As a student at St. Luke’s Elementary School in Glenside, Montgomery County, in the 1950s, I learned a great deal from the nuns. I learned my 3 R’s — reading, writing, and arithmetic — and also a few things about life, including this bit of wisdom: empty barrels make the most noise.
The words have come up repeatedly in the public dispute between White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson (D., Fla.), who is fast becoming the darling of the “mainstream media” for her slash-and-burn attacks on President Trump and what she describes as his “puppet” Kelly.
That our news media are fanning the flames of this controversy when the facts are so clear and obvious is sad indeed. Trump made four telephone calls last week to the next of kin of four soldiers who gave their lives while serving their country. His intent was to convey his personal condolences to those families and the gratitude of a grateful nation. To have the president’s words distorted into a message of callousness and disregard is a disgrace (a word that Sister Claire Bernadette might have used). Wilson should be ashamed. Instead, in her own mind, she is “a rock star.”
To believe that is one thing, but to say it out loud in a television interview is the very definition of an “empty barrel.” Kelly was being marvelously restrained in using that phrase — short for shameless self-promoter — to describe such an unfair, inaccurate, and inappropriate act by the congresswoman.
Kelly’s description of the difficult task of conveying condolences to the family of a fallen hero was meaningful, and it meant so much more because he himself is among the ranks of the grieving. His son Robert was killed in 2010 in a roadside bomb blast in Afghanistan.
Given those circumstances, it was a bitter pill indeed to hear the congresswoman’s distortion of the meaning and intent of the president’s call. Her ongoing display is worthy of condemnation by all sensible Americans, as is the media’s willing complicity in publicizing this rubbish.
Rather than try to summarize Kelly’s moving and effective statement, I will offer the perspective of the mother of two U.S. Marines. One of her sons served with Robert Kelly and the other served under John Kelly in Iraq. She wrote in an email to a friend:
“As far as I am concerned, the only proper reaction to John Kelly’s remarks is one of respect, appreciation, and admiration. He seldom speaks of Robert’s death. It is not in his nature to call attention to that. But I can understand his disgust and sadness over Congresswoman Wilson’s interpretation of the president’s call to the widow of the fallen soldier.
“Those of us who have lived with the possibility of receiving that dreaded early-morning knock on the door from a chaplain and casualty officer understand perfectly the message that was conveyed. …
“Our sons did not have to serve. They volunteered, and they knew well that they were signing up to be in harm’s way. And they are to be honored for that willingness to sacrifice themselves for a greater good.
“Only a depraved mind, clouded by political hatred, would interpret the message any other way.”
The president and Kelly were trying to do the right thing, and the congresswoman was and continues to be doing the wrong thing — score cheap political points. The voters in her district should be ashamed to have her as their representative. How dare she call out Kelly, who has served his nation so admirably and has sacrificed so much — and not having the facts quite right regarding Wilson’s exact words from years ago doesn’t change the basics.
Our nation is rapidly approaching a tipping point. As Kelly said, nothing much is sacred anymore. He said:
“You know, when I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor. That’s obviously not the case anymore as we see from recent cases. Life — the dignity of life — is sacred. That’s gone. Religion, that seems to be gone as well…
“But I just thought — the selfless devotion that brings a man or woman to die on the battlefield — I just thought that that might be sacred.”
Sadly, that does not appear to be the case.
Christopher M. Lehman served as a special assistant for national security affairs to President Ronald Reagan in 1983 when 220 Marines and 21 other U.S. service personnel were killed in a terrorist attack in Beirut, Lebanon, and witnessed first-hand the president offering heartfelt condolences to the families of fallen Marines. CLehman@CommonwealthConsulting.com