April 12, 2007

The Soldier Referendum: Watch The Hand


(click for full size)

This post is not about McCain.  It’s about the rapidly escalating war over the war.

The conventional wisdom might be right — that the Dems, ultimately, will not take on Bush, and that the country will still be in Iraq after Junior leaves office.  I offer that thought, however, against a powerful and building, almost manic political tension.

What is intensifying, as well, is the media’s projective casting of U.S. soldiers and Iraqi veterans.  Over the past few months and weeks, “the soldier” (along with his or her slightest impression) has sharpened into the focal symbol and conduit for gauging, on a near daily basis now, the political status of (and emotional temperature surrounding) the war.

Under those terms, what makes this photo so significant — taken at Virginia Military Institute yesterday, where McCain gave a nervous, if unqualified pro-war speech — is the apparent expression of hesitancy on the part of the soldier to give it up for McCain.

Of course, how can you trust one instant in time to indicate hesitation as motive?  Obviously, you can’t.  Just as well, perhaps, the Times could have (first) run this shot, taken one instant later, in which U.S. Marine, Iraqi Veteran and Cadet First Classman Robert Frazier does shake McCain’s hand, while supplying the socially-normative warmth and eye contact.

Still, it’s the shot above that commanded attention first, capturing the skeptical look of VMI Iraq veterans set up selected to sit in the front two rows.  It’s an image, by the way, which remains fully consistent, if not even as skeptical as the look on the faces of the vet-Cadets in the shot with the smiling Frazier).  And then, it seems to also embody the self-conscious quality of the (made-for-TV) event.  (If you watch the NYT video, notice how McCain has to prompt for applause after recognizing the student veterans).

If there’s one caveat to the skepticism, it’s the possibility the reaction has more to do with McCain than the war itself.  That’s completely reasonable, of course.  But, outside of Bush, this war doesn’t have a bigger cheerleader than McCain.  And to look down on John as the fallen messenger as the soldier’s “visual verdict of the day” is just as determinative of the war (and the political surge) as anything more direct.

(h/t: Dave)

(image: attribution unavailable. Matthew Cavanaugh /European Pressphoto Agency. Lexington Va.  April 11, 2007. nytimes.com.  linked image: Don Petersen/AP.  Via YahooNews)

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Michael Shaw
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