said ‘we shouldn’t play chicken with our troops’ when it comes to funding our troops in harm’s way, and [Hillary Clinton] urged General Petraeus at the start of the surge to request ‘every possible piece of equipment and resource necessary’ to keep our troops safe. These words turned into little more than empty rhetoric when both proceeded to vote against funding our troops last year.”

Guess what.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) are voting against the House/Senate fiscal year 2010 defense authorization bill — because it contains hate crimes provisions designed to protect gays and lesbians.

Boehner, speaking at his weekly press conference Thursday, said the inclusion of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in the defense bill was “an abuse of power” by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that sought to punish offenders for what they thought — and not what they did. He accused the speaker of pursuing her social agenda “on the backs” of the troops.

Oh, I see. When Democrats raise policy objections to military spending bills, and withhold support because of details they find offensive, they’re terrorist sympathizers who can’t be trusted on national security issues. When Republicans raise different policy objections to military spending bills, they’re just doing their duty.

Again, this wasn’t just some peripheral argument from the GOP — it was the basis for countless speeches, entire ad campaigns, hours upon hours of Fox News broadcasts, and a series of angry attacks on the Obama campaign just last year. Subtleties and nuances were deemed irrelevant — if you supported the troops fighting two wars, you voted to fund them. Period.

In fairness, I should note that as a substantive policy matter, lawmakers can vote against military spending measures for completely legitimate reasons, and opposition to these expenditures does not make one an unpatriotic monster.

But Republicans opened this door. As we get closer to the midterm elections, expect Democrats to walk through it.