Sunday, January 21, 2007

Boxer vs. Condi, and the Chickenhawk Meme

This story is a few days old now, but if you didn't know, there was something of a firestorm over a rather ill-advised jab that Barbara Boxer made towards Condolezza Rice, in the Iraq hearings the other day. Conservatives were full of outrage, and while Boxer's statement is worthy of scorn and rebuke, it seems that the right has made this into something bigger than it is (as usual), and in effect, missed the real scandal. First off, here's what Sen. Boxer actually said:

"Who pays the price?" Boxer asked Rice. "I'm not going to pay a personal price. My kids are too old and my grandchild is too young. You're not going to pay a particular price, as I understand it, with immediate family."

Now the knee-jerk reaction is one of shock and outrage. Did she really say that? Is she suggesting that the single and childless cannot feel the pain of loss? To be fair, I fell for it too. The thing is though, such a response is totally out of character for Boxer. The idea that she would turn misogynist all of a sudden isn't really plausible. Don't get me wrong, anger-fueled, low-class, low blows are hardly new, and are a bipartisan exercise. The implausibility of such an act isn't so much based on Boxer somehow being above such ugliness-- rather it's just plain inexplicable politically. Chris Weinkopf, in a spot-on op-ed in the LA Daily News, explains:

Now come on. Are we really to believe that Boxer - a champion of unlimited abortion and gay activism - thinks that only those with children are worthy of expressing an opinion? The senator has taken some extreme positions in her time, but an excessive deference to traditional gender and family roles is hardly one of them.

Of course she wouldn't, as it would be a slap against her chief constituency. Politically, it's completely out of character. You'd expect this sort of line from the likes of Bay Buchanan, not Barbara Boxer. Conservatives, still the uncontested masters of the hysterical pile-on, missed this entirely, and missed the real scandal of Boxer's remarks:

But lost amid the overblown charges of sexism is real analysis of the plain meaning of Boxer's words - namely, her risible suggestion that only those with a personal stake in an issue are qualified to weigh in on it.

You see, there's the scandal. At the end of the day, it really is just another variation of the intellectually bankrupt chickenhawk meme that has so much dominion over the anti-war Left nowadays. You know the script: Unless you've fought in war, have friends or relatives fighting in war, or have lost loved ones in war, you are somehow unfit to speak on matters of foreign policy. I'm sure you've heard this before. I plan on discussing this phenomenon at length later, but essentially the chickenhawk meme is really rooted in the idea that only those who have a personal stake in an issue are fit to speak on it.

According to the "logic," if you're a man, you cannot speak on abortion issues. Never mind the fact that fathers have stake in the lives of their unborn children, not to mention the males have an interest in the survival of their human cohorts in the womb. If you're a man, women's issues are nondebatable. If you're white, you can't speak on civil rights issues, etc. It undermines the debate, and allows the person to avoid accountability for their arguments. Both sides do this all the time, but Boxer has used it in this case, and unfortunately, many on the Left have made a habit out of it, at least with regards to the war.

Conservatives blew a great opportunity to drive another nail in the fallacious (and insulting) chickenhawk myth. Piling on is easy, but proper outrage is hard. Oh well.

At the end of the day, we should follow the logical course of Boxer's argument. Since she herself admits that she has no personal stake in this debate, by her own logic, one is forced to wonder why anyone is listening to her at all.

P.S. Of course, the idea that we who are childless and single have no stake in Iraq is ridiculous in and of itself. The outcome of this war affects all of us. In the last election, the majority of Americans voted for change in Iraq, as the duly elected Democratic leaders rightly remind us every chance they get. Surely, every one of those opinions mattered, and not just those married, with children?

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