TAC’s Dan McCarthy, who opposed the Iraq War from the beginning and who is today antiwar, points out that antiwar activists don’t do what they do very well. Excerpt:
But in mass politics perception counts. Vietnam protesters had a bad reputation with much of the public, and Iraq protesters who aped their activism naturally came in for the same rep. And even beyond those associations, what was a normal person meant to think about protesters with puppets? For “Sesame Street,” puppets may be an effective education tool, but adults aren’t accustomed to thinking about foreign policy—to the extent they think about it at all—in terms of following whomever demonstrates the most impressive papier-mâché skills.
When I make this argument to left-wingers, I’m typically met with one of the following responses. 1.) “We have to do something!”—as if doing something that’s ineffective or counterproductive earns brownie points. 2.) “That’s a smear!”—you bet it’s a smear, but what are you doing to establish a more sympathetic image in the public’s mind instead? 3.) “Well, what do you suggest?”—what I suggest is not something any “activist” wants to hear: don’t take any action until you understand public opinion in some detail and can relate every individual tactic you propose to a specific, demonstrated mechanism that gives it a chance to be effective.
Dan points out that it wasn’t the antiwar movement that ended the Iraq War; it was “sheer fatigue.” There is, he says, lots of antiwar sentiment in the country today (= skepticism of and opposition to an activist foreign policy), but it’s inchoate, and nobody has yet figured out how to turn it into something that normal people want to associate with.
Question to the room: what would an effective antiwar movement look like? What would it have to do, how would it have to present itself to be taken seriously?