Friday, August 12, 2005

Hollow, irresponsible sympathy

Yesterday, President Bush offered his "sympathy" to Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey, 24, died in a Sadr City ambush last year. "I sympathize with her," the President said. These words didn't come right to Sheehan. Bush has too many words to offer, but no real compassion, she believes: "But the best way to show that compassion is by meeting with me and the other mothers and families who are here," she said. She wants a more active sympathy.

But sympathy is not the right word, indeed, not the right emotion for the President to express in this context. Sympathy distances him from responsibilty for Iraq, as if the war just happend by fate, as if it were not the product of his choosing, and thus not his responsibility. Susan Sontag, in her last book, Regarding The Pain Of Others, illumines how sympathy can be irresponsible in such a context: "...it seems too simple to elect sympathy...So far as we feel sympathy, we feel we are not accomplices to what caused the suffering. Our sympathy proclaims our innocence as well as our impotence. To that extent, it can be (for all our good intentions) an impertinent—if not an inappropriate—response" (pp. 102-3). The way the President's sympathy flows really reveals his fatalistic outlook on history.

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