Friday, March 02, 2007


Another one of these conservative memes that's having no traction with me is this idea that calling the American lives lost in Iraq "wasted" (as both Obama and McCain have in recent weeks) is somehow offensive. James Taranto attempts to explain it today, defending McCain's apology, in which he clarified that he should have said "sacrificed":
What's odd about this is that waste and sacrifice are opposites. To sacrifice is to give up something of value to oneself for the sake of something more valuable that transcends the self. To waste is to give up something of value for the sake of something of lesser or no value. A sacrifice is an unselfish act; a waste is an act of misdirected selfishness.
OK, fine. I agree with those definitions. He then proceeds:
If a young man goes out, gets drunk, gets behind the wheel of his car, crashes and dies, it is fair to say he has wasted his life. That's quite different from a young man who loses his life in the course of doing dangerous work in the service of his country.
I can agree with that, too. But what's that got to do with what McCain or Obama said? Both politicians referred not to the soldiers or marines wasting their own lives, but to the country or its leadership wasting the lives of its military. If you send a bunch of soldiers out to another country and they get killed in a failing mission because you failed to come up with a reasonable plan to stabilize that country, then yes, you've wasted their lives. The soldiers weren't the ones who screwed up the mission, it was the leadership. Saying that we've wasted lives in Iraq is a critique of the leadership, not the soldiers.

Not content to find offense where there is no legitimate offense, Taranto then tries some extremely twisted logic to claim that McCain's apology shows his motives were pure, while Obama is somehow still a jerk:
Obama's initial statement was crystal clear; his "explanation" was a cloud of smoke. Obviously he meant what he said in the first place... But here is the difference: McCain's statement tells us something worrying about his personal character; Obama's tells us something terrifying about his ideological character.
Huh? Yeah, Obama meant it... he really does believe Bush has done a lousy job running the war. So does the majority of the country.

A broader point here is that as much as conservatives have railed against "political correctness" over the past decade-plus, over time they've certainly learned to play the game themselves. Say the word "wasted" anywhere in conjunction with soldiers' lives, and your ideology is "terrifying." Note that many people enter the military because they lack other job opportunities, and you're an unpatriotic jerk (yes, John Kerry's "botched joke" was crass, but no, not everyone joining the military is doing so for patriotic reasons untainted by economic considerations), etc. etc.

Conservatives are enforcing their own system of doublespeak and untouchable opinions. Remember the attempt to introduce "homicide bombers" into the lexicon? I once heard a talk radio host claim that illegal immigrants weren't "immigrants" after all because "immigrant" only applied to people who came here legally. He preferred just the term "illegal" as a noun, which, besides being questionable grammatically, is a poor term because it doesn't specify what they've done that's illegal. On the other side of the conventional political divide, it's the same reason why "pro-choice" is an obfuscating term to describe the advocacy of legalized abortion. Those vague terms are used, though, because they rephrase the debate in ways that are favorable to those who use them. What law-abiding citizen would be in favor of an "illegal?" Who is against "choice" in the abstract?

While I'm at it, Andrew Sullivan brings our attention to some of the bizarre opinions held by conservative bloggers, who were surveyed by Right Wing News:
Do you think that a majority of Democrats in Congress would like to see us lose in Iraq for political reasons?
Yes (53)-- 84%
No (10) -- 16%

Do you think mankind is the primary cause of global warming?
Yes (0) -- 0%
No (59) -- 100%
These people are nuts. At least four of them had the decency to abstain on the global warming question.


At Friday, March 2, 2007 at 5:08:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, when it comes to whether the Democrats would rather see us "lose" in Iraq, I'm not so sure the conservatives polled are totally off-base. I don't think any Democrat in his or her right mind wishes disaster upon the Iraqis or the troops, but at the same time, I honestly don't trust the Dems to do what's right over what's politically expedient in this case. There's no upside to success in Iraq for the Democrats, not with the White House in reach.

I was opposed to this war from the beginning, but I can't see how cutting off funds or pulling out can be anything other than irresponsible. As much as I hate the idea of sending more young men and women off to get blown up, I think we have to execute some kind a controlling action -- a "surge," I guess.

And I don't think most leading Democrats are willing to table the rhetoric long enough to weigh the idea seriously. (Or to remember that *they* were the ones blasting the administration for not committing enough troops in the first place.) Bush has re-gained the backing of some of the military officials who jumped ship a couple of years ago, and there seems to be an actual plan afoot to at least seize control of Baghdad, and then proceed from there.

I understand the fear that the surge is just a cover for an invasion of Iran, and I'm not sure I trust the Bush administration not to exceed their reach either. But now that some prominent Republicans are being open with their disgust over the bill of goods they were sold at the start of this whole mess, I'd almost trust them more to decide what we should do next.


P.S. I feel I should add that I'm not 100% sure I'm behind the surge, at least as the Bushies will ultimately conceive it. But I'm not sure it's a horrible idea either.

At Friday, March 2, 2007 at 6:37:00 PM PST, Blogger Ryan said...

The right-wing's decision to create a Wingnuttia alternate-reality is really, really disturbing, with devastating implications for public policy. The GOP needs to implode and shorn itself of its craziest elements, or find a strong, competent guy who can lead them back to sanity.

As for the "surge", I'm not entirely against it (mainly because Petraeus seems like such a competent fellow, and deserves one shot at it), though it does seem like an exercise of throwing good money after bad. The main problem is that our army is not trained to be an occupying police force that is supposed to stop two religious groups from killing one another.

Folks who want to withdraw forces understand that withdrawal leads to terrible consequences. But most reasonable observers believe that the war has already been lost. There's a civil war going on; either you're in the middle of it, or you pick up the pieces once it's over. I'm generally for a redeployment within Iraq scheme, but short of trying to send 200,000 more troops to completely pacify Baghdad, the Anbar province and other trouble spots, I believe most actionable options will be bad ones.


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