Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
April 8, 2004
POLITICS/WAR: Kos Theory
I generally prefer to blog on a subject like last week's Kos Kontroversy when I've got sufficient uninterrupted blogging time to unpack all its implications, but I haven't had that kind of time lately and the issue's getting a bit stale now. So, I'll just run through my quick thoughts.
First of all, if you missed it, blogger Markos Zuniga of the popular far-left site Daily Kos (which I had added to my blogroll not long ago because of its excellent horse-race coverage, notwithstanding the overall left-wing nuttiness of the site) created a big stir when he made the following remarks on the death of the four Americans who were lynched by a mob in Fallujah:
Every death should be on the front page
I won't get into all the subsequent controversies, covered well enough by Michele (also here), Instapundit, and others far too numerous to mention, about (1) whether Kos misbehaved in trying to erase/conceal the entry on his site and in his various semi-apologies and justifications, (2) whether it's proper to pressure Kos' advertisers over a remark on his blog (I'll agree that the trend there is disturbing), or (3) to what extent left-leaning bloggers had an obligation to denounce what Kos said. (The latter being a point I'll expand on another day, the short answer being that it depends how bad the comments are, how prominent the blogger making them is, how prominent, prolific and/or professional the blogger with the 'obligation' is, and whether the latter blogger often makes similar demands of the other side; in any event, Oliver Willis gets credit for being the first big blogger on the left to denounce this). Random thoughts, though, on a few aspects:
First, I don't have much use for people who, in the course of defending Kos, describe his remarks merely as "stupid". Yes, they were stupid. But the problem isn't that they were stupid, or ignorant, or prejudiced, none of which is exactly rare on blogs or anywhere else people air their opinions. Nor is the problem that Kos was too flip and too disrespectful of the dead. The snarky, quick-hit, shoot-from-the-hip style of blogs does, sometimes, lead to undue callousness. As someone who writes under intense time pressure (when time runs out, I gotta run for a train), I can sympathize with bloggers who don't always get to dress up their statements with the appropriate nods to convention and politesse.
No, the problem with Kos' remarks is that they were vicious and mean, and effectively took sides with a lynch mob. Now, I recognize that many on the Right have been equally rough on Ahmed Yassin, Uday and Qusay, and even on less thoroughly evil figures like Rachel Corrie. But there's a common denominator there: those are all people who chose to take sides with those who want to kill us. They're on the other side.
And that's how Kos treated the men who were lynched in Fallujah: as not on his side. Except that, whatever you think of "mercenaries" and their motives (more on that below), there's no dispute that these guys' were in ultimately in Iraq because the Coalition Provisional Authority wanted them there to assist in its efforts to rebuild the country into a democracy. The fact that Kos sees the people engaged in that task as being on the other side puts him, at least emotionally, on the side of the lynch mob, the fascists, and the Islamists.
In any case, the viciousness of siding with a lynch mob, in any case short of the Ceacesceaus of the world, is impossible to justify; as Kevin Drum put it:
I really don't think it matters if they were private contractors in any case. They were burned to death and hung from a bridge. Nor does it matter much that you don't like the war. Some of the wingnuts on the right gloated over the deaths of UN workers in last August's bombing, and that was wrong as well, regardless of what they thought of the UN.
(Emphasis in original). I don't think that Kos' attitude is representative of liberals/the Left as a whole. Still, there were those on the left side of the spectrum who insisted that any criticism of Kos whatsoever for this attitude was out of line. Check out Jeralyn Merritt's take:
We will make our position very clear: We wholeheartedly support Markos. He made a comment most people find objectionable and then retracted it and explained why he made it. To us, it should be the end of the story. Any attempt to inflate it or even to keep it alive has little to do with Markos, and everything to do with right-wing conservatives trying to make political hay out of it. This has become a right-wing ploy to debase the left. Don't let it happen. Don't let them win. . . .
(Emphasis added). Wow. "Shame" on anyone who even criticizes Kos' hateful comments? That's an astonishing view. I can't see how you can say that people like Drum and Willis should be ashamed of themselves for finding Kos' comments offensive unless you are arguing either that (1) his "screw 'em" attitude is not only correct but beyond question, or (2) there is no level of offensive behavior by the left that should be valued above ideological solidarity (well, except for the dire offense of being a "centrist"). Neither is an appealing option.
On the other hand, as nasty as Kos' attitude on the war is - and even though I felt compelled to de-link him, especially since I had him on my list of bloggers who form the "Loyal Opposition" - I'm not prepared to give him the "Fredo, you're nothing to me now" speech the way the perennially overwrought Mark Kleiman did, at least initially:
[Ann Coulter] put herself beyond the pale of civilized discourse. Anyone who now quotes her, links to her approvingly, or supports her financially is dirtying himself: Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas.
There are all kinds of people out there who contribute something to public discourse, even if they have some views that are appallingly uncivilized. Sure, there are some that are totally out of bounds, and I certainly wouldn't cite the likes of either Coulter or Kos on any subject without some appropriate caveats (nor would I have even before Kos made this comment; he's always been way out there, at least on the war). But, as I've long stressed, a person can do a thing that is entirely indefensible and still not be worthy of capital punishment. Put another way: we're all sinners here.
The second thing, and one that's also been covered extensively elsewhere so I won't dwell on it: I don't see what makes these guys 'mercenaries' as opposed to just security guards, which everyone needs in Iraq or many other dangerous places (Moscow, Mexico City, etc.) It's not like they were conducting offensive operations or anything. To say that every civilian who carries a gun for a paycheck is a "mercenary" means the security guard at the local shopping mall is a mercenary. You can call him that if you want, but in so doing, you've rigged your argument by abandoning the accepted commonsense meaning of the term.
Like Xbox? Yeah, when I saw my office building pouring smoke and bodies falling out of it, I thought it was just like f#&!%ing Space Invaders. Even on the substantive point - Kos' argument that every corpse in Iraq should be placed on the front page: we don't put every drug dealer who shoots another drug dealer on the front page. We don't put every fetus who's aborted on the front page. We don't put every Israeli victim of suicide bombings on the front page. We didn't put the victims of the Rwandan or Cambodian genocides on the front page, not every last one of them. We sure as hell haven't put everyone who was raped or gassed or run through a shredder by the Ba'athists on the front page. Massively publicizing every death is a decision about what things to highlight. Kos wants to stack the deck.
*Ed Moltzen at Late Final notes something I've seen on my own blog: sometimes, people who have a personal connection to the events in question will drop by, read what you wrote, and comment, sometimes months or a year later.
*Here's Kos trying to make himself out as the victim of some "wingnut" conspiracy. Someone who regularly lumps people like Glenn Reynolds, Andrew Sullivan and Michele Catalano into a single, undifferentiated mass of "wingnuts" has simply gone so far over to one side that they've completely lost their sense of proportion.
*Wonkette's take on the Konstroversy: Please, don't take me seriously!
*I and everyone else who's made up pun-filled headlines had assumed that "Kos" is pronounced as in Cosby. But, really, if it's short for "Markos," that can't be the case, can it?
*Mark Steyn passes up the "Kos said what all Democrats really think" cheap shot, but focuses in on a much more damning indictment, supported by illustrative quotes: that the hatred spewing from people like Kos is actually coming in part from the Democratic leadership, as much as the other way around:
Where would [Kos] have got the idea that American civilians in Iraq are ‘mercenaries’ who aren’t ‘trying to help the people’ but are there to ‘wage war for profit’? Maybe from Senator John Edwards, former presidential candidate, whose solitary reference to the war in his stump speech was a pledge to stop ‘Bush’s friends’ from ‘war-profiteering in Iraq’. Or maybe from Senator Bob Graham, another candidate, justifying his vote against the Iraqi reconstruction bill by saying, ‘I will not support a dime to protect the profits of Halliburton in Iraq.’ Or DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe declaring on TV last October that Bush would never withdraw from Iraq because ‘I don’t think they want to give up Halliburton and the $6 billion of no-bid contracts they’ve got on oilfields over there.’ Or Kerry sidekick and former senator Max Cleland, who fumed that Bush’s ‘insane’ war was all to do with profiteering and ‘oil wells’ and ‘Cheney getting income from Halliburton’. Or John Kerry, who says, ‘Halliburton is guilty of shameful war-profiteering.’
(link requires registration). (Also, a reminder of how things have changed in the blog world: Kos makes a quick post on his blog in California, and it winds up in a mainstream pundit's column in a magazine in England).
*The Kontroversy is not the only recent example of Kleiman backing down from his original, overwrought reaction; he also had to abandon his fact-challenged "Ted Kennedy didn't mean quagmire when he referred to Iraq as George Bush's Vietnam" spin when Eugene Volokh pointed out that Kennedy had elsewhere made the quagmire analogy explicit.