Good Mother Bad Mother Politics

It is hard to imagine what the impeccably dressed Condoleezza Rice feels when she has to defend a President that she must now know deep down is a tremendous disappointment. She endured hours of Senate grilling including a bravura performance from Senator Barbara Boxer :

BOXER: October 19th ’05, you came before this committee to discuss, in your words, how we assure victory in Iraq, and you said the following. In answer to Senator Feingold, “I have no doubt that as the Iraqi security forces get better — and they are getting better and are holding territory, and they are doing the things with minimal help — we are going to be able to bring down the level of our forces. I have no doubt” — I want to reiterate — “I have no doubt that that’s going to happen in a reasonable time frame.” You had no doubt, not a doubt. And last night, the president’s announcement of an escalation is a total rebuke of your confident pronouncement.

Now, the issue is who pays the price, who pays the price? 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, within immediate family. So who pays the price? The American military and their families, and I just want to bring us back to that fact.

NPR has done a series of interviews with families who have lost kids. And the announcer said to one family in the Midwest, “What’s changed in your life since your son’s death?” The answer comes back, “Everything. You can’t begin to imagine how even the little things change, how you go through the day, how you celebrate Christmas”…

RICE: And let me just say, you know, I fully understand the sacrifice that the American people are making, and especially the sacrifice that our soldiers are making, men and women in uniform. I visit them. I know what they’re going through. I talk to their families. I see it.

I could never — and I can never — do anything to replace any of those lost men and women in uniform, or the diplomats, some of whom –

BOXER: Madame Secretary, please, I know you feel terrible about it. That’s not the point. I was making the case as to who pays the price for your decisions. And the fact that this administration would move forward with this escalation with no clue as to the further price that we’re going to pay militarily — we certainly know the numbers, billions of dollars, that we can’t spend here in this country.

The exchange has been called a “flash point” by the NYT and has been the talk of the blogsphere with many like Rush Limbaugh accusing Boxer of “hitting below the ovaries”. Rice said in a later interview that Boxer has “set back feminism” with her comments:

“I thought it was okay to be single,” Ms. Rice said. “I thought it was okay to not have children, and I thought you could still make good decisions on behalf of the country if you were single and didn’t have children.”

The anti-feminist line is of course a furphy. Boxer’s emotionalism highlights something essential that is missing from the public debate. The orchestration of the war and Rice’s own quibbling over words – such as whether Bush’s new plan is a “surge” “escalation” or her latest obfuscation: “an augmentation” – abstracts the reality of war’s mortality. That Bush and Rice are put under personal notice of their complicity in the deaths of not just US troops but of thousands of Iraqis is only right in what has become their personal crusade. A crusade where they have repeatedly ignored the advice of their own experts. Bush and Rice have no option but to continue to defend the fantasy and it is up to people like Boxer to puncture the plausibility this fantasy with the real stories of those being affected.

Andrew Sullivan says that Boxer’s statement “was the kind of cheap shot that makes substantive discourse impossible. Boxer was questioning Rice as a senator questioning a secretary of state. Their family relationships are utterly irrelevant to the point at hand, i.e. the current Iraq strategy.” This is typical of those that imagine that “substantive discourse” must remain in a Habermassian rational mode. Neither Bush nor Rice produce “substantive discourse” on Iraq their statements are littered with emotional appeals very similar to Boxer’s. This is merely a clash of stories and sits uncomfortably because it is clearly emotive where as Bush and Rice’s rhetoric is often cloaked more carefully.

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