The first nationwide antiwar protests in quite a while were held this past Saturday, held in part to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, with a few thousands marching in Washington – I’ve seen estimates ranging from two to ten thousand – with scattered events in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and a few in the Midwest, an altogether poor turnout. In a widely reprinted piece, the Associated Press reported:
“The protest, organized by Act Now to Stop War and Racism or ANSWER, drew a smaller crowd than the tens of thousands who marched in 2006 and 2007. Protests in cities around the country also had far fewer participants than in the past.”
Even among those who attended the protests, there were some whose opposition to this administration’s foreign policy is squishy at best. The same AP article cites one Shirley Allan of Silver Spring, Md., who “carried a sign that read, “President Obama We love you but we need to tell you! Your hands are getting bloody!! Stop it now.”
Ms. Allan’s sign says more about her than it does about the issue she purports to address. To confess to loving a political leader whose hands are even a little bit bloody is quite a revealing statement to make, and it just about sums up why the crowd was smaller than on previous occasions. The hate-Bush crowd has quickly morphed into the love-Obama cult of personality, and the so-called progressives have deserted the antiwar movement in droves. Our multiple wars just aren’t an issue inside the Democratic party.
On the non-Marxist left, the triumph of the Obama cult is complete. Only the old-fashioned Leninists, such as the main organizers of the ANSWER rallies, have come out in visible opposition to Obama’s wars. Even the Marxist left, however, is not immune to Obama-mania: the other major antiwar coalition, United for Peace and Justice, led by veterans of the old Communist Party, USA, issued a euphoric statement upon Obama’s election and has been essentially moribund as an active antiwar organization ever since.
It was in this kind of political atmosphere, then – one of near complete political isolation – that rally attendees heard Cindy Sheehan wonder whether “the honeymoon was over with that war criminal in the White House.” Sheehan’s remark was met, according to AP, with merely “moderate applause.” Ms. Allan was not among the applauders:
“Allan thought it was going too far to call Obama a war criminal but said she is deeply disappointed that the conflicts are continuing. ‘He has to know it’s unacceptable,’ Allan said. ‘I am absolutely disappointed.”
Disappointment is not an emotion that can energize a movement, at least not with any immediacy: it must sit awhile and ferment into outrage. In the meantime, however, the US empire is on a course set for rapid expansion, extending its long arm deep into Central Asia, bidding to take up a position, both literally and figuratively, at the top of the world.
Having installed a friendly government in Iraq, which is suitably “democratic” – I see the CIA’s candidate, Iyad “the Executioner” Allawi, has managed to steal enough votes to perhaps win – and now intent on bringing the “success” of the “surge” to the Afghan front, the Obama administration is encountering very little opposition from either party in Congress. Out in the heartland, perpetual war is now considered normalcy. However, resignation rather than support characterizes public tolerance for this policy, and there is hope in the polls, which show increasing adherence to the position advanced by Saturday’s protesters: withdrawal of US troops from both Afghanistan and Iraq. More significantly, a recent Pew poll indicates majority support for “isolationism,” i.e. a policy of minding our own damned business.
How does the antiwar movement reach what I must call, for lack of a better phrase, the Silent Majority? Back in the day, that phrase was used by the War Party and the supporters of Richard M. Nixon to characterize what they believed to be the true majority sentiment in this country: vehemently in favor of the Vietnam war, and unalterably opposed to the forces represented by the then-burgeoning antiwar movement. Today, that sort of right-wing populism, embodied by the same lower-to-middle class demographic courted by Nixon, is still around, albeit significantly changed.
The political energy, today, is on the right side of the political spectrum, where all sorts of subversive ideas are percolating in opposition to the triumvirate of Big Government, Big Business, and Big Labor that now rules the country. David Brooks, the “conservative” voice of the Establishment, is sufficiently alarmed by the rise of libertarianism to devote an entire column to its dangers. The recent victory of libertarian Ron Paul at the annual CPAC conference, where he came in first in the presidential poll, set alarm bells off in the corridors of power, where Paul’s antiwar views are anathema, and a plethora of attacks ensued from both the neoconservative right and the “progressive” left.
Paul’s organization, the Campaign for Liberty, is a real force on the right, and is recruiting members by the thousands: a great deal of this growth is coming via CFL’s youth affiliate, Young Americans for Liberty, with thousands of members on campuses nationwide and a radical flair to their organizing efforts.
Here is a substantial body of activists, committed in principle to opposing what Paul calls “the Empire,” and yet I have not seen a single effort by any of the multitude of leftist antiwar “coalitions” to reach out to them. With the exception of Cindy Sheehan, virtually all of the speakers at Saturday’s rally were from what might fairly be described as the left – or, rather, the remnants of the left not absorbed by the Obama cult. What would it cost these people to invite Ron Paul, who is hardly an obscure figure, the man who stood up to the warmongering bully Rudy Giuliani and dared confront the War Party in its Republican lair?
A sure sign that the antiwar movement is in trouble is there are more antiwar “coalitions” and less actual members and activists. It seems like every leftist grouplet under the sun has its own “broad-based” antiwar would-be umbrella group, each with only enough of a periphery to shelter itself and a few camp followers. For all the talk of “broadening” and “deepening” opposition to war, the main preoccupation of these groups seems to be using them as recruiting pools to go fishing in. It’s easy to see why some minuscule Trotskyite sect may be content with a very small pool, but surely the gravity of the issue requires a more serious approach.
I was recently asked to contribute to a symposium in The American Conservative magazine devoted to the question of whether a left-right alliance, particularly on the issue of war and peace, is either possible or desirable, and my contribution will appear in a forthcoming number. The symposium springs in part, I understand, from a conference devoted to that topic which recently took place in Washington, D.C. For all of the reasons above, and more, I believe such an alliance is not in the cards, mainly because there is no real left left to ally with anymore.
We are confronted with the spectacle of alleged “leftists” campaigning hard for a healthcare measure that forces everyone to buy insurance from the very same “big corporations” we’ve heard “progressives” rail against since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. In the meantime, on an issue which has historically been linked to the left – war – we hear either nothing, or else weepy “disappointment.”
The only protests against the bank bailout, and the corporatist tendency in general, have been generated by the right. This accounts, I believe, for the almost obsessive coverage of the movement by such pro-administration “progressive” outlets as MSNBC: the tea partiers are a funhouse mirror reflection of what the left used to be, i.e. rebels against “the System.”
A recent piece over at the “Think Progress” site bemoans what it describes as the “obsessive” coverage of the tea partiers by comparing it with the scant attention given to the antiwar rallies, which, the piece claims, were larger: it’s an arguable proposition but I’ll give them that. But so what? The war issue is now seven years old, while this latest money grab by the corporate-government axis of greed is an issue of some immediacy. Aside from that point, however, there is a larger one: the antiwar movement and the tea partiers are parallel rebellions against the same enemy – a ruling elite that uses the State to enrich itself, entrench itself, and spread its malign influence all over the world. The problem being that parallel lines have a hard time meeting.
It’s springtime for Obama, and, ironically, the autumn of the authentic left, which is fast approaching extinction. A few of the old-fashioned liberals still persist – Glenn Greenwald comes to mind – but the sheer paucity of prominent examples underscores the shift that has taken place. As Ralph Nader – another survivor from the good old days – said at the Washington rally, the Obama administration has faithfully continued the Bushian foreign policy and the frontal assault on our civil liberties – and all, I might add, without any real rebellion in the “progressive” ranks. It’s like the Communist party after the signing of the Hitler-Stalin Pact – brain dead hand-raisers without an ounce of life or intelligence among the lot of them.
If the antiwar movement is to grow, it must reach out to the real America: the great American middle class, or what’s left of it. Battered by a “recession” that is in fact the first stages of a depression, angry about their loss of status and the economic and social dislocation that seems to be enveloping the entire society, the bourgeoisie is a seething mass of quite justifiable resentment. Like most ordinary Americans, they are sick and tired of sending their tax dollars and their sons and daughters overseas to fight aimless wars that never turn out as advertised. Why isn’t the antiwar movement trying to reach these people – who, after all, make up the single largest “interest group” in America?
Antiwar sentiment – and just plain anti-Establishment sentiment – is rising on the right, and certainly Ron Paul has tapped into this vein. Instead of resenting the tea partiers – and many of the original tea partiers were and are Paulians – and envying them their energy, the anti-interventionist left should be trying to plug into that power source, a much-needed form of alternative energy. A real union of left and right over the single issue of foreign wars would revive the flagging antiwar movement and pose a real challenge to the War Party for the first time in many years. The two main obstacles to that worthy goal are the Obama cult and a sold-out “liberal” leadership that has reconciled itself to the joys of power.