Ex Bibliotheca

The life and times of Zack Weinberg.

Wednesday, 19 March 2003

# 8:35 PM

It has been clear for some time that there would be war between the USA and Iraq. And yet, I was holding out hope that some sort of miracle would happen. It was possible, for instance, that I would have woken up today to find that Tony Blair had lost a vote of confidence and resigned. That might have gotten someone's attention. But instead we find that (despite a backbencher revolt) the House of Commons voted to support UK participation in the war by a substantial majority. Attempts in the US Congress to withdraw support for war have not even gotten off the ground. And media-reported polls hover around 65% support for war among American citizens.

The war itself is not really the problem, anyway. The problem is the absence of a credible, principled left in the states. In this light I shall quote this article by George Lakoff:

First, the anti-war movement, properly understood, is not just, or even primarily, a movement against the war. It is a movement against the overall direction that the Bush administration is moving in. Second, such a movement, to be effective, needs to say clearly what it is for, not just what it is against.

George being George, he takes an awful long time to come to the point; you'll find that paragraph near the bottom of the article. Justin Raimondo is a better rhetorician: his article on the same subject dispenses with analysis (which is interesting and all but frankly will bore many readers to tears) and goes straight to the constructive suggestions:

Nothing is wrong with peaceful and legal protests on the day war breaks out, but the advocates of disruption who self-righteously howl "No business as usual!" and advocate illegal acts have got to be told off, in no uncertain terms. How dare they endanger the rest of us, and subject the organized antiwar movement to State repression at a fateful moment like this?! It's outrageous, and impermissible.

...We're going to war without having a real debate, either in the Congress or in the country: this is often said by the antiwar opposition. Well, then, instead of preaching to the converted, let's challenge the other side: I propose a series of town hall debates at which we confront the advocates of war, right and left, and expose them in full view of the American people.

If you dig through the sound and fury on the "backtalk" link on that page, you will find counterarguments to the above suggestion, along the lines of "why should anyone expect the war advocates to listen to debates?" Which I think is a valid criticism as far as it goes, but the point of such debates isn't to get the opponent to change his or her mind, it's to win support from the audience. And support from the audience — that is to say, the American people — is precisely what the antiwar advocates need. The former President Bush got his war in Iraq, but he didn't get a second term in the White House.

Timothy Burke echoes Raimondo with a couple zingers of his own:

Prudence, patience and planning are what's needed now. That's what has worked for the Republican grassroots: ever since Barry Goldwater's defeat, they've been organizing steadily, laying down deep connections with actually existing communities, thinking about what kinds of rhetoric carries water in the public sphere, and disciplining or ignoring errant nutcases and fringe elements. If you want to exact a price for this war, led in the way that it has been, you're going to have to be similarly focused.

Shifting gears a bit, Jon Carroll's column last week was about wearing "flowing ethnic garb" (the baban riga, which is the Nigerian equivalent of a business suit) around the city, and the reactions he got. Mostly rather disappointing:

A guy got out of a PG&E truck and walked across the street. "You're a brave man to be wearing that," he said.

"It's Nigerian," I said, feeling desperate.

"It's that Muslim thing," he said. "I wouldn't wear it outside."

So I want to suggest a quiet sort of protest in the classic Discordian fashion: Everyone go out on the street wearing clothes which originated with an ethnic community which is (a) not your own, and (b) looks vaguely Middle Eastern to the average yob on the street. For instance, I'll be wearing my sarong when I go out this afternoon. (Over my shirt and pants. It's cold out there.)