Gimme Some Grief


It's tempting to avoid the subject of Ann Coulter now that Cathy Young has put it to bed. But as unserious as her book is, Coulter's "liberal infallibility" thesis is actually getting some play with conservative pundits, bloggers, and journalists. The jist: On issue after issue, but most unforgivably on issues of national security, liberals use victims of tragedy as "human shields" to deflect criticism. These victims deserve a little sympathy, but they're not above criticism—or in Coulter's formula, from shrill attacks.

On the seriousness scale, this argument is somewhere between an episode of "How I Met Your Mother" and a 3rd grade farting contest. But it drives liberals like The American Prospect's Greg Sargent into a righteous fury.

I've asked this before, but what is it about the relatives of people killed by terrorists that these wingnuts hate so much? Recall that Ann Coulter smeared the widows of 9/11 victims and that many righty bloggers smeared the father of Nick Berg, who was beheaded in Iraq. Their sin, of course, was that they criticized America and George Bush.

Let me put this as clearly as I can: To the likes of [Powerline blogger John] Hinderaker, the pain of those who lost loved ones to this war only matters to the extent that the bereaved allow their grief to be used to prop up the war effort and Bush himself. If the bereaved relatives don't allow their grief to be used in this fashion, their sacrifice and loss no longer matter a whit—they're not to be pitied or empathized with, but scorned and humiliated as brutally as possible. Despicable.

This may be the world's first example of a hyperbolic understatement. Yes, many hawks want victims or victims' families to stand steadfast behind the war policy and the president. But more than that, some hawks actively recruit victims to participate in ad campaigns for the policy/president.

Take two campaigns supported by Powerline, the blog pilloried here by Sargent.

In 2004, the pro-Bush 527 Progress for America sought out the story behind a photo of President Bush hugging a girl whose father mother had died on September 11. They found the girl, Ashley Faulkner, and her family, and cut a treacly ad that was blasted on airwaves across America for $14 million.

LYNN FAULKNER: My wife, Wendy, was murdered by terrorists on September 11th.

ANNOUNCER: The Faulkners' daughter Ashley closed up emotionally but when President George W. Bush came to Lebanon, Ohio, she went to see him as she had with her mother four years before.

LINDA PRINCE (neighbor): He walked toward me and I said Mr. President this young lady lost her mother in the World Trade Center.

ASHLEY FAULKNER: And he turned around and he came back and he said I know that's hard, are you all right?

LINDA: Our president took Ashley in his arms and just embraced her. And it was at that moment that we saw Ashley's eyes fill up with tears.

ASHLEY: He's the most powerful man in the world and all he wants to do is make sure I'm safe, that I'm OK.

LYNN: What I saw was what I want to see in the heart and in the soul of the man who sits in the highest elected office in our country.

Here was a prime slice of "conservative infallibility." If you doubted Bush, you wanted to thrust this pixie back into the waking nightmare of motherlessness. As Coulter might say, you'd never seen anyone enjoying their mother's death so much. Powerline's comment:

Check out the new pro-Bush ad by Progress for America. It's called Ashley's Story, and it's powerful.

The ad was basically criticism-proof; no Democratic officials dared attack it, although some bloggers tried. Another, even clearer example of "conservative infallibility" (this is a terrible phrase, but let's stick with the Coulter-antonyms) came in February of this year. Progress for America again purchased ads defending President Bush, and this time they hired soldiers returned from Iraq to repeat, to paraphrase Hinderaker, "Republican talking points."

ROBERT STEPHENSON: The media only reports the bad news, but American troops are making real progress, securing free elections and defending our country from radical al Qaeda terrorists who want to destroy America, starting in Iraq.

MARCELLUS WILKS: Saddam Hussein is one of history's greatest murderers. The blood of a million people is on his hands with countless more raped and tortured. Saddam even used chemical weapons on his own people.

ROBERT STEPHENSON: You'd never know it from the news reports but our enemy is in Iraq is al Qaeda, the same terrorists who killed 3000 Americans on 9/11. The same terrorists from the first World Trade Center bombing, the USS Cole, Madrid, London, and many more.

MARCELLUS WILKS: American troops overwhelmingly support the mission President Bush has given us.

MARK WEBER: Where do you want to fight terrorists? We want to fight them, and destroy them, in Iraq.

Unlike the "Ashley's Story" ad, this one actually inspired some pushback from anti-war liberals in the Minnesota media (where the ads ran) and from the local Democratic party. Surprise! Powerline complained about it.

It's hard to imagine a less controversial exercise of freedom of speech than this message of support, by three servicemen who have returned from active duty in Iraq, for their mission there. But to liberal Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Nick Coleman, their defense of their own service in Iraq was out of bounds. Coleman's column today attacks the ad and the servicemen who made it as "devoted to political spin more than truth."

Why is Coleman so exercised at the fact that three servicemen, who together have served for years in Iraq and observed conditions there with their own eyes, want to express a contrary view? What is so threatening about the idea that "American troops are making real progress"? And why do liberals find it necessary to smear servicemen who offer a message of hope and optimism?

After the Democrats encouraged their base to protest the stations that ran the ads, Powerline's Scott Johnson pounced.

In Minnesota the mask has fallen from the Democratic Party. It has condemned the message of Lt. Col. Bob Stephenson and the other veterans supporting the mission in Iraq as "un-American." Yet it has gone beyond its outrageous condemnation of the ads. It has actually sought to suppress the message of the featured war veterans and Gold Star Families, emailing Party members and urging them to contact television stations demanding "the removal of the ads."

What do Democrats elsewhere think of their Party's campaign condemning the servicemen and Gold Star Families in the ads as "un-American"? Does Minnesota Democratic Senate candidate Amy Klobuchar agree? Does Minnesota Congressional candidate Coleen Rowley agree? Do Democratic officials and officeholders in the rest of the country agree? Does Brian Melendez speak for them?

As author and former Reasonoid Jeremy Lott would argue, there's nothing wrong with hypocrisy. The Powerline bloggers are welcome to question the sanity and patriotism of anti-war victims' families while demanding complete awe and respect for pro-war soldiers and victims' families.

But excuse the hypocrisy and you still have to explain the hysteria. Partisans on either side of the war want their opponents to look as unsympathetic as possible. They want to debate strawmen and Alan Colmeses, not martyrs and Ashley Faulkners. Fortunately, they don't get that choice.