Saturday, September 22, 2007

How dare you

I'm posting this Time Magazine editorial from Michael Kinsley regarding the ad controversy in its entirety. It is just incredible:

Goodness gracious. oh, my paws and whiskers. Some of the meanest, most ornery hombres around are suddenly feeling faint. Notorious tough guys are swooning with the vapors. The biggest beasts in the barnyard are all aflutter over something they read in the New York Times. It's that ad from — the one that calls General David Petraeus, the head of U.S. forces in Iraq, general betray us. All across the radio spectrum, right-wing shock jocks are themselves shocked. How could anybody say such a thing? It's horrifying. It's outrageous. It's disgraceful. It's just beyond the pale ... It's ... oh, my heavens ... say, is it a bit stuffy in here? ... I think I'm going to ... Could I have a glass of ... oh, dear [thud].

Welcome to the wonderful world of umbrage, the new language of American politics. You would not have thought that the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly would be so sensitive. Sticks and stones and so on. Yet they all seem to have taken one look at that ad and fainted dead away. And when they came round, they demanded — as if with one voice (or at least as if with one list of talking points) — that every Democratic presidential candidate must "condemn" this shocking, shocking document.

The ad is pretty tough, and the pun on the general's name is pretty witless. You could argue that since the verb betray and the noun traitor have the same root, the ad is accusing the head of American forces in Iraq of treason. The ad can also be interpreted — more plausibly if you consider the rest of the text — merely as questioning the general's honesty, not his patriotism. But whatever your interpretation of the ad, all the gasping for air and waving of scented handkerchiefs among the war's most enthusiastic supporters is pretty comical.

It's all phony, of course. The war's backers are obviously delighted to have this ad from which they can make an issue. They wouldn't trade it for a week in Anbar province (a formerly troubled area of Iraq that is now, thanks to us, an Eden of peace and tranquillity where barely a car bomb disturbs the perfumed silence — or so they say). These days, mock outrage is used by every side of every dispute. It's fair enough to criticize something your opponent said while secretly thanking your lucky stars that he said it. The fuss over this ad is something else: it is the result of a desperate scavenging for umbrage material. When so many people are clamoring for a chance to swoon that they each have to take a number and when the landscape is so littered with folks lying prostrate and pretending to be dead that it starts to look like the end of a Civil War battle re-enactment, this isn't spontaneous mass outrage. This is choreography.

The constant calls for political candidates to prove their bona fides by condemning or denouncing something somebody else said or to renounce a person's support or to return her tainted money are a tiresome new tic in American politics. They're turning politics into a game of "Mother, May I?" Did you say "Here is my plan for health-care reform"? Uh-oh, you were supposed to say "I condemn's comments on General Petraeus, and here is my plan for health-care reform."

All this drawing of uncrossable lines and issuing of fatuous fatwas is supposed to be a bad habit of the left. When right-wingers are attacking this habit rather than practicing it, they call it political correctness. The problem with political correctness is that it turns discussions of substance into arguments over etiquette. The last thing that supporters of the war want to talk about at this point is the war. They'd far rather talk about this insult to General Petraeus. It just isn't done in polite society, it seems, to criticize a general in the middle of a war. (Although, when else?)

The Republican front runner, Rudy Giuliani, is another tough guy who has seized the opportunity to reveal his easily bruised soft side. He is running TV commercials saying Hillary Clinton "stood by silently" while ran its despicable ad. Another way of saying this would be that she had nothing to do with the ad. But Rudy accuses her of "joining with" and "attacking" General Petraeus, although the only evidence he can muster for this accusation is a clip from Clinton telling the general at a hearing that his reports of progress in the war "really require the willing suspension of disbelief." For this, Giuliani demands an "apology," not just to the general but to all American troops in Iraq. He accuses her of "turning her back" on America's brave soldiers "just when our troops need all our support to finish the job."

When we try to untangle this web of accusation and innuendo, Giuliani appears to be suggesting that it is unacceptable for a Senator to express skepticism about anything said by a general in uniform. If he believes that, he does not understand democracy. I am shocked by this. In fact, if Giuliani doesn't apologize, and if the other Republican candidates don't condemn this commercial, I think I'm going to faint.

Kinsley nails it here. It is all about mock GOP hype of attacking the ad itself, and Democrats for supposedly supporting the ad, rather than debating the substance within the ad. It is the only thing the Republicans have left for debating the Iraq war--a disastrous war which the GOP happily supports with the Bush administration, even in the face of an overwhelming majority of Americans who oppose the war and want the U.S. to pull out of Iraq. The Republicans refuse to debate the issues that the MoveOn ad raises, because the Republicans probably know that their arguments and talking points will be defeated in a real debate. The only way the GOP can defend their pro-war position is through baseless attacks, mock outrage, and fear-mongering. You can expect to see even more of this crap coming from the GOP as the November 2008 election gets closer.

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