Another Perspective

Protesting Too Much

Despite what the N.Y. Times wishes to believe, there is no ''obvious mainstream'' opposed to the Bush Iraq policy.

By 1.20.03

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It was the biggest display of sophistry and self-delusion in quite some time. Am I talking about the antiwar protests last Saturday? No, I'm referring to the New York Times' editorial from yesterday.

In a missive about the protests, the Times editorial writers tried to convince its readers that those who marched on Saturday reflect a growing discontent among a large swath of the American public. It is a case study in rhetorical trickery:

It (the protest) was impressive for the obvious mainstream roots of the marchers -- from young college students to grayheads with vivid protest memories of the 60's.

Since when are student radicals and aging hippies considered mainstream? Perhaps it depends on what the definition of "mainstream" is. Does it include socialists, Castro apologists, and Zapatista supporters? It must, because that is the true "roots" of Saturday's demonstrations. A visit to the website of International A.N.S.W.E.R.-- the group that organized the protests -- reveals that its coalition includes "mainstream" groups like the National Lawyers Guild, the Anti-Imperialist League, the Cuba Advocate Newsletter, and the Mexico Solidarity Network.. Those groups are to the political mainstream what the Raelians are to science. The modification of "mainstream" with the word "obvious" suggests that the Times knows it is on thin ice here.

Mr. Bush and his war cabinet would be wise to see the demonstrators as a clear sign that noticeable numbers of Americans no longer feel obliged to salute the administration's plans because of the shock of Sept. 11 and that many harbor serious doubts about his march toward war.

Note the phrase "no longer feel obliged to salute." In other words, support for war is based on unthinking, emotional patriotism. Apparently no logical case can be made for invading Iraq. That Saddam is dangerous, aspires to have nuclear weapons, and supports terrorism is the province of flag-waving jingoists. The protesters, by contrast, represent thoughtful people everywhere:

The protesters are raising some nuanced questions in the name of patriotism about the premises, cost and aftermath of the war the president is contemplating.

While watching the coverage on C-Span, I didn't hear a lot of questions being raised between the chants of "No Blood for Oil" and "Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho. We Won't Fight for Texaco." Rather I heard demands for "No War on Iraq," "End the Sanctions," and "Spend Money on (insert favorite social cause here), Not War." There were also tributes to Mumia Abu-Jamal and H. Rap Brown, and demands to impeach Bush (thank you Ramsey Clark.) There are many adjectives to describe the protesters -- angry, shrill, bizarre -- but "nuanced" is not one of them.

Other protests will be emphasizing civil disobedience in the name of Martin Luther King Jr. But any graphic moments to come of confrontation and arrest should be seen in the far broader context of the Capitol scene: peaceable throngs of mainstream Americans came forward demanding more of a dialogue from political leaders.

Oh, that's rich! Instead of stating what it is really worried about, namely violence in future protests, the Times uses the phrases "emphasizing civil disobedience" and "graphic moments to come of confrontation and arrest." We have our first nominees for euphemism of the year.

The question arises of why the Times would be concerned about violence if these are "peaceable throngs of mainstream Americans"? Chances are the Times knows that violence will likely come in future protests because these are the same groups that stage anti-globalization protests at World Trade Organization meetings. And we know how those usually turn out. In essence, the Times' editorialists give the game away: they know that the protesters represent the fringe.

Mr. Bush and his aides, to their credit, welcomed the demonstrations as a healthy manifestation of American democracy at work. We hope that spirit will endure in the weeks ahead if differences deepen and a noisier antiwar movement develops. These protests are the tip of a far broader sense of concern and lack of confidence in the path to war that seems to lie ahead.

The "We Hope" that begins the second sentence is telling. It suggests that the editorial writers are engaged in a lot of wishful thinking: The editorial writers aren't making an argument about what is happening in America, but what they wish was happening. They wish that differences over the war would "deepen" and that a large antiwar movement would develop. They wish the opposition to the war was mainstream and the protests reflected a broad "sense of concern". I believe the term for this in psychology is "projection."

Rather than representing the mainstream, the protests are about the far-left fringe. They are the product of a peculiar discontent and of delusion. The Times editorial is very much in keeping with that spirit.

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David Hogberg is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.  Follow David Hogberg on Twitter.