Friday, March 15, 2013

On the 10th anniversary of the Iraq invasion, why we do praise the converted over the initially right?

I think it's terrific that Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio has come out in support of gay marriage.  I think it's notable that he came to this conclusion after his 21-year old son came out of the closet, as the more would-be homophobes are forced to actually put a human face on the theoretical 'other' of homosexuality the faster this remaining prejudice will go away. One of the major cornerstones to doing away with institutionalized racism was the white World War II soldiers who served alongside African-American soldiers and realized that they weren't lesser creatures.  But this news story ties into something that frankly I was going to write about on Tuesday to commemorate the ten-year anniversary of the Iraq invasion.  In short, those in the mainstream media, especially in the beltway press, seem to reserve a level of respect for those who once were blind but now can see.  

Changing one's mind about an issue and coming into the proverbial light is seen as a sign of seriousness and credibility.  And it certainly should be celebrated and commended.  But I would argue that these converts are often taken more seriously and treated with more respect than those who were right from the very beginning.  Current Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is among the many, many politicians who initially supported the war in Iraq but came to see the error of his ways after the occupation went to hell in a hand basket.  Pretty much the only people left in mainstream American politics who still think the war was a good idea are Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, and John McCain.  Yet while the immorality and incompetence of that decade-long affair, which cost around 200,000 lives and $2.2 trillion thus far, has become the mostly been written off as a blunder, those who were right from the very beginning are still treated by the mainstream media as less serious than the grey-haired policy wonks who thought it would be a cakewalk.  

We view former hawks-turned-doves as credible because they were able to see the errors of their thinking while still belittling the likes of Michael Moore and the thousands upon thousands of anti-war demonstrators who were in the right way back in 2002.  When it comes to the Iraq invasion, much of this is rooted in the media's culpability.  Better to lionize those who were wrong or felt duped after the fact than lionize those who called the media on their own inaccuracy from the start.  Rachel Maddow's otherwise fine documentary Hubris, detailing the lies and false claims that led up to the war, ignores the media's prominent role in selling the lie ten years ago, lest it have to detail MSNBC's role as well. Let us remember that the now liberal news network fired Phil Donahue, their highest-rated host at the time, during the run-up to the invasion specifically because of his anti-war leanings.  We ignore the mainstream entertainers like Conan O'Brian who had sketches mocking the alleged incompetence of UN weapons inspectors who couldn't find weapons that turned out not to exist.  

The media sold the war both by trumpeting its supporters and marginalizing those who opposed it, writing off thousands of anti-war protesters and proverbial dirty-stinky hippies.  The media would like to forget that they not only helped sell the war to the American people but helped sell the lie that Democrats voting against it would be hurt in the 2002 midterm elections, the midterm elections that I still believe were the primary motive for drumming up the case for Iraq's occupation when they did.  As such, better to give airtime and presumed credibility to those who can claim that they have seen the light or were duped rather than face explicit criticism from those like Howard Dean who knew that it was a terrible and immoral idea from the start.  We lionize those who were wrong but later changed their minds.  It's arguably worth doing, as it gives merit to the notion of becoming wiser or coming to the correct conclusion later in life.  

But while we salute Bill Clinton to writing an editorial decrying the Defense of Marriage Act, might we also bother to mention that he was the one who signed it into law in the first place?  And while we praise and acknowledge the change of heart of someone like Senator Robert Byrd, former Klu-Klux-Klan member turned progressive Congressman, should we not put him on an automatically lower platform than those who were always for racial integration and always against institutionalized and cultural racism?  I respect Rob Portman's change of heart in regards to gay marriage and hope he will spur others to make the same leap.  But in this issue I have a heck of a lot more respect for those in power who have been on the side of the angels from the beginning, even when it was unpopular and politically dangerous.  

I'm thrilled that so many eventually came to see the fallacy of the Iraq war to the point where we elected a president who somewhat publicly opposed it from the get-go, I'd rather save my respect for those who knew that invading a foreign nation with no ties to 9/11 and no weapons of mass destruction was an immoral and stupid idea back when it might have made a difference.  

Scott Mendelson


phillylo said...

whoa, where'd this come from? you are feeling inspired today, Scott!

to me, the praise over conversion is warranted and important--because it illuminates the strength of those who are issuing the praise. if there were more criticism than praise about a politician's change of heart on gay marriage, then this would conversely suggest the continuing power (or at least the passion) of the Right. conversions are opportunities for both sides of a debate to gauge their relative standing, and the fact that there is much enthusiasm for these particular converts you mention is a very very good thing.

let's not forget that the "change of heart" will very much count against these politicians if they run for higher office. regardless of how their ideological shifts are originally perceived, when it comes to running for reelection they will pay the price. it's never a positive thing to be a shape-shifter on policy, and in the GOP those who go against the grain will eventually suffer an erosion of their conservative base.

phillylo said...

by the way, where's your follow-up review on "Sucker Punch"?

A said...

The United States will benefit from the oil they take from iraq for many, many, many years to come.. It's true the war was expensive (money+human lives) but the plan will pay off sometime in the future. There were many decisions throughout history that at the time of their making were unpopular and seemed a mistake but in the end those decisions were made for the greater good. In these modern times, these wars are too important for the economy. Without a continous threat and with peace all around those weapons manufactures with tens of billions profit would disapear. No one wants that. So, yeah, you may say that these attrocities are to blame (and they are), but in the end, everything your leaders do are for the good of your country.

A said...

pay out*.. this language still bugs me.

huzzlewhat said...

This is the "prodigal son" effect, I guess. And it can be frustrating to have been the "good son," as it was in the traditional parable. But if the aim of progressives is to encourage more people to come over to our side, I guess it helps if we openly show we're not going to be assholes about it when they finally do. I have a lot of anger along the theme of "Where the hell were you five/eight/ten years ago?" on a lot of issues these days, and I agree with you that the people who were right from the get-go deserve recognition, and to be taken more seriously when it comes to predicting and analyzing future events because of their proven track record. But it takes courage to realize that you were wrong about something, admit it openly, and swim against the tide of your traditional party affiliation to do so, and I see no harm in giving the prodigals their due.


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