The Anti-War Left and the Democratic Party: A Warning to Conservative Activists

Considering the results of a straw poll at this year's DailyKos Netroots Nation conference, Byron York wonders what happened to the anti-war movement. He writes:
As part of a straw poll done at the convention, the Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg presented participants with a list of policy priorities like health care and the environment. He asked people to list the two priorities they believed "progressive activists should be focusing their attention and efforts on the most." The winner, by far, was "passing comprehensive health care reform." . . . And what about "working to end our military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan"? It was way down the list, in eighth place . . . It's an extraordinary change in the mindset of the left. I attended the first YearlyKos convention, and have kept up with later ones, and it's safe to say that for many self-styled "progressives," the war in Iraq was the animating cause of their activism. They hated the war, and they hated George W. Bush for starting it. Or maybe they hated the war because George W. Bush started it.
Reading York's piece I was reminded of an old joke, maybe you've heard it. Late one night, a drunkard is searching for his lost keys under a street lamp with great difficulty. A passerby comes to the man's aid and asks him where he dropped them. The drunk unsteadily points to the other side of the street. Perplexed, the stranger asks: "Well, why are you looking for them here then?" The drunk replies: "Because there's no light over there." In seeking out the anti-war movement at what amounts to a minor Democratic Party conference, York is effectively no different from the drunk looking for his lost keys under the lamppost because the light is better there. So far as I can remember, the Democratic Party was rarely, if ever, involved in organizing the various mobilizations against the Iraq war. Their presidential candidate in 2004 did not even oppose the war, he opposed the Bush administration's handling and management of it.

To his credit, York does point out that Cindy Sheehan continues to protest the Democratic-Republican warfare state, writing: "She's still protesting the war, and on Monday she announced plans to demonstrate at Martha's Vineyard, where President Obama will be vacationing." Sheehan, of course, left the Democratic Party years ago for its unwillingness to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and even ran against Nancy Pelosi, from the left, for a seat in Congress in 2008, garnering a respectable 16% of the vote. Sheehan got in contact with York following the publication of his article. In his follow-up post, he writes:
Sheehan will be in Washington October 5, for a protest at the White House to mark the eight anniversary of the start of the war in Afghanistan. Not only is the president escalating the war there, she said, but he's not withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq as quickly as he originally promised. "That's why I was opposed to him," she said.
From the very beginning the anti-war movement was organized by a coalition of third party organizations and independent left-wing groups. Having successfully hijacked the message and momentum of this movement in the elections of 2006 and 2008, the Democrats have ceased paying lip service to the countless grassroots activists who did the work to create that momentum in the first place. This outcome should serve as a lesson to the many newly energized activists on the conservative right, who may be tempted to throw in their lot with the Republican Party in future elections. Nonetheless, the anti-war movement is still alive and well. This past April, upwards of 10,000 people marched against the global warfare and corporate welfare state in NYC, as reported at United for Peace and Justice. The coalition of labor groups, peace organizations and third party activists denounced Republicans and Democrats alike. The Socialist Workers Party, for instance, was out in force. Their candidate for mayor, Dan Fein, addressed the crowds with a bullhorn, stating in part: "You can't have capitalism without war . . . The right wing, the Republicans, that's not our problem, the two party system is our enemy." From the video below:

Update: The anti-war position also continues to gather strength. The Washington Post reports today: "Public Opinion in US turns Against the War".
A majority of Americans now see the war in Afghanistan as not worth fighting, and just a quarter say more U.S. troops should be sent to the country . . . Among all adults, 51 percent now say the war is not worth fighting, up six percentage points since last month and 10 since March. Less than half, 47 percent, say the war is worth its costs. Those strongly opposed (41 percent) outweigh strong proponents (31 percent). Opposition to the Iraq war reached similar levels in the summer of 2004 and deteriorated further, through the 2006 midterm elections, becoming issue No. 1 in many congressional races that year.


Samuel Wilson said...

York might have clarified things if he could cite Kos polls from previous years that ranked ending the war as a higher concern for these professed Democrats than it is now. Nevertheless, his subjective impression seems right to me, and it may be mirrored by Republican disillusionment with what's now "Obama's war," depending on how the poll stats. cited by the Post break down. Republicans always complain about the hypocrisy of the other side, but their own evolving stance on Afghanistan should be scrutinized very closely. Unfortunately, partisanship has reached the point at which "who benefits?" suspicions will outweigh objective calculations of national interest within the Bipolarchy. Your own main point is correct that York should have sought consistent opposition to the wars elsewhere.

d.eris said...

Yes, that's a good point re: Afghanistan. Especially since it has garnered more attention in the last few weeks, with the rise in violence leading up to the elections.