Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Slow, Pleasant Fall of Bill O'Reilly

News Hounds documents here how Bill O'Reilly is stumbling down a long flight of stairs in an effort to discredit Cindy Sheehan. He can't even control his own guests, which must really piss off a control freak like him. Perhaps a few more obscene, sexually harassing phone calls will offer him some relief. You can tell by listening to the guy that he's a classic case of a man who will explode when denied his own way, his unquestioned right to control the agenda (political, sexual or otherwise) around him. I mean, he did express a desire to shoot Al Franken in the head when Franken exposed O'Reilly's lies about winning two Peabody awards...
On the right's inability to answer Cindy Sheehan

In this column, Jonah Goldberg argues that the left is constructing a Cindy Sheehan who is beyond argument, immune from criticism, because of the continual reassertions of (1) her status as a mother of a fallen soldier, and (2) her right to speak, a right Goldberg says is beside the point if what she says is wrong.

Clever column, but, to borrow Golberg's own phrasing, utterly beside the point. It's not that the right exceeds its moral or political authority in criticizing Sheehan. It's that nothing the right has said actually addresses the core symbolic and political significance of her public argument. Maybe Goldberg is partially correct in that elements of Sheehan's message are above argument. If so, I'd say that this simply gives the right, and particularly supporters of the ill-conceived invasion and occuptation of Iraq, a strong and bitter dose of their own medicine.

Several right wingers have been harping on Sheehan's comments about Israel's undue influence in U.S. foreign policy, calling her an anti-semite, adding elements of interpretation to her utterance that exceed to record levels the limits of common sense interpretation. They're having a hard time making such innuendo stick, especially since so many Jewish leftists say the same thing. See, once you accept that, and once you press for a link between criticism of Israel and anti-semitism, the debate becomes extremely complex, and you have to dredge the sewars of right wing bloggery to find all the idiots who say there are "Jewish anti-semites" and argue that derisively using the word "neocon" marks your participation in the secret language of Jew-haters.

For the record, I wish she hadn't made the Israel reference. I don't think it's good form, and it's really beside the point. For me, the role of Israel is not a central component of criticism of U.S. foreign policy (capitalists and imperialists come in all nationalities), and talk like this is all-too-easily misappropriated, as we are seeing in this case.

But a couple of "on the other hands." First, the charge of anti-semitism will not stick, and will only give those ultra-righties who thrive on making such ill-connected accusations the opportunity to look narrow-minded and irrational in the public sphere once again. You want to make the argument, with a straight face, that if I criticize Wolfowitz that means I'm anti-semitic? Sigh. Fine, knock yourself out, asswipe.

[I am imagining here that I'm talking to Omri Ceron, who should know better, but it could also apply to the logic-deprived followers of David Horowitz. If I am talking to Omri, imagine that I said "asswipe" with a loving smile...]

I'll take my friend Scooter's word on this:

I actually left a synagogue-- mid Rosh Hashanah services if I recall-- when the rabbi noted that good Jews have to support Israel. That was around the time that they started sticking the "we stand with Israel" slogan on the mailings. Trust me: That kind of crap pisses off more Jews than Sheehan's questioning of US policy toward Israel.

Second, a final and important counterpoint: We should not forget that the right really gets off on criticizing a number of black-led African states and even arguably and occasionally relies on some potentially offensive assumptions about black Africans in doing so. But they answer charges of "racism" with characteristic defensive outrage.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Sheehan IV

Here is Ralph Nader's powerful letter to Cindy Sheehan, documenting Bush's pattern of refusing to meet with, or listen to, anyone outside of his small circle.

The false interpretation of Sheehan's initial meeting with Bush, as well as the distorted and irrelevant swipes on her character that Drudge and Malkin successfully spread early on, have made their way onto every two-bit pro-war blog on the internet. This is all they have, folks: distortions, and the ability to spread them faster than we can answer them, to bloggers willing to uncritically tow the line. Just remember, they are doing this because they are scared shitless. This isn't going away; Sheehan's basic argument is, as I've said before, irrefutable and universal: Bush and the neocons are responsible for creating the conditions in which Casey Sheehan, and many, many other young people, needlessly died. This is true even if, in some general sense, the war was a good idea. This is true even if Bush hadn't lied. This is true even though Saddam Hussein had to go. That's what's going to kill all the last gasping breaths of support for Bush's execution of this war. So it's understandable that the warborgs are doing the very best they can, and doing so by repeating distortions often enough that they'll be accepted as truth.

Ben Johnson over at the uber reactionary Front Page Magazine has decided to try his hand at what every other warborg has failed to do: successfully assassinate Sheehan's character. His arguments:

(1) Casey Sheehan voluntarily re-enlisted

Say it with me, folks: big...friggin...deal. Cindy Sheehan has the right to be against this war and to testify (Johnson calls it "exploit" but that's a thuggish rhetorical choice) of her unique love for her son in order to make her argument. She's her own moral, political agent.

(2) Cindy Sheehan associates with "far left" and "anti-Semitic" figures

We know she's "far left" of Ben Johnson, Front Page Magazine, and Dracula. Johnson epitomizes the McCarthyist style that has made Front Page the irritating and irrelevant rag it is today by listing all the associations and associations of associations Sheehan's been affiliated with (surprised you missed the fact that her plumber's wife's cousin was in the ACLU, Ben!) over the past several years. But anti-Semitic? Johnson gets to that, far enough down in the article he hopes you won't bother to read it and just take his word at the top...she (gasp) insulted Paul Wolfowitz, who's a "well-known Jewish conservative," therefore Sheehan MUST be anti-semitic. Wow, pretty weak sauce. She also says her son joined the military to protect America, not Israel. But given that many, many Jewish people are against many of Israel's policies, including those who perceive that the U.S. foreign policy is unwarrantedly beholden to Israel, linking this statement to racism is irresponsible and inexcusable, and is tantamount to accusing progressive people in general, both Jewish and gentile, of being anti-semitic. Wow, also pretty weak sauce, rendered weaker still when Johnson backhandedly admits the dubious nature of his interpretation.

3. Cindy Sheehan has changed her story.

Nope. See all the stuff I've posted thus far, follow the links, read the original story. You will truly be amazed at how far the warborgs have gone to take the initial story out of context. You'll see, once again, how sad and desperate they are.

4. Others in her family disagree with her.

Ditto and irrelevant.
Sheehan III

"if bush and jesus were really so tight, he’d invite [Sheehan] to the ranch and wash her feet. know what i’m sayin’?" ("spike," commenting on another blog)

David Rovics has a new song for Cindy Sheehan at his website:

Cindy's got some questions
And so does everyone
Because she is every mother
And he was every mother's son

Whether Cindy Sheehan changed her story is extremely doubtful. It's much less doubtful that she changed her emotions about the meeting. Now here's where the attacks from the righties get confusing. First, they say she had an anti-war agenda even before Casey Sheehan went to Iraq, certainly before he died. But then she magically lost this agenda upon commenting on her initial meeting with the President. Then (presumably in response to prodding from anti-war groups), Sheehan went back to being militantly anti-war and anti-Bush. As I said at the very beginning of this discussion, it is impossible to know know exactly what every single agent feels in every instance in this episode (or any other). By focusing their rhetorical strategy on assigning such motives, conservatives force themselves into defending not merely a flip-flop theory, but a trip-flop theory.

But the important thing here, is that there is really no strong evidence that she changed her story, while there is very clear evidence that the story was quickly distorted (and the distorted version aggressively spread) by the right's spinmeisters. Here's Media Matters getting to the bottom of it:
Drudge...took Sheehan's quotes from The Reporter out of context in falsely claiming a shift in her position. The June 24, 2004, Reporter article also quoted Sheehan expressing her misgivings about Bush and the Iraq war:
"We haven't been happy with the way the war has been handled," Cindy said. "The president has changed his reasons for being over there every time a reason is proven false or an objective reached."
The 10 minutes of face time with the president could have given the family a chance to vent their frustrations or ask Bush some of the difficult questions they have been asking themselves, such as whether Casey's sacrifice would make the world a safer place. ...the family decided against such talk, deferring to how they believed Casey would have wanted them to act....Sheehan was not referring to her meeting with Bush as "the gift the president gave us." She was actually referring to the trip to Seattle, as Reporter staff writer Tom Hall noted in an August 9 article responding to Drudge...Sheehan said sharing their story with those families was rewarding...Drudge included that quote in his Monday morning report, but didn't explain that it referred to sharing time with her family, not the president."
Reporter editor Diane Barney also responded to Drudge in an August 9 column, in which she said that Sheehan's positions on Bush and the war have not changed since June 2004. "We don't think there has been a dramatic turnaround. Clearly, Cindy Sheehan's outrage was festering even then," Barney wrote. "In ensuing months, she has grown more focused, more determined, more aggressive. ... We invite readers to revisit the story -- in context -- on our Web site and decide for themselves." ...
Throughout the day on August 8, Drudge's false story needed little time to spread to conservative weblogs:
Drudge posted the Sheehan item on August 8 at 10:11 am ET.
Right-wing pundit Michelle Malkin posted the item on her weblog one hour later, at 11:22 am ET.
At 12:40 pm ET, the Drudge story appeared on C-Log, the weblog of the conservative news and commentary website Townhall.com.
At 2:33 pm ET, MooreWatch.com posted the story.
At 3:23 pm ET, William Quick of DailyPundit.com posted the story.

What is particularly depressing for the warborgs is that even if their version of events were 100% true, it wouldn't make Bush and the neocons any better at telling the truth or managing a war.

The President has been forced to respond, in some respectable way, to Sheehan (more evidence that this is a no-lose issue for the anti-war movement and, I'd add, an inevitable outcome of a criminal war conducted in a society with at least some semblence of democratic checks and balances). I will address some of the President's specific points below:

“In recent days, we have seen again that the path to victory in the war on terror will include difficult moments,” the president said near the end of his speech. “Our nation grieves the death of every man and woman we lose in combat, and our hearts go out to the loved ones who mourn them. Yet, even in our grief, we can be confident in the future, because the darkness of tyranny is no match for the shining power of freedom.”

Now, many have commented, both for better and worse, that the power of Sheehan's protest is emotional. I think it's slightly more than that: It's a deconstruction (forgive the term) of the emotional manipulation Bush and the warborgs have repeatedly deployed to exploit 9-11 and the tragedy of war for their own political ends. Dana Cloud has written of the emotionalized closure of the public sphere and the reliance of such closure on assumptions of appropriate behavior by women and mothers. What Bush is doing in the quote above is simply feeding the link to the criticism Sheehan is enacting.

“So we will honor the fallen by completing the mission for which they gave their lives, and by doing so we will ensure that freedom and peace prevail.”

Again, shallow repetition of what has been said again and again. Sheehan's response: What is this mission or noble cause, in the face of your Administration's lies about the reasons we went into Iraq? In the face of your refusal to adequately fund this allegedly vital mission, placing uniformed working people in harm's way? What kind of freedom and peace will prevail based on such lies and inadequacies?

“We're hunting down the terrorists and training the security forces of a free Iraq so Iraqis can defend their own country,” he said. “Our approach can be summed up this way: As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down. And when that mission of defeating the terrorists in Iraq is complete, our troops will come home to a proud and grateful nation.”

As he is prone to do, Bush lifted the "stand up/stand down" quote from an earlier speech, the one he gave at Fort Bragg. And like everything else he says, each sentence and turn of phrase raises more questions. Why do you get to now pretend that this was the reason we went into Iraq? Why do you get to "sever" out of past dubious justifications? What of the fact that our presence there has caused the very terrorism we are now fighting, just as US geopolitical manuevering created Saddam Hussein and sanctioned his evil in the first place? Why must these men and women whose very deaths you invoke as justifications for their mission be sacrificed again and again as pawns of a continuous cycle of hegemony, arrogance, and inevitable blowback? And even granting you every benefit of the doubt, why haven't you made their safety (or the health of ex-soldiers) a top priority? Bush just repeats the same tired slogans over and over, which may explain why as many as 6 in 10 surveyed Americans are opposed to the war.

But he closed the speech this way: “The terrorists cannot defeat us on the battlefield. The only way they can win is if we lose our nerve. That will not happen on my watch. Withdrawing our troops from Iraq prematurely would betray the Iraqi people, and would cause others to question America's commitment to spreading freedom and winning the war on terror.”

Ah, how original. If we question the war, the terrorists win. We're spreading freedom (not creating more Husseins and Bin Ladens) Anyone else getting tired of this sad excuse for a President?

Saturday, August 13, 2005

The stumbling conservative response to Cindy Sheehan

Let's see...how can I put this succinctly?

People have a right to change their minds. Likewise, people have a right to align themselves with other people and organizations in an effort to promote particular political views. Pointing out that Sheehan has done these things is an utterly meaningless, and purely ad hominem political attack. The fact that conservatives are reduced to these two stellar arguments, that they keep repeating them over and over in a sing-songy, lecturing-the-kindergarteners tone, says all you need to know about the battle between an angry, critical-minded mother and the cynical, content-free war-borgs she is confronting.

To be fair, the range of choices for the anti-Sheehanites is pretty narrow. It's either repeat the above mentioned mantras, or call her names. Apparently, few conservatives see a reasoned defense of the war, delivered through the lens of unconditional respect for Sheehan, to be an option on the rhetorical table. While you might think that the name-calling would be none too appealing given that it will inevitably make Sheehan look better and the war-borgs look worse, this hasn't stopped neo-con David Frum from calling Sheehan an "anti-war crazy," Tony Snow from saying on his radio show that Sheehan is psychologically disturbed, O'Reilly from calling her a tool of the vast leftist conspiracy and even hinting that her behavior bordered on treason (see above--this is an issue of political association which matters not one iota in assessing her arguments or intentions), Michelle Malkin from referring to Sheehan's "crazy accusations,", or this inarticulate keeper of the "Men's News Daily" from accusing Sheehan of crying "crocodile tears" over her son.

Once again, a woman who does something like this must be mentally disturbed or a stooge. Above all, she will never be, can never be, a respectable participant in an argument with multiple sides. That the right cannot fathom treating her that way either means there really is no respectable argument for the way Bush started or conducted the invasion of Iraq, or that the war-borgs are just plain intellectually and morally bankrupt.

Oh, as I mentioned before, these idiots have one more line of attack: That many in Sheehan's family disagree with her, and that she is herself anti-war while her dead son was not. It's pretty easy to see the hidden sexist assumptions in actually treating these contingencies as arguments. The passive, faithful mother should defer to the judgment of the two men in her life, husband and warrior son. She should not assert her own, independent line of political thinking, for to do so would "dishonor" her son (The fact is, Sheehan has never claimed that her son was opposed to the war).

If she would just shut up and respect all those men--her son, her husband, her President, and her God--then she wouldn't be over in Crawford kicking up a fuss while Bush tries to enjoy his vacation and fundraisers.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Cindy Sheehan is asking some great questions

I want the Bush war apologists to keep talking smack on Cindy Sheehan. I want them to continue to call her crazy or a leftist pawn, because the more they do, the worse they look. I want that fluffy right-wing lightweight Michelle Malkin to turn her attack meter up all the way. I want alleged sexual predator Bill O'Reilly to continue to call her a disgrace. As Bush the Younger himself blathered out in a different context, bring it on!

As this brand new AP story reports, Ms. Sheehan is asking some very good questions:

August 12, 2005 CRAWFORD, Texas (AP) -- President Bush's motorcade, en route to a political fund-raiser near his ranch, passed Friday by the site of Cindy Sheehan's
Iraq war protest where more than 100 people had gathered to support her. Sheehan -- whose son, Casey, was killed five days after he arrived in Iraq last year at age 24 -- held a sign that read: "Why do you make time for donors and not for me?"
It's unclear whether Bush, riding in a black Suburban with tinted windows, looked at the demonstrators as his caravan passed. The motorcade did not stop. ...

Now, after all, if the worst anyone can say is that Cindy Sheehan is manipulating the public to promote her political cause, that just means she's used the same tactics as the Bush Administration.

But that's not really the point for the war apologists (honestly, are there really that many left who aren't drooling and crapping themselves?). The point is that Sheehan should either celebrate her son's life by supporting the war, or shut up and go back to the kitchen like a good mother. It angers them to no end that this new voice for peace is a female who (gasp) has an agenda of her own. But guess what? She can deal with her son's tragic, unnecessary death any way she wants, and the best part is that the more she is attacked, the worse the warmongers will look. It's really a no-lose deal for her or the anti-war constituency.

"But others in her family disagree with her!" screams the pro-war crowd.

Say it with me: Big...friggin...deal.

Besides, technically, her argument is correct: The President's bad choices are (at least partly) responsible for her son's death.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Jane Fonda and the Anti-War Movement

Some not-too-intellectually-reflective writers on the left are questioning whether Jane Fonda carries too much historical baggage to be an effective "representative" of the current anti-war movement.

Most of this blathering about whether "we" in the "peace movement" should find a better "representative" than Jane Fonda presupposes all sorts of unproven assumptions--that there is a unified peace movement (there isn't), that it has some kind of stable agent with the right or responsibility to approve or disapprove of people speaking in its name (it doesn't), etc.

There is also a self-importance in this kind of judgmental rhetoric that is really unwarranted, since peace movements have never stopped wars. Not to say that they couldn't, just that they never have.

The idea that any celebrity in the peace movement is uniquely more vulnerable than others to attacks from the pro-war crowd is equally unfounded--empirically so, in fact. You can be a veteran whose arms and legs were blown off in Vietnam and still be labeled unpatriotic and treasonous if you oppose Bush's war drive. Your character will be assassinated and your heroism will be questioned, and you'll lose elections, etc. What's at work here is far bigger and more endemic than the relative political vulnerability of one naive, privileged liberal celebrity--who has just as much right and responsibility as anyone else to speak out against this administration.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Hard Words, Soft Words, Crap Words

Nobody should be surprised that the Bush Administration is hypocritical and inconsistent, in this case by their toying with "softer" words to describe the war on terror after taking Democrats' "softer" words and concepts out of context both during the 2004 election campaign and in other venues of opportunism, most recently through Karl Rove's blathering. What I am surprised about is how many otherwise intelligent people fall for such rhetorical excrement every time Bush, Rove or others squeeze it out. Bush himself briefly called the struggle unwinnable and always (for obvious reasons) uses the language of permanence describing it. But the way they take the other side to task every time someone dares acknowledge any nuances and complexities is just disgusting. So here they are doing the same thing to themselves...

GRAPEVINE, Tex. (Aug. 3) - President Bush publicly overruled some of his top advisers on Wednesday in a debate about what to call the conflict with Islamic extremists, saying, "Make no mistake about it, we are at war."
In recent public appearances, Mr. Rumsfeld and senior military officers have avoided formulations using the word "war," and some of Mr. Bush's top advisers have suggested that the administration wanted to jettison what had been its semiofficial wording of choice, "the global war on terror."
In an interview last week about the new wording, Stephen J. Hadley, Mr. Bush's national security adviser, said that the conflict was "more than just a military war on terror" and that the United States needed to counter "the gloomy vision" of the extremists and "offer a positive alternative."
But administration officials became concerned when some news reports linked the change in language to signals of a shift in policy. At the same time, Mr. Bush, by some accounts, told aides that he was not happy with the new phrasing, a change of tone from the wording he had consistently used since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
It is not clear whether the new language embraced by other administration officials was adopted without Mr. Bush's approval or whether he reversed himself after the change was made. Either way, he planted himself on Wednesday firmly on the side of framing the conflict primarily in military terms and appeared intent on emphasizing that there had been no change in American policy. [The New York Times]