So do all ya'll parents of small sons out there have opinions about this new MoveOn ad about the Iraq war? It's about how thinking about her infant son growing up to go fight in Iraq makes a mother very sad and trembly and mad at John McCain. We are its target audiences, I'd guess, and I'm interested in what people think.
My response was mixed. On the one hand, I totally had a visceral "ugh, elliot in iraq" stomach churn. But on the other, I felt sort of manipulated and pissed off and--worst--unpersuaded.
One thing it is trying to convey is this, which I agree with: foreign policy has a human cost for families, and people should act and vote and think as if that's true.
Another thing I agree with is that Iraq is not a place I would be happy to send my child to fight.
But...you know, it's probably unlikely that we will never have war, or never need soldiers. And the fact that it makes us, as mothers, sad and trembly to think about that--about our sweet babies turning into big endangered and dangerous soldiers--doesn't mean that it's not true. Feeling trembly is not an argument against Iraq. Or at least, it's not a complete argument.
It's a weird thing, right? Elliot is so sweet and charming, and yet in not very long we're going to have to go register him for the draft, and UGH. I hate to think about it. But the fact is, that I HAVE to think about it. Because there are some wars that have to be fought, and that means someone will have to fight them. "I am not opposed to war," Obama once said. "I am opposed to dumb wars." This is not an ad about why Iraq is a dumb war. It could be, but it's not. And I think that's really too bad--what a missed opportunity.
I completely disagree with McCain's Iraq policy. But I don't think he fails to recognize the human cost of war (and I'm not very sympathetic to the effort to paint him as such). What I would fault him for is his policy, not his ethics, which I (being charitable) imagine to be this: protecting a nation has tremendous cost, and sadly, some of that cost is born by soldiers and their families. It's not nice, but it's true. And if we have the conviction (which, again, I don't) that we need to stay in Iraq for a long time in order to protect national security, then we have to stay there, even if it makes us sad and trembly.
I think that maternal feelings matter, and should be part of the conversation. Our feelings are part of how we "know" about the world. But they are not all we know about the world. (Don't get me started on the intersection of sentimentality and politics, but if you're interested, I'll send my dissertation your way). What's more, I would be super irritated by a sentimental ad making the reverse argument, in which a woman clutched her infant son and said, "we have to stay in Iraq to keep my baby safe" or "those bastards tried to hurt my baby so let's go get them." Feelings--they sometimes make us do dumb things.
So I disagree with that part of the ad. But I also just think it won't be effective. Because if you are someone considering voting for John McCain, you are probably--in my imagination--someone who has a healthy respect for the military, and who thinks that it's an unfortunate but proud thing to share in the burden of protecting America. So will a mom feeling trembly change your mind about that? Or will it just make you think: ah, well, here's another ad from that liberal group who doesn't think military service matters.
I just watched it again, and here, I think is my main problem: this feels like a subtle sort of swiftboating. John McCain is wrong, but that doesn't mean that he's bad, or that he doesn't care about my baby. What's good about McCain, when he's at his best, is that he is willing to make hard choices. I like that about him, even if I think many of his (particularly recent) choices are bad ones. So I think we should honor that, and then ARGUE with him about why this war is bad, why this choice is needlessly and uselessly hard, rather than tremble, and cast him as some unfeeling villain.