Friday, April 17, 2009

The other side's protests are never legitimate

The usual suspects came out of the woodwork to attack the hordes who braved occasionally hideous weather to protest against taxes, government spending and a sometimes messy array of other perceived policy flaws. The tea parties don't represent legitimate grassroots grievances, the critics charge, or they've been taken over by nutcases who just don't like the president. This is all par for the course. Some pundits don't like it when amateurs dabble in political speech; others can't believe that any significant segment of the country would dare to disagree with them.

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, long-time political commentator Marc Cooper says:

Whip out your Lipton and don your tinfoil hat and join the protest against ... against ... against what exactly? ...

Then again, this rash of tea parties is being organized not only by the pseudo-journalists at Fox News (with Glenn Beck, Neil Cavuto and Sean Hannity actively stoking the flames) but also by FreedomWorks, a conservative lobbying outfit headed by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey. I suppose it was Armey's constitutional if morally dubious privilege to have built an entire political career out of defending the wealthy.

We get it, Marc. The protesters don't repesent your concerns, and the protests were pulled together by people you don't like, so never mind that simultaneous demonstrations drew large crowds across the country.

To Cooper's credit (if you can call it that), he has the virtue of being consistent. Back in 2002, when anti-war sentiment was the grassroots cause of the moment, he took demonstrators to task for being organized by the wrong people and for incorporating extraneous concerns. In the pages of the LA Weekly, he wrote:

For fundamentalist is the most polite and diplomatic characterization I can attach to a small choir of leftists who as much as declared jihad on me and a couple of other writers when we suggested that at least a tad of critical thought should be applied in building a peace movement.

With the Bushies blindly pushing for conflict with Iraq, we had argued, it's going to take a very big, a very broad and — yes — a very mainstream anti-war movement to maintain the peace....

Just as I don't want George Bush making war in my name, I don't want apologists for Saddam Hussein like Ramsey Clark going on TV anymore speaking in my name for peace.

In the future, we should let Marc organize all our protests so that they're more photogenic and promote the right message.

That's not to say that radicals and nuts didn't attach themselves to the peace movement -- they did. But that comes with the territory when protest movements aren't pre-packaged, but take on a life of their own. If it's any consolation, tea partiers embarrassed by the presence of immigrant-bashers and conspiracy theorists can point to the communists and dictator-strokers who plagued opponents of the war in Iraq.

Most criticism of the peace movement came from pro-government conservatives, though, who sought to marginalize anti-war activism as if real Americans couldn't possibly oppose military adventurism. Back then, Rush Limbaugh accused anti-war protesters of raising phony concerns and said that politicians questioning U.S. involvement in Iraq were "insulting soldiers all over the place."

David Horowitz said protesters had a "desire to hurt this country and its citizens."

These days, we have Paul Krugman claiming the tea party protesters are full of "crazy stuff" and that "the tea parties don’t represent a spontaneous outpouring of public sentiment. They’re AstroTurf (fake grass roots) events..."

Dana Milbank charges that the anti-tax protests were a "washout" that served up a "noxious brew" with "sinister overtones."


The fact is that, when thousands and tens of thousands of people show up to express their opinions and their anger, the grassroots are speaking. It's not all the grassroots of course; populations don't speak with one voice or hold one opinion. But all the efforts of George Soros or Newt Gingrich can't make people turn out to carry signs and listen to speakers in the rain if those people aren't ticked off about something.

Delegitimizing broad-based political opposition is an old tactic. Some people, like Marc Cooper, do it because they're elitists who don't trust the grassroots with something so powerful as opinions of their own. And others, like Krugman, Milbank, Limbaugh and Horowitz, are cynical political apparatchiks, who attempt to strip legitimacy from any movement that doesn't support their own ideas. They're especially aggressive in their tactics when defending a status quo that represents their own ideology.

Whatever their motivation, people who would deny public participants in the political process the authenticity of their own viewpoints have nothing of value to say themselves.

Whether or not you agree with the sentiments expressed by the participants, yesterday's tea parties were just as legitimate and grassroots as last year's anti-war protests. They may be right, or they may be wrong, but they're real.

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