Sunday, September 25, 2005

# Posted 8:27 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

COVERING THE COUNTERPROTESTS: Beautiful, buxom women are delightful to behold. But posting pictures of them does not constitute coverage of yesterday's counterprotests. Thus, in spite of some good photo-blogging, the puff-posts put up by conservative bloggers don't provide much in the way of information (let alone thoughtful analysis) about the counterprotests.

Given most conservatives commitment to teaching the MSM a thing or two about fairness, I think it would be a beneficial thing for them to engage in slightly more self-criticism, even if they don't have pretensions of being neutral or objective.

To its credit, the WaPo did a reasonable job of covering the counterprotests, although its account leaves out enough important things for the subject to merit a post of its own here on OxBlog. What's good about the WaPo article is that tells you both about the dignified presence of soldiers' families as well as the nastiness of some of the counterprotesters' counterattacks:
Debbie Ellsworth of Wolverine, Mich., had a framed photo of her son Justin, who was killed Nov. 13, 2004, in Al Anbar province, Iraq. "I know what kind of grief Cindy Sheehan must have because of the death of her son. I feel that same grief for my son," Ellsworth said, "but remember that she does not speak for me."...

Follow the stench down the street," [Betsy] Deming said to [the protesters] as they passed. "Follow the stench of urine and burning American flags. That's where your rally is."
What the Post fails to report is that the protesters directed that kind of remark and much worse at their counterparts. During the 30 minutes or so I spent along the line of police officers and metal fencers separating the rival groups, I constantly heard the protesters tell the counterprotesters they were Nazis and fascists.

One red-faced men even responded to a large poster that read "Duty, Honor, Country" by saying "Hitler would have loved that! Pflicht, Ehre, Land!" The man, whose prowess at translation I admire, then went around screaming "Heil Hitler!"

Another disturbingly common response by protesters was giving their critics the finger. I even saw one guy marching back in forth with his hands in the air, one with the middle-finger raised, the other with a two-fingered peace sign.

In contrast, there were some protesters who did their best to take the high road. At one point, around ten or so women locked arms and began to sing a very sweet rendition of "We Shall Overcome". (Overcome what? The insurgents' car bombs?)

One thing I didn't do that I probably should have is cover the counterprotest from its side of the metal fencing, rather than the from the protesters' side, where I was. Had I done that, I might be able to provide some better examples of offensive things that conservatives said.

But even if some of the comments were drowned out by the noise, I could read the signs, which tended to be moderate and patriotic. Among scores of signs that showed pictures of Iraqis voting and whatnot, there were a few that said things like "Hippies smell" and one bizarre poster that read "Rad fems = Neo-Marxists". What were these guys criticizing? A graduate seminar in the Harvard English department?

But the worst thing I saw was the huge banner put up by counter-protesters, according to which ANSWER coordinator "Brian Becker is a Commie". The assertion may be true, since the ANSWER leadership is filled with members of the Workers World Party, and other fringe groups.

Nonetheless, both the language of the banner and its emphasis on discrediting a specific individual bring to mind the worst sort of red-baiting from a bygone era. I think conservatives would only do themselves a favor by emphasizing ANSWER's perverse support for left-wing dictaors.

Apart from all of these specifics, I think it's important to give a better sense of the atmosphere at the counteprotest, which occupied the long block on the north side of Pennsylvania Ave. NW between 9th St. and 10th St. By the time I got there, the central mass of the protest march had long since gone by and there was just a more relaxed flow of protesters down Penn Ave.

What happened, though, was that the protesters had begun to cluster together in knots just across from the counterprotesters. The center of each knot tended to consist of one particularly loud screaming match that had drawn the attention of those on both sides. In between the knots there were smaller, more personalized confrontations, along with occasional unoccupied spaces. (Imagine the scene in the photograph above multipied along the length of a football field.)

The composition of most of the shouting knots changed slowly, as both the participants and observers on the anti-war side of the fence continued to march along the official protest route. The police also did their part to encourage forward movement, in order to prevent any of the confrontations from getting to heated.

I don't think one can really say that there was much substantive debate going on along the counterprotest block. Rather, there was a mix of condescension and lost tempers on both sides of the fence. One thing that struck me about the chants that went back forth, was how quickly they all returned to the chickenhawk debate.

One of the most popular protester responses to just about everything coming from the other side was "How come you're not in Iraq?" or "Why don't you enlist?" The general response was for the counterprotesters to point out or pull over the soldiers on their side of the fence or, alternately, the families of soldiers.

On occasion, the protesters challenged some of the soldiers to go back to Iraq if they supported the war. Once, there was even a chant of "Re-enlist! Re-enlist! Re-enlist!" Equally nonsensical was the demand of one counterprotester to know why, if the protesters cared so much about peace, they weren't in the Peace Corps.

But leaving aside such strange arguments, I think the prevalence of the chickenhawk argument does say something important the anti-war movment, namely that the only story it can tell itself about those who support the war is that they are very selfish or very naive. If this war is about blood for oil and profits for Halliburton, how could anyone support it if they aren't selfish or naive?

In contrast, mainstream Democrats know that promoting democracy is a good objective and that pulling out of Iraq may be very dangerous, even if they are 100% sure that we have already lost the war thanks to Bush's incompetence. But that kind of intellectual opposition to the war doesn't get people out in the streets.

Cindy Sheehan overcame such reluctance to a certain degree by infusing liberal arguments against the war with emotional content. But with soldiers and their families still coming out for the mission much more often than against it, Democrats can't get as outraged as they were a generation ago, when our government was forcing young men to fight and die in Vietnam. That is the invisible strength of an army of volunteers.
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