Saturday, August 13, 2005

Sheehan Agonistes: One mother's demented crusade

Like most red-blooded Americans, I can't bring myself to look away from train wrecks, motorcycle accidents, and anything that portends disaster. Which explains why I am fascinated by Cindy Sheehan. Granted, her week-long protest outside President Bush's ranch doesn't involve moving vehicles -- save for the occasional presidential limo or Secret Service vehicle that passes her encampment. But it has the potential for yet another spectacular left-wing flameout, especially if Americans can move past the contrived symbolism and get to know the woman at the center of it all.

In case some of you haven't read a newspaper during the past week, here's Cindy Sheehan's story: She was an ordinary mother (albeit one with a heck of a weird past) until her son Casey was killed in Iraq last year. Soon afterward, she founded "Gold Star Mothers For Peace," an antiwar organization with an irresistible media hook -- namely, that all its members were relatives of American servicemen killed in Iraq. Since then, Sheehan has shuttled across the country, speaking at antiwar rallies, peace meetings, protest marches. Last Saturday, supposedly on her own initiative, she set up a camp outside George W. Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas. She says she wants to meet him, but the President stubbornly refuses to feel her pain.

Or at least that's her story this week. It keeps changing. For example, she claims that Bush won't meet with her now, though she also mentions that Bush once met with her -- and other bereaved mothers -- over a year ago. At the time, she said that Bush was "sympathetic," but now claims that he was "callous." (Guess which account the press is promoting?) Bush has already sent a presidential foreign-policy aide to discuss her personal grievances, but naturally, that's not good enough for her. Sheehan informs us that she is protesting Bush on her own initiative, yet according to the Washington Post, she's using a Washington public-relations firm, starring in a television ad campaign, and taking advice from Joe Trippi, Howard Dean's erstwhile political consultant. Perhaps she has learned that acting on your own initiative is much easier when other people tell you what to do.

To be fair, the PR operatives have convinced her to refrain from the extreme statements that were once her stock-in-trade. It must have taken some effort. Sheehan has spent the past few years -- well before her son's death, it would seem -- stating that Bush should be impeached. (This might partly explain the man's reluctance to meet with her. Again.) Her off-the-cuff quip that "my son joined the Army to protect America, not Israel,", as well as her conspiracy theories about pro-Israeli neocons in the Bush administration, smack of something more than mere anti-Zionism. Then there's a rambling, agonized letter to ABC's Nightline that raises possible questions about this woman's sanity.

For the moment, Sheehan has abandoned her cry for Bush's impeachment: Now, she says, she only wants a second meeting. But we can't figure out what she'll do or say if she gets it, because she has a funny habit of contradicting everything she says. She told a reporter for leftist e-zine Salon that she wanted to ask the President, "What noble cause did my son die for?", then added that if he answers her question, she's "not going to buy it." She said that the "media circus" forming around her lone protest was "not my fault" -- ostensibly a statement of regret -- then opined, "I believe it's very helpful to the cause." She has proclaimed that she represents her dead son and honors his memory by opposing the Iraq War -- yet according to her own report, her son told her that we need to commit more troops and resources to Iraq, so that we can win this war quickly and decisively. (That's a pro-war view, in case you're wondering.)

If Cindy Sheehan were a character in a novel, no one would believe it: Mere fiction could never contain such a bundle of confusion and contradiction. She can't figure out whether 62 percent of Americans or sixty-two million Americans oppose the war -- though she's found a good number and it looks like she means to stand by it. Sheehan has made more than a few disturbing comments that could (and probably should) be construed as anti-Semitic. And despite extensive coaching from PR firms, consultants, and America's left-liberal media, she still can't define her position or her politics.

Liberal columnists have bypassed these problematic aspects of Sheehan's character, in order to focus on the symbology of pacifist motherhood -- an oddly Victorian notion, but one which today's left-wing feminists are all too willing to embrace. Maureen Dowd, herself no stranger to confusion and contradiction, has declared that "the moral authority of parents who bury children killed in Iraq is absolute." I doubt the sincerity of her statement, since not all parents who bury American servicemen share Cindy Sheehan's views. Certainly her in-laws don't; they have quietly but firmly stated that they support the president. It looks as if the dead serviceman Casey Sheehan was pro-war, too. If their diametrically opposing views --- or, for that matter, the views of pro-war parents who have lost loved ones Over There -- hold "absolute moral authority," then MoDo must perforce conclude that the war in Iraq is absolutely good and absolutely evil, absolutely justified and absolutely unjustifiable, a war of democratic liberation and a war of imperialist oppression. The cognitive dissonance within her skull must be deafening.

None of the pro-war figures in this story have received much media attention. Sheehan's relatives are deliberately keeping a low profile, and dead soldiers keep the lowest profile of all. Alas, our media's selective judgement may reflect something more insidious. Perhaps journalists don't believe that dead soldiers and grieving relatives who happen to be pro-war possess the "absolute moral authority" of antiwar activists like Cindy Sheehan. It's not necessarily that these people have suffered less, or are any less bereaved. It's just that they haven't taken the right side -- or rather, the Left one.

Friday, August 12, 2005

The Wit and Wisdom of Rick Santorum: Volume 1

Rick Santorum's new book, It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good, offers a heapin' helpin' of cornpone fascism (cleverly disguised as old-fashioned moralism) for the American religious right. Fortunately, thanks to Santorum's habit of dropping personal remarks like rabbit pellets, it's also a laugh riot. So for your delectation, gentle reader, here's a sample of choice quotations that tell us just what kind of man it takes to serve as Pennsylvania's junior senator:

Senator Santorum possesses the sort of intellectual breadth you'd expect from a junior senator from Pennsylvania. One twentieth-century conservative thinker, Russell kirk, argued that the fundamental conservative disposition in politics is the "stewardship of a patrimony." Those are two words we don't use every day. A patrimony is simply an inheritance. A steward is a caretaker, like the Steward of Gondor in the movie Return of the King .... (p. 8)

He likes those Lord of the Rings movies. A lot. Starting its campaign with the line of cases establishing the so-called right to privacy, the shock troops of the village elders are now battering at the gates of the fortress of marriage. The gates will not long hold. The fortress is but a few years away -- at most! -- of being laid to ruin unless we, like the apparently doomed warriors at Helms Deep in the movie The Two Towers, make that last charge against the foe.

He listens to the radio ... sometimes. When I listen to the rock group U2's latest hit "Vertigo," which criticizes the dizzying culture surrounding us, a chill goes through me when I hear Bono sing, in a satanic voice, "All of this, all of this can be yours -- just give me what I want and no one gets hurt." (p. 14)

He knows "great culture" when he sees it ... For example, there have been been verified accounts of individuals turning themselves in to the police after seeing this film [Passion of the Christ] for crimes they had committed. Now that's great culture. (p. 284)

... and he promotes it. I spent the next eight months doing all I could to make sure this exceedingly violent film was as widely distributed as possible. [Editor's note: "Your Tax Dollars At Work."]

Senator Santorum knows if his children is learning.The greatest thing about homeschooling is that, though it's hard and stressful at times, you develop this amazingly close relationship with your kids. (p. 384)

He has walked through a major library with a government documents repository at least once in his lifetime. Have you ever walked though a major library with a government documents repository? It is an impressive sight. You probably never imagined that your federal government was publishing so much stuff. (p. 217)

He may be "creepily fey", as Dan Savage puts it, but he's no sissy. I am an avid sports fan. I know the difference between a ground-rule double and a book-rule double. (p. 304)

He also knows liberals, and he's no liberal. Sort of. But liberals practically despise the common man. They seem to think that if you would choose to go to a NASCAR race instead of The Vagina Monologues you are a completely unenlightened soul whose very existence demands government oversight. (p. 68)

He knows which souls demand strict government oversight: Unmarried ones. In its left-handed way, the Court in Griswold [Griswold v. Connecticut -- Santorum's book never introduces this case by its complete title] gave deference to marriage between one man and one woman as the building block for society and the legitimate purpose for sexual activity and thereby [sic] protected it from state regulation. (p. 236)

He doesn't want to sound maudlin here, but ... huh? I don't want to sound maudlin here, but in the good old days of professional sports you at least got the impression that people were playing, as the title of the Kevin Costner movie patterned after my colleague and Hall of Famer Jim Bunning said, For the Love of the Game Now, however, sports is best exemplified by a movie about a sports agent, Jerry McGuire, and by Cuba Gooding Jr.'s famous line: 'Show me the money.'" (p. 304) [Editor's note: Not only has Santorum misquoted both film titles in this passage, but there's no evidence that any character in the novel or film version of For Love of the Game was based on -- or even "patterned after" -- Jim Bunning.]

Yes, Senator Santorum is truly a man for whom the term "intelligent design" does not apply. In future posts I'll explore the man's more insidious rants -- most of which, in all fairness, he probably didn't write. In his acknowledgements, he credits one "Jeff Rosenberg" with "writing many of the chapter first drafts" -- though I suspect Santorum really means to credit Joel Rosenberg, a prolific Christian-right novelist and a former communications aide to Rush Limbaugh and Steve Forbes.

I'll also discuss Santorum's astonishing resemblance to a populist demagogue from America's not-too-distant past. Stay tuned.

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