Respectful Insolence

Yesterday, on the way home, I was flipping through the AM dial. Yes, as embarrassed as I am to admit it, even now I still occasionally have a soft spot for conservative talk radio. At the risk of being shunned by my fellow ScienceBloggers (most of whom are–shall we say?–a bit to the left) and driving away half my traffic, I will even admit to having listened regularly to Rush Limbaugh for a period of several years back when I was in the lab fulltime. Say whatever you will about his views (which have tended to become more odious over the years), he was (and sometimes still is) a powerful and entertaining radio presence in a way that no one on, for instance Air America, comes close to, not even Al Franken (and I’ve listened to them all at one time or another). Wannabes like Sean Hannity (who tries to be like Rush Limbaugh, except that he doesn’t appear to be that bright and is neither as charismatic nor entertaining) don’t even come close.

But I digress. Eventually, I got fed up with right wing talkers like Rush and Sean, something that began in 2000, when they savaged John McCain and championed our current President, culminating in the leadup to the Iraq War, when they became the number one media cheerleaders for the war–and still are, to this day.

In any case, I happened upon the Mark Levin show. For those of you fortunate enough never to have heard one of Mark Levin’s tirades, let’s just say that he makes Rush Limbaugh look like he’s on Quaaludes. Of course, given Rush’s history, it’s quite possible that these days he is on Quaaludes, but Levin still makes him seem downright reasonable. In fact, few conservative talk hosts reach Levin’s level of vitriol, with perhaps Michael Savage being the only one who surpasses him–and then only sometimes. Hard as it is to believe from his rants, Levin is a Constitutional lawyer, who wrote a book called Men In Black, which, from what I’ve been able to glean from what he says about it on the air, is basically one long tirade against judicial activism–liberal judicial activism, of course; he doesn’t seem to mind conservative judicial activists like Antonin Scalia.

Before I get into what he said that was so offensive, let’s look at how the WABC Radio website describes Levin:

“He’s smart, witty, and fast on the draw,” according to WABC Program Director Phil Boyce. “He has this sharp sarcastic wit that can easily stun his opponents. I know I would not want to debate him.”

Well, not exactly. What he tends to do is to talk over callers with whom he disagrees, yell at them, and ridicule them mercilessly over the air, all the while only rarely putting together anything that even slightly resembles a coherent argument, all in the service of hyper-jingoistic tirades against our enemies, real and perceived, and about how great we as a nation are. One of his trademark moves is to hang up on a caller who is either (1) clearly not very bright and thus an exceptionally easy target or (2) clearly getting the better of him in an argument with, “Go away, you big dope!” Sometimes I find myself listening to him on the way home in sheer disbelief and fascination, much the way one can’t help but watch a car wreck encountered on the road. Usually these interludes only last five or ten minutes or so, and afterwards I feel dirty, asking myself why.

Yesterday, Levin was ranting about the Red Cross. What could possibly bother him about a humanitarian agency like the Red Cross? Easy. He didn’t like the fact that the Red Cross was treating Hezbollah wounded in Lebanon with the same compassion that they treated Israeli wounded. He ranted on and on about the Red Cross was “helping terrorists,” getting particularly peeved about statements from the Red Crescent (the Islamic version of the Red Cross) that the organization would treat all noncombatants impartially, be they Israeli or Lebanese, and that a wounded soldier who is no longer able to fight is a noncombattant, be he Israeli or Hezbollah. Particularly inflammatory to Levin was a statement that in Afghanistan the Red Cross would treat al Qaeda the same way it treats anyone else. Basically, the statements that so irritated Levin were restatements of the Red Cross and Red Crescent’s mission:

What are the fundamental principles of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement?

Humanity: The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, born of a desire to bring assistance without discrimination to the wounded on the battlefield, endeavours, in its international and national capacity, to prevent and alleviate human suffering wherever it may be found. Its purpose is to protect life and health and to ensure respect for the human being. It promotes mutual understanding, friendship, cooperation and lasting peace amongst all peoples.

Impartiality: It makes no discrimination as to nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions. It endeavours to relieve the suffering of individuals, being guided solely by their needs, and to give priority to the most urgent cases of distress.

Neutrality: In order to continue to enjoy the confidence of all, the Movement may not take sides in hostilities or engage at any time in controversies of a political, racial, religious or ideological nature.

Independence: The Movement is independent. The National Societies, while auxiliaries in the humanitarian services of their governments and subject to the laws of their respective countries, must always maintain their autonomy so that they may be able at all times to act in accordance with the principles of the Movement.

Voluntary Service: It is a voluntary relief movement not prompted in any manner by desire for gain.

Unity: There can be only one Red Cross or one Red Crescent Society in any one country. It must be open to all. It must carry on its humanitarian work throughout its territory.

Universality: The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, in which all Societies have equal status and share equal responsibilities and duties in helping each other, is worldwide.

What irked Levin so is that the Red Cross strives to be neutral, to treat all wounded and displaced equally. He seems to think the organization should judge who is and is not in the right in this war. Basically, Levin’s rant resembled a brief version of the comment thread after the story on Little Green Footballs about this, comments like this, this, this, and this. I’m sure Levin has no problem with the Red Cross helping Israeli victims of the war and any Israeli soldiers that might require assistance. In his frenzy, he also seems to forget that it is not the Red Cross’ job to make judgments as to who is or is not a terrorist, or which nation is in the right or wrong in any war. It is their job and mission to help the wounded and displaced. As one of the more reasonable commenters put it:

The Red Cross has a long and colorful history of helping combatants and non-combatants equally. They maintain their “Swiss Neutrality” approach to assert plausible reproach by either side for taking sides.

Just as the Israeli hospitals and doctors have a long history of treating Israelis and “Palestinians” alike when they are rushed in on gurneys with life threatening wounds of war.

Just as (from my good friend Dr. Anonymous, in Los Angeles) – public and private hospitals alike here in the States make no moral judgement about the patients piling up in their emergency rooms on Saturday night. Theirs is the job of figuring out how to staunch the bleeding, patch up the organs, detox the gut and stabilize the shock. Its the police’s job to figure out who shot who, and why.

Again … not so rough on the Red Cross. They takes their chances (at becoming collateral damage), but theirs is a pretty laudible neutral position as well.

Or perhaps he should consider what this retired Special Forces soldier says:

As an old retired Special Forces soldier, I have no problem with this. This is what the Red Cross is supposed to do.

Perhaps the folks commenting here ought to read the Geneva and Hague Conventions.

I am certainly on the side of Israel in this latest exercise, and really think that we ought to harm Iran; but, when the soldiers/insurgents are wounded and the Red Cross provides comfort and safe passage then we’re obeying the rules.

It’s no different than what I used to do when I covered trauma. It didn’t matter who the patient was or how he or she was injured. They got treated just the same, even though I often knew that I was treating a drunk driver who had killed someone in a crash or a gang banger who had gotten shot in a robbery attempt. It didn’t matter. As doctors and health care workers, we are obligated to treat any ill or injured human; it is not our job to judge them. And it is the same with the Red Cross.

In fact, it is this worsening attitude of “if you’re not with us you’re against us” coupled with “if you’re against us you’re somehow subhuman” that has in recent years driven me from the Republican Party and made me disillusioned with conservatism, at least as it exists now. Don’t get me wrong. To me Hezbollah is definitely primarily a terrorist organization, and I would shed no tears if it were utterly destroyed. However, the Red Cross is still right to treat wounded Hezbollah fighters the same way that it treats wounded Israelis and wounded soldiers and victims of war all over the world.

Comments

  1. #1 Mark
    August 16, 2006

    Try not to listen to that kind of show. I know you think you’re immune, but I have seen this stuff warp a person’s outlook. You can’t stick your hand into a cesspool and come out smelling like anything but …

  2. #2 Fragano Ledgister
    August 16, 2006

    I would say that by aiding all the wounded impartially the Red Cross/Red Crescent is faithfully following the principles of Dunant. Regardless of whether you think that the wounded combatant is a heroic soldier or a thug it is a decent thing to provide him or her with relief and medical assistance. It is, surely, then an indecent thing to oppose such acts.

  3. #3 Shygetz
    August 16, 2006

    The Red Cross/Crescent does a laudable service and should be thanked and praised. It seems like the people who criticize them have no experience with either war or medicine, and it shows in their short-sighted opinions.

    On the topic of talk radio, I also find myself occasionally tuning in to our local conservative icon, if only to remind myself why I am not a modern Republican. Actually, my favorite liberal talk radio (and the only one I listen to with any regularity) is Stephanie Miller. She mixes intelligent commentary (which I occasionally disagree with, but what else is new) with juvenile humor. You might want to check her out sometime. Franken’s show is often just a train-wreck, and only occasionally entertaining.

  4. #4 anonimouse
    August 16, 2006

    The Red Cross shouldn’t help war victims because they’re not on “our side”? That’s lunacy.

    My politics are admittedly right-of-center, but I can’t stand any of the blowhards of conservative talk radio anymore.

  5. #5 David Harmon
    August 16, 2006

    Probably laying the groundwork for bombing the Red Crescent sites as “terrorist supporters”…. :-(

  6. #6 Ruth
    August 16, 2006

    I often vote Republican, but I hate how the creationists/moral majority have infiltrated the party. My favorite conservative is PJ O’Rourke-he favors limited government, but is honest enough to admit to inhaling. I don’t like how the Iraq war is being waged, but the Democrats don’t seem to really understand the level of terrorist threat in the world. Iran doesn’t want peace, they won’t negotiate except to buy time for their nuclear program.

    It should be noted that Israel always offers aid when earthquakes hit Arab nations, even those that openly want to destroy the “Zionist entity”. Love those that hate you, do good to your enemies, is that so hard for an alleged Christian to grasp?

  7. #7 Michael Wells
    August 16, 2006

    There’s also a pretty unassailable practical reason for the Red Cross to treat all combatants equally: once they begin to be perceived as partisan in any conflict, they can’t operate there anymore, because they become targets for one side or the other. Levin and his ilk ought to remember that the Red Cross/Crescent wouldn’t be around anymore to treat Israeli soldiers if Hezbollah soldiers didn’t know “If I need them someday, they’ll treat me just as well.”

    I think a year or two ago some Bush administration official commented in the public record that western humanitarian NGOs were part of our mission in (Afghanistan? Iraq?), because they helped spread goodwill towards western powers in the region. Some people from those orgs were livid, basically responding, in more polite terms, “Shut the hell up, do you want to get us killed or driven out?”

    On another note, Mark says above, “Try not to listen to that kind of show. I know you think you’re immune, but I have seen this stuff warp a person’s outlook.” I have to strongly disagree. This sounds uncomfortably reminiscent of cult-like thinking: “Don’t expose yourself to the thinking of the infidels, you might get tainted and start to believe it.” If our opinions are that weak, it’s a good sign we don’t hold them for the right reasons; give them something to push against, they’ll get stronger if they have any muscle at all. Besides, my local right-wing Christian station is very entertaining sometimes.

  8. #8 Mark
    August 16, 2006

    Michael, that’s I guess that’s one reason to expose oneself to shit – to become immune. More likely you just get used to the smell.

  9. #9 wolfwalker
    August 16, 2006

    I’m not surprised you found Levin so irritating, Orac. IMO and IMX, listening to almost any national radio talk show, left or right, is a mistake because most of them are idiots. Limbaugh is one of only two exceptions I’ve found, and only partial ones at that. Most of the others, I turn off as soon as I hear their voices.

    That said, it also happens that a lot of right-wing folks believe the International Red Cross is not neutral in the Israeli-Arab fight. IRC vehicles have been used to run guns in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. And until recently (like, a couple of months ago), the International Red Cross could not work with or within Israel. There is an Israeli organization that does the same kind of work as the Red Cross, but it was not an IRC member or affiliate.

  10. #10 Dianne
    August 16, 2006

    And until recently (like, a couple of months ago), the International Red Cross could not work with or within Israel. There is an Israeli organization that does the same kind of work as the Red Cross, but it was not an IRC member or affiliate.

    Magen David Adom. It is now a part of the IRC. If the IRC were truly anti-Israel, why would they acknowledge MDA and try to work with them? Not that there weren’t anti-Israeli voices within the IRC, but the majority favored letting MDA in. So I’m afraid the idea that the IRC is part of the vast Arab-Islamic conspiracy that conservatives have been finding in lieu of the older communist conspiracy doesn’t hold up.

    Random Rush Limbaugh info: I watched Rush Limbaugh a total of 15 minutes once. During that time he attempted to make fun of a politician who said something he didn’t approve of by saying “Can you imagine Washington, Jefferson, Madison, or Lincoln in the Revolutionary War saying ‘(whatever the quote was.)’?” I had to admit that I couldn’t imagine Lincoln saying anything at all in the Revolutionary War and turned the channel.

  11. #11 wolfwalker
    August 16, 2006

    Dianne,

    “If the IRC were truly anti-Israel, why would they acknowledge MDA and try to work with them?”

    I didn’t say the consies were correct, did I? :-) I just said that’s what they believed. All that most people ever heard about the affair was that “Israel can’t join the Red Cross because of Muslim opposition.” Some research suggests that while Muslims did oppose it, the Israelis opposed it too. Both objections centered on a symbolic point: the IRC required either a red cross or a red crescent for an insignia, but Magen David Adom refused to use either one since they considered both to be non-Jewish religious symbols. (Which in fact they are — the Red Cross is certainly Christian in origin, and the Red Crescent is derived from a Muslim religious symbol.) Israel wanted to use the Star of David as its insignia. The agreement under which MDA joined the IRC says they can’t use the Star of David, but they won’t be required to use either the cross or crescent. They’ll use a red diamond shape, which has no religious meaning of any kind.

    As for Limbaugh, I agree that on any subject involving history or science, he’s an idiot. He’s a pretty good political analyst and commentator, but that’s the extent of his abilities.

  12. #12 Shygetz
    August 16, 2006

    As for Limbaugh, I agree that on any subject involving history or science, he’s an idiot. He’s a pretty good political analyst and commentator, but that’s the extent of his abilities.

    In the modern age, you can’t be a good political analyst and commentator if you are an idiot when it comes to both history and science. You can, however, be a fine rabble-rouser.

  13. #13 Mark
    August 16, 2006

    These days Limbaugh isn’t even all that good at rabble rousing, given all the idiocy and hypocrisy, unless, I suppose, you are a dittohead.

  14. #14 Dianne
    August 16, 2006

    wolfwalker, Sorry about that, I knew that you were reporting, not advocating the position but didn’t make that clear in my post. I like the idea of a red diamond. Maybe that should be the symbol of the whole organization. The International Red Diamond wouldn’t have to worry about any religious implications. The Swiss might be insulted, though, since the symbol would no longer reference their flag.

  15. #15 nm
    August 16, 2006

    The fact that it took decades of the Magen David Adom applying for membership in the IRC, and being turned down repeatedly, ostensibly because they used the wrong symbol, might in fact suggest that until just a few months ago the beauraucratic leadership of the IRC was indeed quite anti-Israeli. And that, in fact, a number of them still are but were finally out-maneuvered.

    But to suggest that the medical personnel on the ground are similarly biased is ridiculous. And to suggest that they ought to be biased in the other direction is heinous.

  16. #16 TheProbe
    August 16, 2006

    Orac, you sure do have this fetish about going into places requiring a shower later….

    The Geneva Conventions require that any wounded combatant captured by their opposing side be given proper medical treatment, etc. When the US has “side-stepped” the GCs, our soldiers have had worse treatment.

    In WWII, my father was a POW in Germany until he escaped to Switzerland (the pseudo-neutral country). He benefitted from those Red Cross visits and supplies. Of course, the US Army found a way to use those Red Cross packages to smuggle in many items that helped escapees, etc.

    As for Levin and his ilk, his knowledge and humanity are purely homeopathic.

  17. #17 Knight of L-sama
    August 16, 2006

    Actually wolfwalker the Red Cross isn’t Christian in origin. It’s originally derived from the flag of Switzerland (white cross on red background), but swapping the colours. The the time of the Red Cross’s founding Switzerland already had a well established tradition of neutrality and the Red Cross’s symbol was meant to convey some of that (well that and in honour of the founder who was Swiss). The Red Crescent and Red Lion (no defunct) were only established as alternate symbols because of perception.

    And I put the delay of Magen David Adom being admitted to beuracratic slowness more than anything else.

  18. #18 wolfwalker
    August 16, 2006

    Knight,

    “Actually wolfwalker the Red Cross isn’t Christian in origin. It’s originally derived from the flag of Switzerland (white cross on red background), but swapping the colours.”

    And the Swiss national flag is derived from ….
    ;-)

  19. #19 Chris
    August 16, 2006

    Both Hezbollah and Israel can be destroyed *as organizations* without killing their members/citizens.

    That’s why I think when someone says they want Israel or “the Zionist state” removed from the map, they do not necessarily want genocide. They may merely want to replace Israel with a state that doesn’t discriminate in favor of Jews. (Or they may want to replace it with one that *does* discriminate – in favor of Muslims. This is a less laudable goal, but still far short of genocide.)

  20. #20 Prup aka Jim Benton
    August 17, 2006

    I have to consider Limbaugh the first step in what has become a very dangerous process. About ten years the barriers between the ‘fringe nuts’ and the extreme-but-rational types on both sides of the spectrum started breaking down. It started on the right, with the anti-Clinton tapes, etc., but there’s no doubt that it is happening on ‘my side’ as well. (I will argue that the crazier leftists are not as dangerous because they may say weird and ugly things, or believe in idiocies like 9/11 denial, but they do not engage in what Dave Neiwert calls “eliminationist rhetoric.”)
    Someone like an Ann Coulter, or the LGF crowd or the ‘academics’ who are teaching that the Civil War was a plot by Lincoln to impose a government on the South, fifteen years ago would have been put where they belonged, outside the mainstream of political discourse, as would the 9/11 deniers, the “George Bush crime family’ types etc. No respectable politician would have made comments like Cheney and many others have made about Ned Lamont (for example, calling him the “Al Qaeda candidate”), no matter how much they disagreed with his position. No respectable commentator would have tried to rehabilitate Joe McCarthy (Coulter) or defend the internment of the Japanese in WWII (Malkin). (And if arguers like the ‘microfascist’ people you commented upon earlier had slightly more credibility in the fringes of academia — the ‘deconstructionists’ have much to answer for — in fact they had no effect outside it.)

    Books like Coulter’s and Malkin’s would have been put in the same category as John Stormer’s NONE DARE CALL IT TREASON and the ravings of Robert Welch.

    But it was Limbaugh particularly who started breaking down that barrier, who started making rhetoric — frequently totally unconnected to evidence or sense — that extreme part of the ‘normal political discourse’ of the country. It is becoming more and more dangerous, to politics, and even to democracy itself.

  21. #21 Hans
    August 17, 2006

    Orac? You listen to Rush Limbaugh??? You will now be deleted from the list of my favorite bloggers.

    good bye

  22. #22 Orac
    August 17, 2006

    Orac? You listen to Rush Limbaugh??? You will now be deleted from the list of my favorite bloggers.

    Past tense, dude. Past tense. I don’t listen to him regularly anymore. Rereading it, I see that I didn’t make that clear.

  23. #23 Ali
    August 17, 2006

    Hey, I listen to Limbaugh from time to time. Usually, like Orac said of Levin, it’s only for about 5 or 10 minutes. That’s about as much strawman-bashing as I can take at once. The ‘ludes joke had me laughing, btw. :)

  24. #24 Ethyl
    August 18, 2006

    Prup,
    I think a lot of the problem stems from the mistaken line of reasoning from “respect everyone’s right to believe what they want” to “everyone’s crazy crackpot idea deserves equal respect.” That whole crazy concept where everyone deserves equal time, even when the opposing viewpoint is totally without merit.

    I read a quote somewhere…I think it’s from Asimov:
    “… when people thought the Earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the Earth was spherical they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the Earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the Earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.”

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