Dark Bilious Vapors

But how could I deny that I possess these hands and this body, and withal escape being classed with persons in a state of insanity, whose brains are so disordered and clouded by dark bilious vapors....
--Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy: Meditation I

Home » Archives » August 2005 » Cindy Sheehan "unhinged", part [whatever]

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08/21/2005: Cindy Sheehan "unhinged", part [whatever]

Checking Daryl Cagel's editorial cartoon archive, I see that there have been a number of additions to the archive on the Sheehan matter. So far the score: 29 cartoons pro-Sheehan, only two against. As I said before, if the cartoonists are reflecting public opinion, Bush (and the right wing slimemeisters who are rising to his defense) are losing this one badly. Of all the new cartoons, this one was a real gem:

A frequent commenter here is fond of citing James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal op-ed page. In a long post, Brian Leiter takes Taranto apart:
Notice how this shill for war slips in the key lie right at the start: she "suffered a grievous loss for a noble cause." But this is exactly what Ms. Sheehan denies: there is nothing noble about lying the nation into war, dropping bombs on a decimated country half of whose population are children, killing and maiming tens of thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) of innocents, and sowing death, destruction, and chaos. And in disputing that it is a "noble cause," Ms. Sheehan is correct. It is not, then, simply "churlish" to attack her under these circumstances: it betrays venal stupidity and the "moral vacancy" of which Mr. Doctorow spoke. [for those interested, the Doctorow essay to which Prof. Leiter refers can be found here.]


What could be the relevance of the fact that she and her husband have separated? For those keeping track, this appears to be an actual
ad hominem argument. [as is the whole "Sheehan is deranged" line of argument. --LRC] And although we have no evidence--as in none--about the ex-husband's view of the matter [and even if we do, what is the relevance of that? Sheehan's position has to be eveluated on its merits, not on the fact that it is contrary to her estranged husband's opinion, or to that of other members of her family --LRC], Mr. Taranto, being a skilled slime artist, slides, in the same sentence, from the fact of the separation to the fact that others in her extended family do disagree with Ms. Sheehan.


So Ms. Sheehan has the misfortune to be related to a Bush loyalist: so what?
How does that have any bearing on the content of her message? (Hint: it doesn't.) But the pathetic Ms. Quartarolo is not just a Bush loyalist; she's also schooled at the Rovian art of the smear: hence the allegation, out of whole cloth, that Ms. Sheehan "appears to be promoting her own personal agenda and notoriety."

Her own personal agenda?

Her agenda (ending the Iraq War and holding the war criminals accountable) is not personal to her (it is shared by hundreds of millions of people around the globe), indeed, it has nothing to do with her: her son is dead, he will not be helped by ending the Iraq War. If there is any
personal component to her agenda, it is a purely fantastical one, namely, a distraught parent exacting "just revenge" upon at least some of those responsible for her misery.


That really is the crux of the matter: many grieving parents are consoling themselves with the idea that their children were killed for a reason. As Nietzsche observed, in one of the truly profound books of recent centuries (
On the Genealogy of Morality), it is not suffering per se that is unbearable, it is suffering without any meaning that is intolerable. One reason, I surmise, that Ms. Sheehan provokes the wrath of other grieving parents of the victims of George W. Bush's criminal war is that many of them are trying to come to terms with their grief by believing it has a meaning. Part of Ms. Sheehan's extraordinary courage--apart from her fortitude in carrying on against the right-wing slime-and-smear machine--is that she has gone public with the terrible truth (is there a truth more terrible?) that her child's death had no meaning at all, that it was nothing more than the grotesquely stupid and pointless outcome of horrors concocted by the craven moral lepers who rule this nation. To stand face-to-face with that abyss of human depravity and carry on as Ms. Sheehan does is one reason she has earned the admiration of many.
More concise and to the point is a post by fellow Rocky Top Brigade member buddy don, the wandering hillbilly:
pinions of buddy don: a king not a pawn
i aint gut time, to meet with no mother
of a brave son killed in iraq,
i aint gut time, i caint be botherd
and i caint take anything back

aint no way to explain why he died
the reasons keep slippin away
i really didnt lie, whenever i lied
cause i believed what i had to say

im gonna ride my bike
or clear a little brush
im gonna ride my bike
so tell cindy to hush
im gonna ride my bike
cause ive gotta move on
im gonna ride my bike
im a king not a pawn
While in today's New York Times, Frank Rich gives an insightful analysis into the motives and workings of the right wing smear brigades:
When these setbacks happen in Iraq itself, the administration punts. But when they happen at home, there's a game plan. Once Ms. Sheehan could no longer be ignored, the Swift Boating began. Character assassination is the Karl Rove tactic of choice, eagerly mimicked by his media surrogates, whenever the White House is confronted by a critic who challenges it on matters of war. The Swift Boating is especially vicious if the critic has more battle scars than a president who connived to serve stateside and a vice president who had "other priorities" during Vietnam.

The most prominent smear victims have been Bush political opponents with heroic Vietnam résumés: John McCain, Max Cleland, John Kerry. But the list of past targets stretches from the former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke to Specialist Thomas Wilson, the grunt who publicly challenged Donald Rumsfeld about inadequately armored vehicles last December. The assault on the whistle-blower Joseph Wilson - the diplomat described by the first President Bush as "courageous" and "a true American hero" for confronting Saddam to save American hostages in 1991 - was so toxic it may yet send its perpetrators to jail.

True to form, the attack on Cindy Sheehan surfaced early on Fox News, where she was immediately labeled a "crackpot" by Fred Barnes. The right-wing blogosphere quickly spread tales of her divorce, her angry Republican in-laws, her supposed political flip-flops, her incendiary sloganeering and her association with known ticket-stub-carrying attendees of "Fahrenheit 9/11." Rush Limbaugh went so far as to declare that Ms. Sheehan's "story is nothing more than forged documents - there's nothing about it that's real."

But this time the Swift Boating failed, utterly, and that failure is yet another revealing historical marker in this summer's collapse of political support for the Iraq war.

When the Bush mob attacks critics like Ms. Sheehan, its highest priority is to change the subject. If we talk about Richard Clarke's character, then we stop talking about the administration's pre-9/11 inattentiveness to terrorism. If Thomas Wilson is trashed as an insubordinate plant of the "liberal media," we forget the Pentagon's abysmal failure to give our troops adequate armor (a failure that persists today, eight months after he spoke up). If we focus on Joseph Wilson's wife, we lose the big picture of how the administration twisted intelligence to gin up the threat of Saddam's nonexistent W.M.D.'s.

The hope this time was that we'd change the subject to Cindy Sheehan's "wacko" rhetoric and the opportunistic left-wing groups that have attached themselves to her like barnacles. That way we would forget about her dead son. But if much of the 24/7 media has taken the bait, much of the public has not.

The backdrops against which Ms. Sheehan stands - both that of Mr. Bush's what-me-worry vacation and that of Iraq itself - are perfectly synergistic with her message of unequal sacrifice and fruitless carnage. Her point would endure even if the messenger were shot by a gun-waving Crawford hothead or she never returned to Texas from her ailing mother's bedside or the president folded the media circus by actually meeting with her.

The public knows that what matters this time is Casey Sheehan's story, not the mother who symbolizes it. Cindy Sheehan's bashers, you'll notice, almost never tell her son's story. They are afraid to go there because this young man's life and death encapsulate not just the noble intentions of those who went to fight this war but also the hubris, incompetence and recklessness of those who gave the marching orders.
Hubris, incompetence and recklessness so great that, as Juan Cole reminds us, now the only clear winner of the Iraq war is Iran ("premium content"; ad view or subscription required):
The Iranians hold a powerful hand in the Iraqi poker game. They have geopolitical advantages, are flush with petroleum profits because of the high price of oil, and have much to offer their new Shiite Iraqi partners. Their long alliance with Iraqi president Jalal Talabani gives them Kurdish support as well. Bush's invasion removed the most powerful and dangerous regional enemy of Iran, Saddam Hussein, from power. In its aftermath, the religious Shiites came to power at the ballot box in Iraq, bestowing on Tehran firm allies in Baghdad for the first time since the 1950s. And in a historic irony, Iran's most dangerous enemy of all, the United States, invaded Iran's neighbor with an eye to eventually toppling the Tehran regime -- but succeeded only in defeating itself.

The ongoing chaos in Iraq has made it impossible for Bush administration hawks to carry out their long-held dream of overthrowing the Iranian regime, or even of forcing it to end its nuclear ambitions. (The Iranian nuclear research program will almost certainly continue, since the Iranians are bright enough to see what happened to the one member of the "axis of evil" that did not have an active nuclear weapons program.) The United States lacks the troops, but perhaps even more critically, it is now dependent on Iran to help it deal with a vicious guerrilla war that it cannot win. In the Middle East, the twists and turns of history tend to make strange bedfellows -- something the neocons, whose breathtaking ignorance of the region helped bring us to this place, are now learning to their dismay.

More than two years after the fall of Saddam Hussein, it is difficult to see what real benefits have accrued to the United States from the Iraq war, though a handful of corporations have benefited marginally. In contrast, Iran is the big winner. The Shiites of Iraq increasingly realize they need Iranian backing to defeat the Sunni guerrillas and put the Iraqi economy right, a task the Americans have proved unable to accomplish. And Iran will still be Iraq's neighbor long after the fickle American political class has switched its focus to some other global hot spot.

Len on 08.21.05 @ 08:57 PM CST

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