Spinning Zarqawi

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

The New York Sun

LAS VEGAS – As left-wing bloggers and activists congregated for the first-ever YearlyKos conference (named after the phenomenally popular Daily Kos Web site) in Las Vegas yesterday, the Bush administration had just won a major victory – and the conferees’ movement had just suffered another defeat.

That is, the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

While the right-wing routine of constantly questioning the patriotism of those opposed to the Iraq war is more than a little tired, and a cheap way to try to shut down dissent to boot, even lab rodents eventually learn to stop pressing the button that delivers the electric shock.

Daily Kos denizens? Not so much.

As the news broke yesterday morning, bloggers on Daily Kos were busy emphasizing the negative, and readers were expressing extreme displeasure with an American victory in the War on Terror. “Has anyone mentioned that the President could have killed Zarqawi before the Iraq War but chose not to? Or that he was caught and then released to kill again by an incompetent Iraqi government?” a blogger on the site wrote.

Many of the commenters on the site, meanwhile, were completely unhinged.

“My God, doesn’t anyone remember that Zarqawi was largely a creation of US military psy-ops aimed at the American public?” one commenter wrote. “Bush’s idea of justice is bombs falling out of the sky?” another wrote. “Why is he dead again just now? I wonder if Karl’s getting indicted tomorrow,” yet another wrote.

Meanwhile, out of cyberspace and in the real world, the press room at YearlyKos, where a group of liberal bloggers had congregated, burst into a discussion of how the Left could deflate the morning’s news.

There was a broad recognition that anything anyone on the Left said that was negative would feed right into the “Republican narrative” that Democrats were hungry for defeat in Iraq. However, there wasn’t even the first inkling of an idea as to how to deal with that fact.

“We are constantly bashed on the Right for not supporting the military,” one blogger said.

“We can’t say ‘yes, but’,” another said, as in, yes it’s good Zarqawi is dead, but …

Another suggested the question: “Why have we not gotten Osama?”

One blogger suggested trying to paint the killing of Zarqawi as being a victory, but having nothing to do with Iraq. “Zarqawi is not about Iraq,” he said. Zarqawi was on our radar because of the USS Cole bombing, and we didn’t have to invade Iraq to kill him.

This was rejected by others, however, because, in the words of one: “We’re talking to the 98% of the unwashed who don’t know what the Cole is.”

Lastly was suggested simply minimizing the accomplishment: “If you keep looking for someone long enough, you’ll find him.”

The idea of simply celebrating a victory – even a small or incremental victory – and leaving it at that somehow seemed never to occur to anyone. Just accepting that President Bush might have a good news cycle – and that they risked doing more damage to themselves than to their enemies by trying to dampen that – was a completely foreign notion.

Here at the YearlyKos conference, a serious new political movement is getting on its feet. It’s probably not too much of a stretch to compare this gathering to the Conservative Political Action Conference, a right-wing gathering started in the early 1970s as a networking event for the conservatives who would eventually take over the Republican Party, and then the country.

But, as the conservatives once did, the YearlyKos conferees have a lot to learn about political savvy and a lot to decide about what their movement means and what it believes. Do they believe that the only way to engage in politics is to be destructive, or do they want to provide a positive, constructive alternative to the Republicans they so hate?

As one of the more sane commenters put it at Daily Kos yesterday: “Come on, the guy did exist, blew lots of stuff up (mostly Iraqis), and we finally killed his murdering … a–. … Much more importantly, the Iraqi Parliament approved people for the Defense and Interior ministries. So could we quit being negative for one day at least?”

Mr. Sager is author of “The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians, and the Battle to Control the Republican Party,” forthcoming from Wiley.

The New York Sun

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