A Scream Looking for a Mouth
The anti-war forces in America have blundered, and it’smaking them lose the war — for our hearts and minds.
The problem is the demonstrations. By their very nature,public rallies of this sort tend to reduce issues to black-and-whiteoversimplifications, fueled by a need to dramatize and emotionalize for maximumeffect.
Unfortunately for the demonstrators, this issue is hardlyblack and white. Anyone who has scanned editorials over the past few months cantell you that this is a heart-wrenching subject, with strong arguments on bothsides. But angry demonstrators who yell, scream and demonize President GeorgeW. Bush with signs like “Bush is the real terrorist” end up undermining theircredibility and, ultimately, their cause.
For anti-war demonstrations to be effective, they need aclear bad guy, no strings attached. Bush is not that guy. You can criticize himall you want — for failing to make his case for war, not giving sanctionsenough time, being arrogant, etc. — but you can’t look like you hate him morethan an evil tyrant who has murdered and tortured thousands of his own people.
Therein lies the blunder. The anti-war demonstrators seem tohave forgotten the one person who would have made a fabulous target for an”anti” rally: Saddam Hussein. Against that kind of evil, it would be perfectlyacceptable to simplify and dramatize. I can’t imagine ever accusing someone ofexaggerating a critique of Saddam Hussein.
I can even see the signs: “Saddam Must Go,” “Free the 30Million Iraqis,” “Iraqi Women’s rights,” “We don’t need another Hitler,” “Nonegotiating with Evil” and so on. You can disagree with the decision to go towar, but you can’t disagree that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant who must go.
By choosing to demonize Bush, the anti-war forces have lettheir hearts rule their minds. They have forgotten what the majority ofAmericans intuitively understand: that there is another, more vicious war goingon — the war that Saddam Hussein has waged on his own people for decades. Thatwar may not be as visible on CNN, but it’s real, and it’s disingenuous to looklike you ignore it.
All this makes me wonder if there are other factors behindthis seemingly blind and single-minded hatred of Bush. We live in aconsumer-based society where we are used to being pandered to and seduced,where we judge personalities more than we judge issues. But Bush doesn’tseduce. It’s quite possible that his morally righteous, cowboy personality is atotal turnoff to these anti-war demonstrators, and they can’t see past thatunpleasant veneer to give him any credit for noble intentions.
It’s also true that public demonstrations have always had aromantic pull for those looking for a more meaningful and dramatic life. Andgoing against war is as romantic and dramatic as it gets. Who cares if we areexaggerating or simplifying or demonizing? In a feel-good culture, yellingagainst war can feel really good.
The side effect of all this yelling is that it kills honestdebate. It’s easier to yell than to think. Thinking, balancing and debating maybe the more appropriate course, but it won’t get you on the evening news. Theresult is the appearance of a polarized world, where you are either for oragainst, no questions asked. That’s not democracy at its best.
I have a suggestion for demonstration-seekers. If you’regoing to yell against something in three-second sound bites, pick a true evilto yell against that requires little or no nuance. Otherwise, if you’regenuinely against the war and you’re a scream looking for a mouth, scream for somethingpositive like peace. It may be superficial and naive — especially now that thewar is well underway — but at least you won’t lose the credibility that comesfrom demonizing the wrong demon.
David Suissa is founder and CEO of Suissa MillerAdvertising, and founder/editor of OLAM magazine and the activist site