Both major-party conventions featured grieving family members at various points over the last couple of weeks. The parties saw an opportunity to honor individuals and policy priorities with Americans who’ve suffered horrible losses, and in general, these appearances carried great emotional weight.
In fact, two of the most memorable speeches of both party gatherings came from parents who lost loved ones abroad.
But that doesn’t mean their appearances were the same.
Last week, for example, on the opening night of the Republican National Convention, organizers gave a prominent role to Pat Smith, Benghazi victim Sean Smith’s mother. It was a deeply unfortunate display: Smith, still struggling with the kind of pain few of us can imagine, used her time on the stage to repeat discredited conspiracy theories.
“She deserves to be in stripes,” Smith said of Clinton, adding, “I personally blame Hillary Clinton for the death of my son.” Given the facts, even those presented by congressional Republicans themselves, Smith’s remarks were ugly and wrong, and it almost certainly wasn’t appropriate for Republican organizers to exploit her grief to peddle conspiratorial nonsense.
A week later in Philadelphia, Khizr Khan, whose son, U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan, died in Iraq at the hands of a terrorist, addressed the Democratic convention. In the process, he delivered one of the most powerful moments of either party gathering.
But wait, conservatives will ask. Why was Smith’s appearance worthy of criticism, while Khan’s appearance is celebrated? Isn’t that hypocritical?
The answer is no. The differences should be obvious.
Khan spoke the truth about Trump’s proposed Muslim ban, about American principles of diversity and respect, and religious liberty under the Constitution.
Smith talked up a conspiracy theory that even congressional Republicans no longer support.
Khan spoke of defeating Trump at the ballot box. Smith spoke of imprisoning Clinton for reasons that defy explanation.
To see these two appearances as effectively identical because of their superficial similarities is to have missed the point of their remarks entirely.