Monday, August 22, 2005

Grief-Based Politics

kramskoy-griefAnd now, we present this week's obtuse argument from the Weekly Standard. Listen to Noemie Emery, one of the anti-feminist "feminists" employed by the right to bludgeon uppity women with sacks of nickels, as she scolds Cindy Sheehan and her supporters:
In the four years or so since September 11, liberals have found a new weapon of preference, and that weapon is martyrdom. They have discovered grief as a tactical weapon. They tend to like grief they can use. They use it to arouse guilt and sympathy to cover a highly partisan message, in the hope that while the message may be controversial, the messenger will be sacrosanct and above reproach. Since 9/11, they have embraced this tactic repeatedly, and each time with a common objective: to cripple the war, to denounce the country, to swing an election, but mainly to embarrass and undermine the president.

The rest of the article recounts what Emery believes to be a pattern of duplicity of "the left," which -- driven to madness by the re-election of George W. Bush -- has devolved to such a squalid condition that its only strategy has become the partisan mangling of authentic grief. We hear once more about the "Jersey Girls," the Wellstone funeral, and a handful of other predictable examples of the "grief-seeking missiles" who comprise the Democratic left. As a craven finale, Emery asks us in a strange turn to pinch out a tear poor Sheehy, whose moral frailty and parasitic handlers have only immiserated her further:
She is now the vehicle for a collection of losers, who will use her, and then toss her over and out once she has served their purposes, or more likely failed to do so. Her family has broken up under the effects of this circus; she has now lost her husband, as well as her son. Please, send her back to her therapist, and what is now left of her broken-up family. And please--do not try this again.

It's hard to know where to begin dismantling this shack of stupidity, but it's worth pointing out that Emery's paragraph -- edited ever so slightly -- could stand as a perfect example in the as-yet-unwritten "Hegel for Dummies," in which a claim suddenly reverses course and dismantles itself. Using grief as a "tactical weapon?" Prodding the nation's sympathy "to cover a highly partisan message?" Sanctifying the mourner and elevating him beyond reproach? Embracing the tactic repeatedly in the pursuit of a narrow objective?

Whatever else we might say about her, Sheehy has nothing on the President, whose public performances throughout the Fall of 2001 were exemplary displays of politicized grief. Bush dwelled incessantly on his own punctured psyche, which he used to mirror the nation’s collective trauma; at every available moment, he personalized the terrorist attacks and the wars he has launched in their wake. Forging his own unique hybrid of Christian fundamentalism and pop psychology, Bush collapsed the registers of public and private suffering into one another, ceaselessly confessing his pain and announcing his resolve to the world. In a statement that he would -- and still does -- avail himself to repeat at every possible opportunity, Bush personalized the experience of 11 September 2001 and vowed to Congress and the nation that “I will not forget this wound to our country or those who inflicted it. I will not yield; I will not rest; I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people.” In a culture that has grown accustomed to the public sphere as a kind of “wound culture” -- as an arena for private disclosures, confession and pain — this kind of self-absorption allowed Bush to construct an idealized national community rooted in his own bewildered victimhood. Thus, where Bill Clinton famously claimed to feel our pain, Bush asked us to dwell constantly in his. Moreover, he seems to regard that pain as having epic historical meaning. In less scripted moments, Bush wandered even further into the murkiness of self-help discourse, suggesting on occasion that the attacks might be understood as a rite of passage, a moment of national growth that “brought out the best in our Nation” while helping us “learn a lot about ourselves and our friends in the world.” He even claimed once -- with no evident response from the nation's gag reflex -- that adversity “introduces us to ourselves.”

So to summarize Noemie Emery:
(1) Grief + opposition to the war = illegitimate, brainless, parochial leftism
(2) Grief + endorsement of the war = legitimate, fulfilling, encompassing patriotism.

As John Stossel might (but wouldn't) say, give me a fucking break.