Joel Stein's (Im)Modest Proposal
I have a feeling that Mark Hyman would be one of those people who, if he read Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” would think that the satirist was actually encouraging people to eat babies. Subtlety and nuance don’t strike me as qualities Hyman has much appreciation of.
I say that after reading Hyman’s recent comments about Los Angeles satirical columnist Joel Stein. Hyman offers Stein kudos for being “the very first liberal columnist to publicly admit he doesn’t support the troops.”
According to Hyman, most people who disagree with the war “believe they can inoculate themselves from well-deserved criticism with the five throw-away words, ‘but I support the troops.’”
As an aside, it’s interesting that conservatives are unable to explain why opposing the war in Iraq is antithetical to supporting the troops, or why supporting an administration that lied in order to send men and women to die on the other side of the world is equivalent to supporting the troops. And we already know that when “supporting the troops” means anything other than supporting Bush administration policy, Sinclair is AWOL, as we found out with their decision to not air ABC’s tribute, “The Fallen.”
But I digress. Back to Stein. Hyman cites Stein’s recent commentary in which he says he doesn’t support the troops as evidence of a liberal showing his true colors. But in doing so, Hyman reveals either A) a complete inability to deal with subtlety on any level, or B) a willingness to consciously distort what someone says in order to attack them. Of course, in this case, my favorite answer (and probably the correct one) is C) All of the above.
Not that this matters a whit to Stein. The Hymaniacs out there aren’t his intended audience. And I don’t doubt he knew full well when he penned this piece that folks like Hyman, Michelle Malkin, and the Newsmaxers would, out of mendacity and/or maliciousness, interpret his piece exactly as they have done.
But if you read the entire essay, it’s clear that Stein is speaking to those of us who already oppose the war (which is to say, most Americans). He essentially throws in the towel on the “support the troops” debate because it’s meaningless. What conservatives and some liberals have gotten into is an empty exercise in chest thumping, with colored ribbons and patriotic bumper stickers in place of pounding fists. What Stein says, in essence, is “Fine, if you want to think I don’t support the troops, that’s okay by me. Let’s agree that I don’t. Now, can we go about getting them the stuff they need?”
Hyman wants to interpret the text as a screed against those who serve in the military, but he can’t make it fit into the neat little ideological box he wants to force it into. Stein is intentionally provocative, but the upshot of his commentary is that most of what passes for “supporting the troops,” in both liberal and conservative circles, is utterly empty and meaningless platitudes that do nothing to make the situation better. If saying you don’t support the troops will end this idiocy and move the debate on to how to get soldiers the body armor they need, the medical care and counseling they require, and (most importantly) get them home, Stein says it’s a small price to pay.
For my own part, I don’t agree 100% with his commentary, and I would not have framed the argument the way he does. However, it’s a valuable point that’s worth considering. Becoming incensed at the idiocy of neo-con namecalling is ultimately an act of selfishness that doesn’t help the troops at all. It’s particularly irrelevant given that most of America is “against the troops” if you go by the definition that conservatives like Hyman use. So why fight a meaningless battle? Let the chickenhawks of the world wear their lapel pins, slap bumper stickers on their Escalades, and wrap themselves in the flag. And let the rest of us move on to actually fixing the mess.
And that’s The Counterpoint.
Hyman Index: 4.62