Thursday, August 25, 2005

Response to Ann Coulter's "Cindy Sheehan: Commander in Grief"

“To expiate the pain of losing her firstborn son in the Iraq war, Cindy Sheehan decided to cheer herself up by engaging in Stalinist agitprop outside President Bush's Crawford ranch. It's the strangest method of grieving I've seen since Paul Wellstone's funeral. Someone needs to teach these liberals how to mourn.”

Stalinist agitprop? Is this remotely meant to be taken seriously? Does every reactionary rightist have to say that we're Stalinists? Fine, then. “Ann Coulter saw fit to engage in Nazi perception management today when...”

Of course, as Albert points out, he was anti-Stalinist when Dave Horowitz was a Leninist, and most of the Left has a better critique of the USSR than the mainstream, so hey.

“Call me old-fashioned, but a grief-stricken war mother shouldn't have her own full-time PR flack. After your third profile on "Entertainment Tonight," you're no longer a grieving mom; you're a C-list celebrity trolling for a book deal or a reality show.”

Ah, but Terry Schiavo's parents should! And surely nobody has made money on the right.

“We're sorry about Ms. Sheehan's son, but the entire nation was attacked on 9/11. This isn't about her personal loss. America has been under relentless attack from Islamic terrorists for 20 years, culminating in a devastating attack on U.S. soil on 9/11. It's not going to stop unless we fight back, annihilate Muslim fanatics, destroy their bases, eliminate their sponsors and end all their hope. A lot more mothers will be grieving if our military policy is: No one gets hurt!”

Really? A simple test would answer this question: Has terror gone down since Bush came into office? No, it has gone up, both in long-term success and raw numbers of deaths. Is Coulter capable of citing one statistic, one authority, one actual argument with logic?

And how was the whole of America attacked? Yes, 9/11 was a tragedy, and it was designed to terrify the American people, but that doesn't mean John Q. Public is more threatened by terrorism than traffic. Coulter's rhetoric actually helps the terrorists (not that I think this is the relevant issue).

Destroy their bases, eliminate sponsors, end hope... That is a laughable and incomplete way of saying “Don't just capture some dudes, but actually end the organization.” But Bush hasn't even tried to do that. Further, Coulter offers zero ethical reasoning here as to why relentless attacks from Muslim fanatics justifies violent retribution, especially violent retribution that does not target said fanatics and actually gives them what they want at wholesale prices.

Ms. Coulter, even conservative security analysts have attacked Bush's policies on a simple efficacy method, let alone on the ethics of killing hundreds of thousands in exchange for our few thousand.

“Fortunately, the Constitution vests authority to make foreign policy with the president of the United States, not with this week's sad story. But liberals think that since they have been able to produce a grieving mother, the commander in chief should step aside and let Cindy Sheehan make foreign policy for the nation. As Maureen Dowd said, it's "inhumane" for Bush not "to understand that the moral authority of parents who bury children killed in Iraq is absolute.”
Wrong again. Foreign policy isn't just handed to the President on the silver platter. Congress must be consulted and informed and must ratify treaties, appoint ambassadors, actually declare wars, etc. So Bush's rule is unconstitutional as well.

“I'm not sure what "moral authority" is supposed to mean in that sentence, but if it has anything to do with Cindy Sheehan dictating America's foreign policy, then no, it is not "absolute." It's not even conditional, provisional, fleeting, theoretical or ephemeral.”

So someone who has suffered thanks to someone else's decisions has no moral authority? What is this garbage? Of course, the Right doesn't actually believe this. Suffering Iraqis are every reason to justify their imperialist oil grab.

“The logical, intellectual and ethical shortcomings of such a statement are staggering. If one dead son means no one can win an argument with you, how about two dead sons? What if the person arguing with you is a mother who also lost a son in Iraq and she's pro-war? Do we decide the winner with a coin toss? Or do we see if there's a woman out there who lost two children in Iraq and see what she thinks about the war?”

No. Coulter can build strawmen all she wants, but that's not the argument. Rather, if one's son has died, one should demand some answers, and we should respect the deep emotions they may be feeling (instead of publicly lambasting and lampooning them, which, as it is what the Right is doing, leaves Coulter argument-free as always). “Dowd's "absolute" moral authority column demonstrates, once again, what can happen when liberals start tossing around terms they don't understand like "absolute" and "moral." It seems that the inspiration for Dowd's column was also absolute. On the rocks.”

And rightists are so restrained about that word?

“Liberals demand that we listen with rapt attention to Sheehan, but she has nothing new to say about the war. At least nothing we haven't heard from Michael Moore since approximately 11 a.m., Sept. 11, 2001. It's a neocon war; we're fighting for Israel; it's a war for oil; Bush lied, kids died; there is no connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida. Turn on MSNBC's "Hardball" and you can hear it right now. At this point, Cindy Sheehan is like a touring company of Air America radio: Same old script and it's not even the original cast.

These arguments didn't persuade Hillary Clinton or John McCain to vote against the war. They didn't persuade Democratic primary voters, who unceremoniously dumped anti-war candidate Howard Dean in favor of John Kerry, who voted for the war before he voted against it. They certainly didn't persuade a majority of American voters who re-upped George Bush's tenure as the nation's commander in chief last November.

But now liberals demand that we listen to the same old arguments all over again, not because Sheehan has any new insights, but because she has the ability to repel dissent by citing her grief.”

She only has that ability if others give it to them. But what kind of inhuman monster would not reevaluate a war based on courage and conviction like Sheehan has shown? Yes, Sheehan might still be wrong. Fine. But that is precisely the question Sheehan is asking.

But that's silly. A new death is a new insight. New facts come up all the time (apparently, given the American people's waking up to the injustice and death). Before the war, we only thought there would be looting; now, we know there was. And so on.

Coulter implies here that the popular position is the right one. But not only is that a blatantly ridiculous rhetorical ploy, she doesn't even believe it, nor does the Right. For the Right, if the position is unpopular or not current government policy, they are morally dissenting (say, being against abortion or affirmative action or international law or... actually, the majority of liberal positions, according to poll after poll, but hey); if it is, then they are just representing the opinions of mainstream America, so buzz off. Sorry, two contradictory premises don't work. Positions are right and should be advocated based only on their logic and reasoning, not on whether or not a majority was convinced. Only in this case, Coulter's flatly wrong about some things and begs the question with others. In fact, the majority is against the war and was against unilateral action or action outside of Congress' mandates before the war began. The fact that the majority opinion did not become policy answers Coulter's blather about the relative success of candidates in elections: even rightists can recognize that success is determined at least as much by incumbent status, money, popularity among corporate and other elites, and “image”/media appeal as by issues (and, in fact, I'd daresay that, combined with the media culture we have, politics are in fact 95% horseraces and PR contests, not discussions about issues).

Coulter and the right more generally argues that liberals blame conservatives for leveraging Terry Schiavo's private pain for public gain. Of course, the best they've done is to either prove that both Schiavo's and Sheehan's tactics are fair or that both are unfair, neither of which does the conservative movement any good. But there is a fundamental disanalogy between Terry's parents, who were making an open ploy to try to hijack control from the legal caretaker in what was essentially a private decision affecting only a small set of people, versus Sheehan, who is discussing a fundamentally public issue. Either of them may be right or wrong (Schiavo's parents being mostly wrong, Sheehan being mostly right, in my obviously totally objective view ;), but Schiavo's death was not caused by a governmental mandate.

“On the bright side, Sheehan shows us what Democrats would say if they thought they were immunized from disagreement. Sheehan has called President Bush "that filth-spewer and warmonger." She says "America has been killing people on this continent since it was started" and "the killing has gone on unabated for over 200 years." She calls the U.S. government a "morally repugnant system" and says, "This country is not worth dying for." I have a feeling every time this gal opens her trap, Michael Moore gets a residuals check.”

Ah, yes, guilt by association! First of all, none of these things prove her wrong, especially not the Michael Moore bit (for a laugh, check out a recent Daily Show wherein Jon Stewart plays Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon with the right's logic); second of all, none of this is remotely as hateful as Coulter's comments, such as “We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals...” Sorry, Ann, I'm not scared, nor was I scared when a skinhead inspired by nationalist commissars like you threatened me with violence or when my friend got pummeled for trying to set up an anarchist club. Some people actually have convictions, ones that are not popular and do not get them syndicated columns.

How is it somehow irrational or insulting to say a fact: that America has been killing since it started? One can nitpick (can one say "America" killed the Native Americans? and so on), but the general picture is accurate, despite what conservatives like to imply while conceding the facts used to make the argument. But even if it wasn't, this is NOT a polemic remotely like what the Right does, which in fact hurls ad hominems, not arguments (however offensive said arguments may be).

“Evidently, however, there are some things worth killing for. Sheehan recently said she only seemed calm "because if I started hitting something, I wouldn't stop 'til it was dead." It's a wonder Bush won't meet with her. “

This is our courageous warrior president?! With Secret Security and the whole of the military behind him, he backs down from a mother who lost her son? Coulter reveals more than she knows with this snide joke.


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