Antiwar Populism:
The Floodgates Open

It’s amusing to watch the utter powerlessness of the neocon attack machine as they try – without success – to smear Cindy Sheehan. Matt Drudge is heaving spittle at his computer screen, and Karl Rove must be having nightmares about this courageous albeit heartbroken housewife from Vacaville as she faces down his attack dogs and skewers them with the sheer simplicity and moral authority of her message. Amid all the debate and speculation – is she losing her “authenticity” as moves in on her, and the professional handlers start to hover? – antiwar conservative Pat Buchanan had the most astute (and timely) analysis on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews last night:

“Something like 60 percent of the country do not believe the president is doing a good job in leading in the war. And I think she has given a voice and a face and a certain moral authority and authenticity to this giant protest movement. And Norah [O’Donnel], I’m telling you, I believe that some Democratic candidate, or some Democratic senator or governor is going to try to step forward the way McGovern did and Gene McCarthy did to give political leadership to this movement.”

Even as Pat was speaking, his prediction was coming true: Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), a prospective Democratic candidate for president, was telling U.S. News it’s time to set a deadline – Dec. 31, 2006 – for withdrawing our troops from Iraq. He’ll make the announcement today, at a “listening session” in Marquette, Wisc. Said Feingold:

“I call what I am doing breaking the taboo. The senators have been intimidated and are not talking about a timeframe. We have to make it safe to go in the water and discuss this. A person shouldn’t be accused of not supporting troops just because we want some clarity on our mission in Iraq.”

The Democrats, Feingold avers, are too timid when it comes to confronting the president on the war, and he’s right about that: it was, after all, two Republicans, Reps. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas), who took the lead in introducing a resolution calling for the beginning of a U.S. withdrawal no later than Oct. 1, 2006 (although it was co-sponsored from the start by two Democrats, Neil Abercrombie and Dennis Kucinich, Jones, being a Republican, was more visible and took the most heat). With national polls showing support for the war plummeting, it’s time for the Democrats to play some catch-up, but the party honchos are slow to realize their opportunity – or have ideological problems with doing so. As Ari Berman, writing in The Nation, put it:

“The prominence of party leaders like [Senator Joseph C.] Biden and [Hillary] Clinton, and of a slew of other potential prowar candidates who support the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, presents the Democrats with an odd dilemma: At a time when the American people are turning against the Iraq War and favor a withdrawal of U.S. troops, and British and American leaders are publicly discussing a partial pullback, the leading Democratic presidential candidates for ’08 are unapologetic war hawks. Nearly 60 percent of Americans now oppose the war, according to recent polling. Sixty-three percent want U.S. troops brought home within the next year. Yet a recent National Journal ‘insiders poll’ found that a similar margin of Democratic members of Congress reject setting any timetable. The possibility that America’s military presence in Iraq may be doing more harm than good is considered beyond the pale of ‘sophisticated’ debate.”

That was then, however: this is now. Feingold has thrown down the gauntlet to the hawkish party hierarchs, held hostage by the quasi-neocons over at the Democratic “Leadership” Council, and the base is enthusiastic, to say the least. The country is moving faster than the know-it-all Democratic “strategists” and their policy-wonk camp followers: and even one Republican presidential hopeful is quicker on his feet. When Senator Chuck Hagel, often mentioned as a potential GOP presidential candidate in ’08, travels around his home state of Nebraska these days, he hears little else but talk of two subjects: the war and the price of oil. Hagel, like the markets, sees the connection in the aura of uncertainty created by Bush’s war and his reckless foreign policy, which, he warned earlier this year, could be “worse than Vietnam.” As he told Reuters:

“In an interview, Hagel said uncertainties over Iraq and oil prices fed off and reinforced each other. ‘The mood is one of a certain sense of unsteadiness,’ he said. … ‘I think there’s this steady unsure sense about where is this all leading – the constant daily reports on Iraq, our people being killed there, the money being spent there.'”

The real dagger pointed at the heart of the War Party isn’t the Democratic mobilization that is even now gathering to bring down the GOP, it’s the people Hagel’s been talking to back in Nebraska, all of them rock-solid Republicans. They will prove decisive in putting the war plans of the neocons on indefinite hold:

“Hagel said even some who had previously backed Bush strongly on Iraq now felt deep unease. ‘The feeling that I get back here, looking in the eyes of real people, where I knew where they were two years ago or a year ago – they’ve changed,’ he said. ‘These aren’t people who ebb and flow on issues. These are rock-solid, conservative Republicans who love their country, support the troops, and support the president.'”

The neocon radio screamers and the Fox News bleach blondes are always carrying on about how it’s “the Left” and “the leftists” who are driving rising antiwar sentiment across the country, but if you look at the polls, it just isn’t true. Paul Hackett, an Iraq war veteran and a Democrat running in a heavily Republican district, almost beat the GOP candidate in a special congressional election in Ohio, winning 48 percent of the vote, against the 52 percent won by Rob Portman, the Republican incumbent in 2004. The Republicans are running scared on the war issue, and GOPers are defecting from the ranks of the War Party in droves:

“‘There is just no enthusiasm for this war – nobody is happy about it,’ said Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-Tenn., who opposes the war. ‘It certainly is not going to help Republican candidates, I can tell you that much.’ Rep. Wayne Gilchrist, R-Md., who originally supported the war but has since turned against it, said he had encountered ‘a lot of Republicans grousing about the situation as a whole, and how they have to respond to a lot of questions back home.'”

The president, however, doesn’t have to respond to any questions: he lives in a bubble, where anyone who contradicts him is summarily exiled or otherwise intimidated into silence. Word is out that the Bush White House is beginning to resemble the place during the last days of Richard Nixon: “Buy beleaguered, overworked White House aides enough drinks,” says one wag, and

“They describe a president whose public persona masks an angry, obscenity-spouting man who berates staff, unleashes tirades against those who disagree with him and ends meetings in the Oval Office with ‘get out of here!’ In fact, George W. Bush’s mood swings have become so drastic that White House e-mails often contain ‘weather reports’ to warn of the president’s demeanor. ‘Calm seas’ means Bush is calm while ‘tornado alert’ is a warning that he is pissed at the world.”

The War Party is clearly facing a “tornado alert” this summer, as Cindy Sheehan focuses the nation’s attention on the tragic unwillingness of the leaders of both parties to confront the Iraq debacle. The mother of a fallen soldier wants to know why her son had to die – for a lie. Bush, says Hagel, is faced with a growing “credibility gap,” but if the Democrats don’t get up to speed on this issue, they, too, will be hurt by rising skepticism of our interventionist foreign policy and not only as it applies to Iraq.

Wartime often transforms party labels, rendering traditional political categories of “left” and “right,” “liberal” and “conservative” similarly meaningless. We seem to be at the beginning of some such transformative phrase.

Amid all the debate, the name-calling, and the obfuscating fog of charges and counter-charges, what is clear to ordinary folks – Republicans as well as Democrats and independents – is that there are two wings of the War Party, represented by the leadership of both “major” parties. That’s how we got into this mess to begin with, and only a break with the political patterns of the past can get us out. What is developing is a populist rebellion of the grassroots against the bipartisan pro-war elites, made possible by the emergence of a new antiwar majority in this country. Half of all Americans now believe the president “misled” – i.e., lied – them into war. A majority want out of Iraq within the next year. A third want out now.

The War Party, however, is not going to give up quite so easily. Arrayed against this antiwar “people power” personified by Cindy Sheehan is the institutional power and majesty of the pro-war Establishment. They control the party machinery, major redoubts in the media, and most of all, the vast egos of major party politicians who are loath to admit they were wrong. The pro-war politicos don’t have to have the majority behind them: they need only manipulate the levers of power and tip the balance in their favor.

As long as they can keep the people – and the voters – corralled inside the two-party system, the authors and enablers of this criminal war will probably continue in power, defying the antiwar majority. Working against them, however, is the enormous pressure brought to bear by the emotional, financial, and military costs of this war, which could finally cause the dam to break, unleashing the floodgates of antiwar sentiment in America. On that day, the entire structure and rationale for our interventionist foreign policy will be swept away, and the two major parties could count among the casualties. By 2008, as the war escalates out of control and the full measure of the disaster that’s befallen us becomes apparent, we should be ready for a Hagel-Feingold peace fusion ticket. (Feingold-Hagel? Whatever!)

Yet it would be foolish to put our trust in politicians, of either – or any – party, and that’s why grassroots demonstrations of opposition to the war are absolutely essential. The movement started by Cindy Sheehan and her supporters around the country – 1,500 vigils held on Wednesday, with more to come – is taking off like a rocket, and we at encourage our readers to attend and show their support. What’s more, we need to build the antiwar demonstrations being held Sept. 24-26: what’s needed is a massive mobilization that includes not only the usual suspects but also antiwar conservatives, military folks and their families, libertarians, and just plain ordinary people who don’t necessarily want to sign on to a whole laundry list of leftist causes. Tell the ideologues to leave their hobby horses at home: it’s time to get serious about ending this war before it escalates beyond the power of anyone to rein it in.

I have long advocated more creative ways than demonstrations, with the requisite placards and crowd-pleasing speeches, of protesting this war. Two years ago I offered up the idea of holding teach-ins across the nation, so as to educate the American public about the possibly quite horrific consequences of invading Iraq. Well, we have all been teaching ourselves by simply reading the daily headlines from Iraq and watching the slaughter on television, as that “liberated” country comes apart at the seams – and the new rulers usher in a tyranny that is different, and in some ways worse, than the one that preceded it.

It isn’t too late, however, to educate ourselves about how we got involved in this quagmire, and who exactly dragged us into it. We are learning more about that every day and will doubtless face new revelations in the future. Let’s organize this process of self-education, and do more than carry placards: it’s time to start educating the American public about how we got where we are today and how we can extricate ourselves from this enormous tragedy. Either we do that, or the disaster overtakes us…

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].