Entry from September 18, 2009

The first reports of Jimmy Carter’s typically ill-judged remarks about the racial motivations of Congressman Joe Wilson’s mentito, hurled in the teeth of President Obama, were accompanied in The Washington Post, The New York Times and Politico, among other distinguished outlets, by reports of how the Obama administration and other senior Democrats were hastening to distance themselves from them. Some of the less nimble-witted among the punditry may have seen fit to pile into Jimmy’s leaky rhetorical skiff alongside him, but that the more clued-in saw the political if not the intellectual inadvisability of any such course I take to be a hopeful sign. Certainly more hopeful than the torrent of refutations that have proceeded and continue to proceed from my own side of the aisle. After all, definitive demonstrations of the wrong-headedness of Jimmy Carter have always been the Lincoln-head pennies of right-wing currency: legal tender, to be sure, but hardly worth stooping to pick up if you find one dropped in the street.

More interesting to me is why it has as yet occurred to no one, so far as I know anyway, to compare Joe Wilson, the “You lie” guy from South Carolina, to Muntazer al-Zaidi, the shoe-fly guy from Baghdad who fortuitously got out of jail in Iraq in the same week that Joe was being pilloried in the American media. It’s a nice question whether, if you’re the president, you would rather have thrown at you shoes by an Iraqi journalist or insults by an American congressman, but if you’re an American journalist, it makes all the difference in the world who the president is. That’s why it’s a little surprising that Mr Zaidi’s release didn’t get more play in the American media, especially as, according to the London Daily Telegraph,

in a series of allegations made after his release from a Baghdad prison, Zaidi claimed he was attacked with iron bars and even “waterboarded” — the torture technique which simulates drowning. He also alleged he had been electrocuted and whipped, and said that even now he feared for his life. . .Mr Zaidi returned to his home in the Shia suburb of Sadr City, where relatives had gathered with balloons, banners and sheep to slaughter in his honour. Scores of people, including local politicians and tribal leaders, joined them for the celebration. “They are very happy and they are singing and dancing,” one of his brothers, Maytin, told The Daily Telegraph. “This is our tradition when someone gets released, we play music and dance.”

Explaining his reasons for hurling his shoes at President Bush on the latter’s farewell visit to Iraq as president last December, Mr Zaidi told the Telegraph:

“I felt humiliated to see my country burn and my people killed.” He said he had no regrets. “For me it was a good response; what I wanted to do in throwing my shoes in the face of the criminal Bush was to express my rejection of his lies and of the occupation of my country.”

If Congressman Wilson has — so far, at least — escaped waterboarding and electrocution for his own expression of patriotism, he has also been somewhat less richly rewarded. According to The Washington Post, after Mr Zaidi’s shoes came off, he

received medals from Arab potentates, marriage proposals and a $10 million offer for his shoes from a rich Saudi. Restaurants were named after him, and shoes became a new accouterment of protesters in demonstrations against the United States. . . The shoe-throwing episode made Zaidi a hero to many in the Arab and Muslim worlds, seeming to channel the anger of millions toward a U.S. administration that many blamed for suffering in the region. As the news of his release was announced, women gathered in his apartment building, dancing and chanting. Men and children recited poems praising Zaidi and chanted: “Long live the shoes!” More than a dozen sheep were brought in, ostensibly to be slaughtered in his honor.

Autre temps, autre moeurs, of course. Here, people are sending campaign contributions to Joe Wilson to express their approval of his protest, which they see as being equally patriotic, but his Democratic opponent has probably received as many. Anyway, you’d think it would be a natural comparison for the media to make between these two go-it-alone patriots. Perhaps they don’t like to be reminded of how close our political culture is becoming to that of Iraq and similar immature democracies.

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