Terror Moms

My Saturday cartoon results from several impulses. Part of it was experimental, to see whether the extreme rightists who run the war blogs, Fox News, Drudge, etc. would rev up their attack machine to defend Cindy Sheehan et al. at Camp Casey when confronted with a cartoon that exactly parallels my March 30, 2002 terror widows critique of Lisa Beamer and other 9/11-related widows and widowers who exploited their spouses’ deaths for partisan (right0wing) political gain, book sales, etc. So far, not. They’re total fucking hypocrites: when a person exploits their private grief for partisan Republican/pro-Bush/pro-war gain, at bare minimum she deserves to be free from criticism because she’s lost a loved one. When she does it for partisan Democratic/anti-Bush/antiwar gain, no one runs interference for her. I just wanted to prove that for all to see.
But that’s a secondary motivation. The main one was for me to avoid being a hypocrite. A political cartoonist is supposed to call them as he or she sees them, and that includes sending up the tacky, maudlin and gauche on the left even–especially if–that’s where he or she stands politically. The Camp Casey phenomenon has (alert, second Billy Wilder reference on the blog in recent weeks) assumed a certain “Ace in the Hole”/”Big Carnival” atmosphere which to my eyes neatly parallels the disgusting and appalling spectacle of relatives of 9/11 victims parading on stage at the 2004 Republican convention to endorse George W. Bush’s election campaign. Someone has to say something when no one else dares. That’s my job description.
I sympathize with Cindy Sheehan. I think she’s great, although maybe not as great as the African-American father who broke down and cursed Bush on national television upon learning that his son had died for the worthless misadventure in Iraq. They censored that story, which is how you know it had power. But Sheehan is on the correct side of this issue, and I applaud her for galvanizing the perpetually confused and focusless antiwar movement.
And careful readers will note the piece’s careful dissection of the lunacy of this war and its supporters.
So why Terror Moms? Like Terror Widows, Saturday’s toon isn’t about Sheehan, just as my Pat Tillman toons weren’t about him. These are about the media coverage, the way that Americans are programmed to perceive them. A right-winger writer recently posited that we are at war with a “totalitarian death cult,” i.e., fundamentalist Islamists. Setting aside that the people we’re actually fighting are largely secular nationalist resistance fighters (in Iraq) or that we’ve increased funding to radical Islamists after 9/11 (in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia), this assertion prompts the point that the Bushist neocons are actually trying to establish a totalitarian death cult right here in the United States. Consider, for example, that the current debate over the Iraq war now centers around those who lost relatives who were soldiers killed over there. The left and the right each have their respective martyrs to push around the afterlife. Sheehan counterbalanced Tillman. Bush recently dragged out other relatives to counterbalance Sheehan. The assumption, as accepted as it is absurd, is that only the dead and their survivors enjoy the moral high ground to discuss the issue. That sure leaves a lot of us out. And it’s just not true. They get a vote, sure, but it counts no more than anyone else’s. Only in other societies where despair has led to the creation of a death cult–the Palestinian Territories, Northern Ireland, etc.–has a consensus arisen that gives survivors of tragedy a special voice in the dialogue. And that is what Terror Moms attempts to point out.

SM writes an interesting email:

I appreciate your contributions to public discussion and am with you about 85 percent of the time. I understand your comments about “terror widows” when they pertain to someone trying to leverage his or her family tragedy into book deals, tee-shirt sales, and political gain. I also understand that there may be a fine line between the heartfelt public activism of people like Cindy Sheehan and a degeneration into media hijinx for its own sake. Frankly, I despise the “America Stands With Cindy” logo plastered on CommonDreams — it’s sleaze and gives neocon character assassins something else off-point to aim at.
Similarly, I don’t appreciate seeing Joan Baez pumping the all-power fist in the air as if maybe we can all bring back the sizzlin sixties at Camp Casey.
However, I think that sometimes the better part of social commentary, like valor, might be some discretion. It’s hard to see the point of mocking parents who have lost children in a war (or any other tragedy) or passing judgment on the motives behind their public expressions (unless of course they’re trying to trademark their loved one’s last words). There is a whole legion of neocon automata who can do that job without help from you. Why would a savvy guy like you waste bandwidth helping those psychopaths do their job even given the fact that, regrettaby, the “Big Carnival” hangers-on at Camp Casey risk undermining
the credibility of the protest?

Someone very close to me said the same thing. “When we’re under siege,” she said, “isn’t it better to stick together, to avoid criticizing our own side?” Well, yes–if you’re a party activist. But I’m independent, both in spirit and in politics. (The righties may have forgotten how mean I was to Clinton, but it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have been.) Moreover, a political cartoonist is not a party activist. Once I start adhering to any party line, I become no different than the right-wing hacks who drew cartoons parroting Administration lies about Saddam’s fictional WMDs–or, for that matter, the left-wing hacks who depicted John Kerry as anything more than the Anybody Bush Bush clench-your-teeth-and-pull-the-lever choice for patriotic Americans.

I know virtually nothing about Cindy Sheehan except that she is responsible for an action that has helped war protest to break through to mainstream media during the August “silly season.” Nothing, as far as I can remember, has been as effective at publically pointing out exactly what a putz and a dunce our federal chief executive is. It’s hard for an opponent of this hateful, sinful, fascist war of aggression not to admire Sheehan’s actions for their own intrinsic value. And even if you can find something in that to wisecrack about, what’s the real value? Why not put craven DLC democrats in your crosshairs more often instead of taking cheap shots at parents or spouses who have suffered the ultimate loss… for reasons worse than none at all.

I often criticize the DNC and I’ll do it again.

You and I agree that anyone is a fool if he or she joins the military for college money and weekend adventure with the Army Reserves. We evidently don’t agree on the issue of publically mocking their stupidity after they’ve died or been mutilated.

It’s not about mocking them. It’s about trying to educate other young men and women currently considering enlistment. Joining the military is stupid. This uncomfortable truth, one that millions of people say quietly in private, needs to become a loud chorus if we’re to unmask the cult of militarism that feeds Bush’s cult of death.

To be honest, I wonder if you aren’t playing a bit of the Politics of Identity that you so correctly attack in “Wake Up” and elsewhere. From time to time I think you overplay your self-appointed identity as America’s BS Detector. If you want to play that role — and there are few people who can play it as effectively as you — then I feel it would be good practice to turn the BS Detector on yourself once in awhile. I hope you don’t become smug in your role because I think it makes you less effective.
Thanks for reading this and I hope you will take what I say mostly as a vote of confidence and admiration. I wouldn’t have spent an hour composing this note if I didn’t care about your work. Best wishes.

No doubt, that is great advice. Smugness is the great enemy of the social commentator, one that I hope I don’t succumb to too frequently.

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