The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Monday, January 20, 2003

Via Andrew Sullivan, I saw that "Tacitus" dropped a low-yield nuclear weapon on war-protesting bloggers. He posted grisly pictures of the victims of various tyrannical regimes supported by the Stalinist group ANSWER, organizer of the weekend anti-war rallies. Then he called out protesting bloggers by name and asked them to justify their participation.

You can imagine the ensuing flame war in Tacitus' comments section. (I can but sigh enviously; the only debates in my comments section are about whether a 3N overcall of a weak two should show a running suit.) I was interested in the debate because I was not sure whether Tacitus' monstering was justified. Here are some of the counter-arguments, and my comments thereon:

  • Oliver Willis was not shy about expressing his disdain: Your "statement"/spew/bile was the Year 2003 equivalent of "have you know or have you ever been a member of the communist party?" But Tacitus is not an inquisition, with the power to jail Willis or make him lose his job. As a private citizen, Tacitus certainly has the right to ask people if they are Communists, or support Communists, and to call them immoral if they do so. Furthermore the objection to Joe McCarthy was not that he was anti-Communist, but that he fabricated his claims that Commies had infiltrated society and government. If Tacitus said that anti-war organizers and some bloggers were infiltrated by ANSWER, you could criticize him for making sweeping claims with no evidence. But it's a fact that ANSWER organized the marches. And it's a fact that the bloggers he listed chose to attend them.

  • Hank Mylander said Again, these are the same arguments that conservatives used back in the 60's to scare people away from civil rights marches and Vietnam protests. Debate on the issues, warniks. The same issues were present in the 60's, and it was reasonable for people to raise them. Some of the 60's peace marches were pro-Communist, and the Communist regimes in Indochina wound up killing millions of people.

  • I thought Jim Henley (who marched with a sign that said "PEACE NOW! SOCIALISM NEVER!") had a lame excuse: ANSWER are batshit. They're good at applying for permits though. Is it really so difficult or expensive to apply for a permit? It's not like ANSWER is providing a stadium or a TV channel.

  • Here is what I thought to be the best of the counter-arguments, by Stephen Aquila: Tough choice: attend and drive up the numbers at what will certainly be a major event to promote your message, or don't attend and hurt both your own anti-war cause and ANSWER simultaneously. Given the lack of reporting about ANSWER in the mainstream media noted by Instapundit, the people who attended may have simply believed that, at least to the vast majority of the country that does watch the news but has never heard of ANSWER, their non-presence would indicate only approval of the war, not disapproval of ANSWER. But I have to ask, if a Nazi organization were to sponsor an anti-war rally, would all the anti-war people in America say, "I need to attend or else people will think that I am pro-war"?

Let's examine those last two arguments again. Henley and Aquila acknowledge that there is a moral problem with attending an ANSWER-sponsored rally. They believe that their choices are to attend ANSWER's party or stay home. But why not sponsor their own march? There seems to be an assumption that 10,000 protesters are ten times better than 1,000 and a hundred times better than 100. Isn't the underlying message more important than the number of people saying it?

Here is what a Tacitus commenter had to say about the protests:

Expanding on my statement to JimHenley. I worked yesterday. We have monitors about usually set to the company news, but that folks usually set to CNN when working the weekends. There were a great many 'what assholes' comments when the various placards were show. A lot of these comments came from folks that normally would not have made such comments. People whose open politics had them starting the day in support of the protests, and ending slightly green over them.

I wouldn't assume that the protests will add to the anti-war ranks quite yet.

Attending a large protest may not be the most effective way of spreading the anti-war message. It may look impressive to be seen with lots of people, but you're also being seen with a lot of morally offensive nuts. Also, while the media may cover your large protest, they are sure to focus on the most outlandish elements. It won't matter that there are fifty moderate slogans for every red-white-and-blue swaztika, because the television reports will show the swaztika and leave out the less inflammatory stuff.

Finally, consider this: Large protests are yesterday's news. They were fresh and exciting in the 60's; now they are a cliche. Regardless of your moral judgement as to whether one should boycott ANSWER, why not be practical and try something new?



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