Entry from October 6, 2009

The media haven’t yet fallen out of love with President Obama, but they’re beginning to ask themselves whether or not criticism of President Obama from the left is a serious news story and, if it is, how it should be treated. For now it remains pretty much a joke, but there are hints and warnings offered to the Obamites that they had better watch their step. In Dana Milbank’s “Washington Sketch” snark-fest in The Washington Post today, for example, the itinerant columnist turns up at the small anti-war demonstration that took place yesterday in McPherson Square, just outside my window in Washington D.C., and writes that

the remarkable thing about this familiar antiwar demonstration is that it occurred Monday, and the target was not George W. Bush but the White House’s current occupant. Protesters’ signs carried Obama-specific barbs: “Change? What Change?” “The Audacity of War Crimes.” “Yes We Can: U.S. Out of Afghanistan.” Several of the demonstrators had T-shirts showing a missile labeled “Obomba” and the question “Is it really OK if Obama does it?”

Actually, it’s not that remarkable that the target was not George W. Bush, as he is now in Texas and not running things anymore. In case you hadn’t heard. Mr Milbank, I’m guessing, just finds it difficult to get his mind around the idea of anti-war protests aimed at President Obama. That may also be why he can’t imagine that the demonstrators were ever really pro-Obama. Whistling past the graveyard, he notes that they “were Green Party types with some self- proclaimed socialists thrown in, and they had never been enthusiastic Obama supporters to start with.”

Yet, he does think that this rag-tag band of hippies, who included Cindy Sheehan (remember her?), may portend genuinely disturbing protests ahead. “What the president should worry about is whether these activists are indicators of bigger things to come if he sides with his generals and decides to bulk up the U.S. force in Afghanistan.” Consider yourself warned, Mr President. Losing Afghanistan is to be preferred to losing the peaceniks of MoveOn.org and the netroot brigades. Right now, they’re just having a hard time getting out of the habit of protest, but just see what happens if you give them something to protest about — by, for example, listening to your own appointed commander in the theatre or sticking by your emphatic insistence of only a few months ago that this was “A War of Necessity.”

For those of us who are less solicitous about the President’s retaining his left-wing credentials, something else might pop out at us from the demonstration. Mr Milbank writes that one of the speakers, Liz McAlister, “spoke of a nation ‘where leader follows leader from bad to worse — as though by a malign law of nature, one ruler, evil or stupid or violent, breeds another, more evil or stupid or violent.’” Likewise, and contradicting his own view that these weren’t strong Obama partisans to begin with, he quotes another demonstrator: “I’m disappointed, approaching betrayal,’ said an organizer of the march, Jeremy Varon of Witness Against Torture. Once an avid Obama supporter, he now charges that the president is ‘giving a level of legitimacy to the Bush policies.’”

Too bad this is all just sloganeering, or Liz and Jeremy might have asked themselves why this is. Why, when a man is running for office, does he say that the wars of his predecessor are wicked and misconceived but, when he gets in office, continues them as if there had been no change of government? Is it because there is something in the water at the White House which turns good men bad or smart men stupid as soon as they enter it? Or is there, rather, something about the realities of power that has a sobering effect on the kind of superheated moralized rhetoric still so beloved of the antiwarriors? Maybe their idea of evil men making war for corrupt reasons doesn’t stand up so well when the moralizers actually have to put themselves in the allegedly evil men’s place? You’d think that some of them — or maybe Mr Milbank himself — would at least consider the possibility.


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