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Published: Saturday, 5/29/2004

Birds of a (squawk!) feather

THE chicken hawks are squawking again in Washington, but this time their target is not Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry but another certifiable war hero, Sen. John McCain.

As Capitol Hill ornithologists know, chicken hawks are a particularly noxious breed of political fowl that never served a nanosecond in the military but nonetheless questions the courage or patriotism of those who did.

It's the same species that pecked to death the re-election bid of Sen. Max Cleland, of Georgia, in 2002, and recently sank its talons into Senator Kerry for his youthful anti-war activities.

Its markings are, almost uniformly, Republican red.

The latest flap ensued when Senator McCain ruffled GOP feathers by questioning the wisdom of extending tax cuts at a time when military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan are pushing federal budget deficits to unheard of levels.

"Throughout our history, wartime has been a time of sacrifice," recalled the Arizona Republican, who survived five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. "What have we sacrificed? As mind-boggling as expanding Medicare has been, nothing tops my confusion for cutting taxes during wartime."

House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois, who, we're told, was 4-F with a bad shoulder during the Vietnam years, immediately swooped into action, declaring that if Senator McCain wanted to know about sacrifice, he should visit wounded soldiers at the Walter Reed and Bethesda military hospitals. Tax cuts, he suggested, would "keep this country strong not only militarily but economically."

Replied Senator McCain: "All we're called upon to do is not spend our nation into bankruptcy while our soldiers risk their lives. I fondly remember a time when real Republicans stood for fiscal responsibility."

Mr. Hastert and his flock have a lot of nerve lecturing Senator McCain about personal sacrifice.

To suggest that they know more than he about the nature and costs of war not only strains credulity but impugns the honor of all who served their country in the past and all those who serve it today.

It's a flight of fancy the American public should simply ignore.

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