February 03, 2005

SOTU Theater

I find myself with mixed feelings seeing the protracted embrace between the Iraqi woman and the mother of the felled soldier. On the one hand, the iconography is powerful and moving--a poignant reminder that the sacrifices of our soldiers have not necessarily been in vain. On the other, I recoil from the overt sentimentalism and saccharine-infused theater. On the one hand, my heart is touched by the evident pride of the parents and the honor and pageantry of the moment. And, on the other, I think of the other 364 nights a year they will spend alone in a remote Texan hamlet called Pflugerville--the grandiosity of the SOTU but a distant memory--and the lost son an omnipresent one. That said, deep down, I didn't feel the parents were used in any way. Bush looked truly moved, the parents seemed bolstered somehow by the appreciative cries of thanks, the Iraqi woman didn't appear to be faking it. The symbolism was powerful and, to a fashion, genuine. And isn't so much of politics about theater? But at least this set piece smelled true and was, all told, an elegant moment that skirted, but avoided, spilling into total mawkishness.

UPDATE: In comments, I'm told, Pflugerville is not a "remote Texan hamlet" but a "thriving suburb of Austin". Who knew? Memo to B.D.: Go West man! West of the Hudson, that is...

I'm also admonished, correctly, for not fully understanding the feelings of the deceased soldier's parents. I largely agree with Jason's comment below. Thanks for the added perspective.

Posted by Gregory at February 3, 2005 03:07 AM | TrackBack (15)

Pflugerville is not a remote hamlet, it is a thriving suburb of Austin.

I have mixed feelings about this as well, but I think that at the end of the day, it is important to bring the ordinary people who make things happen up for the world to see.

Posted by: Kevin P. at February 3, 2005 04:32 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

There is no human agony like the loss of a child - in war or otherwise.

Losing a son has driven many a mother to curse God Himself - that these parents (apparently) do not loathe Bush speaks volumes about the pride they must feel and the dedication their son must surely have felt. And no one could look at them in those moments without seeing the pain - no less sharp for the pride.

I would be shocked to find a military mother who did not weep openly at that moment. There but for the grace of God...as they say.

I'm equally certain that they found no succor in the applause. There is nothing that can ease the pain of burying one's own child.

But I have no doubt that they felt they were honoring his memory - and that is all most of the kids over there ever ask.

Does anyone think they would have been there if their son was not a devotee of the cause that killed him?

I thought it was one of the most moving public tributes I've ever seen. "[O]vert sentimentalism and saccharine" were seen only by those who do not mourn and know not the dead (no offense intended Gregory - none of us mourn as they do).

As far as I'm concerned, they could have spent the whole hour locked in that embrace if tonight's recognition granted them even one moment of solace.

Sadly, I'm certain it did not.

Posted by: Jason at February 3, 2005 04:59 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Well said, Jason. Thanks.


Posted by: DC at February 3, 2005 05:07 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

There are suspicions that the Iraqi woman was not exactly what Bush insinuated. She's an Iraqi ex-patriot that flew in last year and was appointed to the Iraqi interim government - not a poor, downtrodden resistance fighter recently tasting the freedom in the of Baghdad. Most of her life was spend in Jordan. Just so the record's straight.

Who's the Iraqi woman

Posted by: J. at February 3, 2005 06:26 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

So the woman was an Iraqi exile who can now return to her native land and vote for her government due to the sacrifice of American lives.

I fail to see how that undermines the point.

I've read the transcript, and I don't see where Bush "insinuates" (nice word choice, J.) what you claim, J.

Posted by: R C Dean at February 3, 2005 06:49 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I guess the part that sticks in my craw is the implication that Bush, Rove et. al. got these two women together in a room and said something like "First I'll introduce the Iraqi, then I'll introduce the mom, then you two hug each other." The assumption by some that the gesture had to have been staged and was not a spontaneous event that resulted from two women who have had connected emotional events being physically close. Of course, the tin-foil brigade will just say "see, they put these women so close together just to encourage this sort of reaction." It must really suck to live their cynical, spiteful lives.

Posted by: submandave at February 3, 2005 07:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Following what submandave says, I remember an interview Lynne Cheney gave after the election (forget who it was with) and one of the questions was, what did the VP's wife think the public meant when exit polls showed "values" as a top issue.

Cheney's answer suprised, and pleased, me. She said she thought it was about cynicism, that the public is tired of cynics. I hadn't realized just how sick I was of the reflexive cynicism in our society until she said that, but I am. Oh, I am dreadfully sick of it.

Sgt. Norwood believed in things the cynics are no longer capable of believing, and he made the world a little bit better because of it. The embrace at the SOTU celebrated those beliefs, and the people who think the silver lining is more important than the cloud. Sentimental, sure. We could use more of that in our lives frankly.

Posted by: (the other) John Hawkins at February 3, 2005 08:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I did not watch the address so can only say seems an awfully moving moment and I am glad b.d. mention it. Afraid I am somewhat cynical about this given the way Bush, Cheney & Rumsfeld have avoided going to funerals of those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, meeting their famlies including Gold Star Mothers and even visiting the troops in the war zones, outside of Rumsfeld's hasty scheduled visit to Iraq following his idiotic remark about going to war with the army you have instead of the army you want. Also recall a similar meeting in Fareinheit 911 between a mother whose son had been killed in Iraq and an Iraqi woman. The Iraqi woman and Gold Star Mother was probably something of a set up to take heat off of the Administration It is classic Reagan style symbolism. None of this takes away from the genuine emotion of this meeting or the purpose of Sgt Norwood's sacrifice.

Posted by: David All at February 3, 2005 11:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Some of us had a different view of that embrace--it depended on the network that provided the video. When the two women hugged, something--jewelry, dogtag?--got caught on clothing. It took a moment to get untangled, and that is why the moment became protracted.

CSPAN caught part of it on its cameras (it starts around 54:40), but the streaming video (about 55:05) is not clear enough. So watch the video when CSPAN rebroadcasts the SOTU this weekend at 10AM Sunday, probably other times as well.

CNN "blogger" guest commentator Andrew Sullivan noticed it as well Wednesday night, and he briefly mentioned the inadvertent symbolism to Wolf Blitzer. While it's not on Andrew's blog, it is in CNN's program transcript (work backwards a bit from the end).

Posted by: bfartan at February 4, 2005 12:23 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"I would be shocked to find a military mother who did not weep openly at that moment. There but for the grace of God...as they say."

Or a military father. I have two sons on active duty, one currently serving in the Gulf. I wept openly last evening when those two women embraced. There but for the Grace of God, indeed.

Posted by: Buck Pennington at February 4, 2005 03:18 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Afraid I am somewhat cynical about this given the way Bush, Cheney & Rumsfeld have avoided going to funerals of those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, meeting their famlies including Gold Star Mothers and even visiting the troops in the war zones

David, you are 100% wrong on this. I have answered this bogus charge so many times I'm sick to death of it, but let me try one more time.

A funeral is an intensely private time for family and friends to mourn the loss of a loved one.

People are not at their best - they are not in control of their emotions.

I cannot imagine anything WORSE than to have the press, the Secret Service, police cars, and all the panoply of a Presidential visit at your son's or husband's funeral. I would resent it BITTERLY, even though I support Bush will all my heart, if he turned my husband's funeral into a sound byte for some campaign appearance or a public relations stunt.

Thank God the man has both the grace and the self-restraint to know what a disaster this would be. I have never yet spoken with a single military family that would welcome that kind of intrusion at the graveside, were they to lose a loved one. The mere suggestion is obscene.

And Bush DOES visit the families and the wounded - he does it all the time, after a decent interval. He just doesn't publicize it. I've been on bases where it happens. You just don't hear about it because many times he won't allow the press in the room where the wounded or bereaved families are present.

Yet another example of how he is reviled because he puts the interests of the military before his own political career. And that's why the military love him.

And that's not too strong a word, David. I've watched for 25 years and I've never seen anything like this with any other President. There is a strong bond of affection and mutual respect there, and it is quite genuine.

Posted by: Cassandra at February 4, 2005 10:41 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I apologize for what I said. Was not aware that Bush visits the wounded and families of the bereaved in private. Thank you for letting me know about this and for how the military feels about the President.

Posted by: David All at February 5, 2005 03:55 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You know nothing about Texas... it's obvious and I would like to know more about the "alone". What do you pretend to "know" that we (ignorant readers) don't know about the pareents of the soldier who died to protect your freedom. The y have no friend, no familt, no relations? They are alone? Always alone? Ah wes they live in Texas, and their son was a soldier for sure they are alone who will have relations with that kind of people? Poor blogger! Shame on you.

Posted by: Stéphane Gélinas at February 5, 2005 02:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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