Who's asking: Peter Schleck, Washington, DC
If you've been watching any U.S. news in the past week or so, you've seen some of the recent manufactured uproar over scenes in novels written by James Webb, candidate for the U.S. Senate from the commonwealth of Virginia. Apparently, campaign workers for George Allen had been trying for weeks to get reporters to focus on passages in Webb's novels that they consider demeaning to women, and particularly on one scene in which an Asian peasant takes his four-year-old son's penis in his mouth as a gesture of affection.
Responsible media outlets ignored these attempts until Matt Drudge blasted it on his website, at which point the story became the controversy and "outrage," not the passages of the books themselves.
Peter asked, "Whaddya think?" and I think the whole thing is disgusting, from beginning to end.
First, novelists make stuff up. To ascribe the viewpoint or behavior of a fictional character to an author is ignorant at best and lunatic at worst. I just finished Stephen King's latest novel; in one particularly harrowing scene, a deranged man takes a can opener to the main character's breast. Do I think that Stephen King endorses this behavior, or has fantasized about doing this himself? Hell, no. (In fact, I wish Stephen King was running for Governor of Maine -- he'd be a better choice than any of the official candidates. But that's another post.)
Second, this manufacturing of outrage -- and then pandering and weaseling to deflect the outrage -- has got to stop. It's exhausting, it demeans everyone involved, and it cancels out the effectiveness of genuine outrage in the few situations that call for genuine outrage (e.g., Abu Ghraib, inadequate death benefits for military families, the terrifying national debt).
On the subject of cheap and easy outrage, let's talk for a minute about John Kerry's slip of the tongue yesterday, when he said that kids who didn't do well in school would end up stuck in Iraq. He says he didn't mean to say that -- what he meant to say was that kids who didn't do well in school would end up getting other people stuck in Iraq -- but the manufactured outrage over this remark hides some deeper, bitter truths that we ought to be talking about, rather than shouting about who loves our soldiers more.
The first of these truths is that the U.S. as a nation is stuck in Iraq. The second of these truths is that individual soldiers (including some of our best and brightest) are stuck in Iraq, held there past the terms of their original enlistment because no troops are available to replace them. The third of these truths is that educated or not, many of our young people are stuck in Iraq because there are no jobs for them at home, unless they want to work for hourly wages without health benefits.
Why aren't the candidates talking about these things? Why didn't John Kerry take this opportunity to say, "Yeah, I misspoke, but let's talk about this"?
I'm disgusted, disgusted with all of it and all of them. For God's sake, everyone, figure out what you're really outraged about, and go vote next Tuesday.