The reactions on the right to Cindy Sheehan are shining a quite revealing light on the sheer depravity, shamelessness, and vulgarity of the diehard Bush loyalists. James Taranto, a particularly visible right-wing slime artist at the Wall Street Journal, had a telling column, which deserves some scrutiny. He writes:
Cindy Sheehan suffered a grievous loss for a noble cause: Her 24-year-old son, Army Spc. Casey Sheehan, died in combat in Iraq. Because of this, it seems churlish to criticize her. But enough is enough.
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.
Sheehan has been camping out a few miles from President Bush's Crawford, Texas, ranch, staging a protest that has received extensive media attention. Her demand: a meeting with President Bush. "I want to ask George Bush, 'Why did my son die? What was the noble cause that he died for?' "
In fact, Sheehan has met with President Bush, as her hometown paper, the Reporter of Vacaville, Calif., reported in June 2004. At the time, although she clearly held antiwar views, she pronounced herself pleased with the meeting:
Sincerity was something Cindy had hoped to find in the meeting. Shortly after Casey died, Bush sent the family a form letter expressing his condolences, and Cindy said she felt it was an impersonal gesture.
"I now know he's sincere about wanting freedom for the Iraqis," Cindy said after their meeting. "I know he's sorry and feels some pain for our loss. And I know he's a man of faith." . . .
The trip had one benefit that none of the Sheehans expected.
For a moment, life returned to the way it was before Casey died. They laughed, joked and bickered playfully as they briefly toured Seattle.
For the first time in 11 weeks, they felt whole again.
"That was the gift the president gave us, the gift of happiness, of being together," Cindy said.
That gift seems not to have lasted.
Translation: she changed her mind and came to a clearer view of the matter.
The Vallejo (Calif.) Times-Herald reports that Sheehan and her husband, Pat, have separated and that "family members of Sheehan denounced her actions Thursday in an e-mail":
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. And although we have no evidence--as in none--about the ex-husband's view of the matter, 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:
Sent to a San Francisco radio station Thursday, the first public acknowledgment of a family rift came from Cherie Quartarolo, sister-in-law to Cindy Sheehan and godmother to her son, Casey.
Reached by phone Thursday, Quartarolo said she consulted with other family members before releasing the brief statement, but she declined to elaborate. She signed the memo on behalf of Casey's paternal grandparents, as well as "aunts, uncles and numerous cousins."
Noting that her family is still grieving the loss of Casey, Quartarolo wrote: "We do not agree with the political motivations and publicity tactics of Cindy Sheehan. She now appears to be promoting her own personal agenda and notoriety at the expense of her son's good name and reputation."
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.
Casey's father, Patrick, of Vacaville, was not mentioned. He has acknowledged that he and his wife are separated, but he has avoided the spotlight that surrounds his wife's high-profile protest.
That's right, Mr. Slime, the father "was not mentioned," so mentioning him in this context is obviously intended to smear by innuendo.
What are we to make of Mrs. Sheehan's demand for a second meeting with President Bush? She claims she wants an explanation of why her son died, but she acknowledges that her mind is already made up.
Actually, she has stated quite clearly what she wants from a meeting with the alleged President, and Mr. Taranto, quite predictably, ignores just about all of it. She wants to challenge the War-Monger-in-Chief's claim that this criminal and immoral war was a "noble cause"; she wants to press him to explain why, if it is a "noble cause," his children are not serving in the military in Iraq; and, most importantly, she wants to press him to change his mind, and end the horror. Those are all fine reasons for a citizen to want to meet with her elected representative, and it makes it clear, of course, why Bush can not afford such a meeting.
This is an excerpt of a speech she gave Monday, as transcribed on the Web site of an outfit called Veterans for Peace, describing how she conceived of her protest (quoting verbatim):
I'm gonna tell them, "You get that evil maniac [the president] out here, cuz a Gold Star Mother, somebody who's blood is on his hands, has some questions for him."
And I'm gonna say, "OK, listen here, George. #1, you quit, and I demand, every time you get out there and say you're going to continue the killing in Iraq to honor the fallen heroes by continuing the mission; you say, except Casey Sheehan.' "
"And you say except for all the members of Goldstar Families for Peace' cuz we think not one drop of blood should be spilled in our families' names. You quit doing that. You don't have my permission."
And I'm gonna say, "And you tell me, what the noble cause is that my son died for." And if he even starts to say freedom and democracy' I'm gonna say, bullshit.
You tell me the truth. You tell me that my son died for oil. You tell me that my son died to make your friends rich. You tell me my son died to spread the cancer of Pax Americana, imperialism in the Middle East. You tell me that, you don't tell me my son died for freedom and democracy.
Cuz, we're not freer. You're taking away our freedoms. The Iraqi people aren't freer, they're much worse off than before you meddled in their country.
You get America out of Iraq, you get Israel out of Palestine
(massive round of applause)
And if you think I won't say bullshit to the President, I say move on, cuz I'll say what's on my mind.
Mr. Taranto, our right-wing shill for war, doesn't deign to dispute or even discuss any of these claims on the merits; how could he? He takes it for granted that his brainwashed readership will share his sense that this is all beyond the pale of "reasonable" opinion.
According to New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, "the moral authority of parents who bury children killed in Iraq is absolute."
Fortunately, cosmopolitan opinion is not beholden to the childish bromides of Ms. Dowd, and since Ms. Dowd is completely irrelevant to the issue at hand, we may move right along.
[W]e are now starting to see stories like this one, from the Gloucester County (N.J.) Times:
Marine Cpl. Marc T. Ryan, of Gloucester City, was killed in an explosion in Ramadi, Iraq in November.
"I would tell Cindy Sheehan that, as one mother to another, I do realize your loss is your loss and there's nothing you can do to heal from it," said the corporal's mother, Linda Ryan.
"George Bush didn't kill her son, it's the evildoers who have no value of life who killed her son. Her son made a decision to join the Armed Forces and defend our country, knowing that, at any time, war could come about," Ryan said. . . .
Here's proof, contrary to Ms. Dowd, that mothers of the dead don't have absolute moral authority: some, like Ms. Ryan, are delusional victims, like millions of others. George Bush is certainly a "but for" cause of Casey Sheehan's death; he is even (as the neoHumeans-a-la-Mackie would say) an INUS cause of his death (that is, and without belaboring details, a responsible cause): his decision to launch an illegal and unwarranted invasion of a foreign nation resulted in Casey Sheehan's death. Mr. Sheehan made a decision to join the Armed Forces, but like almost all who did so, we may surmise that he did so on the supposition that he would be sent to war when it was really necessary for the welfare of the homeland (not that war might come "at any time": rather, that war might come at a necessary time). No one, not even George W. Bush anymore, believes that was the case in this instance.
"George Bush was my son's commander-in-chief. My son, Marc, totally believed in what he was doing," she said.
Sheehan, she believes, is doing what she's doing because of the agony over losing her son.
Whereas Ms. Ryan is merely expressing her sober diagnosis of the global-political situation based on her years of research?
"She's going about this not realizing how many people she's hurting. When she refers to anyone killed in Iraq, she's referring to my son. She doesn't have anything to say about what happened to my son," said Ryan.
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.
Losing a child is probably the saddest thing that can happen to anyone. Unlike the death of a parent or a spouse, it is not part of the ordinary course of life. Yet somehow the vast majority of parents who suffer such a loss are able to maintain some perspective while coping with the experience. That Cindy Sheehan has been unable to do so makes her story all the sadder.
I do wonder how Mr. Taranto is able to suppress his gag reflex when serving up condescending pablum like this. Mr. Taranto simply takes for granted the whole issue in dispute, namely, what constitutes the right "perspective." There is nothing "sad" about Ms. Sheehan unless you assume she is wrong on the merits. The entire column is predicated on this unstated, and indefensible, assumption!
But it does not validate the hateful views she is espousing, nor does it make her pain more important than that of Linda Ryan or the thousands of others who have lost a child but maintained their dignity.
Opposition to the war and the President is now "hateful"? "Dignity" requires that one support unconditionally the War-Monger-in-Chief?
If you want to be reminded of the moral and intellectual debilitation that afflicts so many of your fellow citizens, take a look at most of the commentary on this disgraceful column. There are a few sensible items, but many more that express fawning admiration for Mr. Taranto's slime and indignation at Ms. Sheehan's honesty and courage. What a depressing spectacle it is.
UPDATE: Tad Brennan (Philosophy, Northwestern) rebuts the newest right-wing smear on Ms. Sheehan here; it, too, is traceable to Mr. Taranto.