Monday, August 15, 2005

Slimers, Hypocrites, and Turn-ons

[[M I S C.]] * Salon’s always excellent War Room blog today offers a wrap-up of efforts by right-wingers and other apologists for George W. Bush to discredit Cindy Sheehan. The mother of a U.S. serviceman killed more than a year ago in the Iraq war, Sheehan has been camped out--with an increasing number of antiwar acolytes--a few miles away from the prez’s Crawford, Texas, show ranch for more than a week now, hoping to speak with Bush about her son’s sacrifice to the supposedly “noble cause” of invading and occupying Iraq. So far, of course, Bush has awkwardly succeeded in keeping Sheehan at a distance, telling reporters on Saturday that, while “it’s important for me to be thoughtful and sensitive to those who have got something to say, ... it’s also important for me to go on with my life, to keep a balanced life.” Apparently, this means leading a horde of junk-food-loving journalists mountain-bike-riding around his 1,600-acre property, while Sheehan becomes the symbol of America’s antiwar movement. “[S]omehow,” writes Tom Engelhardt in the blog TomDispatch, “powerless except for her story, she has managed to take the President of the United States hostage and turned his Crawford refuge into the American equivalent of Baghdad’s Green Zone. She has mysteriously transformed August’s news into a question of whether, on his way to meet Republican donors, the President will helicopter over her encampment or drive past (as he, in fact, did) in a tinted-windowed black Chevrolet SUV.”

Now, rather than put a quick end to this standoff by simply inviting Mrs. Sheehan down to his ranch for buffalo wings and some away-from-the-cameras chit-chat--which would certainly be the fastest and most effective way to defuse both her protest and media interest in it--Bush has elected to let surrogates, preferably unofficial, smear the woman. The hope, Salon presumes, is that by sliming Sheehan, she can be made to look even less credible and trustworthy than Bush himself.

Heaping opprobrium upon insult is Vanity Fair columnist Christopher Hitchens, who writes in Slate of his irritation “at the snide idea that the president is ‘on vacation’ and thus idly ignoring his suffering subjects, when the truth is that the members of the media--not known for their immunity to the charm of Martha’s Vineyard or Cape Cod in the month of August--are themselves lazing away the season with a soft-centered nonstory that practically, as we like to say in the trade, ‘writes itself.’” Well, gee, Chris, first of all, I doubt you’ll find many folks who can argue with a straight face that Bush isn’t vacationing, especially when he’s gallivanting around on mountain bikes with those same “lazy” members of the media. And the tedious argument Hitchens repeats--that if you allow one citizen to “cut in line” with his or her petition “for redress or grievance” against the prez, you’ll open the floodgates to tens of thousands or more other complainants--doesn’t even begin to wash. Although Bush has, indeed, met on occasion with the parents of soldiers who’ve died in his Iraq war, he has done his best over the last four and a half years to steer clear of anyone who thinks less of him than he does of himself, even to the point that his 2004 campaign rallies were open only to people who were willing to sign a form endorsing him or pledging to vote for him. He’s been far from the compassionate commander in chief Hitchens sees through his rose-tinted glasses. “Bubble-boy” Bush could use some in-your-face criticism from his constituents, just to make clear to him that his policies--including those regarding Saddam Hussein’s former homeland--are not nearly as popular as Dick Cheney or Condoleezza Rice would have him believe. Far from being the “uniter, not a divider” he promised to be as president, Bush has divided the United States as it has not been divided since the Vietnam War, pitting those in power and responsible for bad decisions against those with little or no power, like Sheehan, who are asked to sacrifice their loved ones for those faulty calls.

This is the primary reason why the Sheehan “nonstory” has gained such impact in the American news media. Yes, the White House press corps has had more time on its hands than usual this month, and so is more susceptible to what Hitchens terms the “dreary sentimental nonsense” of a grieving mother’s grassroots protest. But that’s only because Bush is setting records with his holiday schedule, and is providing little of substance as an alternative to the Sheehan beat. If the prez fed the media anything better than platitudes about “staying the course” and building a “democratic Iraq”; if he stepped before the cameras to say that he understood the widespread criticism of his Middle East policies, and that he was ordering changes to be made immediately--or even if he told reporters that he had a plan to halt this summer’s escalating gas prices--he could steal the spotlight from Cindy Sheehan in a heartbeat. But he’s doing none of that. Instead, he falls back once more on Rovian/Atwaterian tactics (used previously against John Kerry, John McCain, and myriad others) meant to destroy an outspoken opponent, because he isn’t willing either to entertain the possibility of error or admit to weakness. So the press follows the magnet of an aggrieved mother in a ditch on the side of a road. Bush has only himself to blame for the results.

READ MORE:The Grief of Cindy Sheehan,” by Bruce Shapiro (The Nation); “The Hollow Man,” by Robert Bryce (Salon); “The Unfeeling President,” by E.L. Doctorow (The East Hampton Star); “Public’s Doubts Grow About Iraq War,” by Mark Silva and Mike Dorning (Chicago Tribune); “The U.S. Has Lost the Iraq War,” by Immanuel Wallerstein (Fernand Braudel Center, Binghamton University); “An Exit Strategy for Iraq Now,” by Tom Hayden (Los Angeles Times).
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Why does Tom DeLay hate America? “I cannot support a failed foreign policy,” he declared. “History teaches us that it is often easier to make war than peace. This administration is just learning that lesson right now.” Of course, he said that back when Bill Clinton was still president. Nowadays, with fellow short-sighted Texan George W. Bush occupying the White House, the beleaguered House majority leader is singing a different--albeit hypocritical--tune. Likewise, FOX News blowhard Sean Hannity, who in 1999 denounced military action against Kosovo by saying: “No goal, no objective, not until we have those things and a compelling case is made, then I say, back out of it, because innocent people are going to die for nothing. That’s why I'm against it.” Daily Kos has these and many other examples of Republican two-facedness here.
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The Australia-based blog Operation Milestone Millstone has been trying for some time now to predict the date on which the 2,000th American (soldier or contractor) will die in the Iraq war. At the present rate, the current prediction is September 1--right in the midst of Bush’s vacation.
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From the Did We Really Need to Know This? file: Actress Demi Moore informs Harper’s Bazaar (or was that Harper’s Bizarre?) magazine that one of her favorite ways to spend time with boy-toy “soul mate” Ashton Kutcher is “sharing a bath with one another and watching Court TV. Snuggling up naked.” Meanwhile, the lovely Jennifer Connelly lets it be known that “I do like to read a book while having sex [with hubby Paul Bettany]. And talk on the phone. You can get so much done. If the room’s dark enough, I like to do some online shopping.” If I next hear that the most congenial Sandra Bullock likes doing it with new husband Jesse James while organizing her BlackBerry, I’m going to give up looking at celebrity news altogether ...

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