Jewish World Review Sept. 27, 2005/ 23 Elul
When peace ain't what it used to be
Washington was hardly awash in war protest Saturday. Drizzle, maybe. The mighty march against the war in Iraq, hyped to echo the tramp of the "millions" who marched down Pennsylvania Avenue a generation ago to protest the war in Vietnam, turned out to be a waltz into nostalgia.
The yearning for the vanished years of protests past, try as the graying old warriors might, couldn't even raise a cloud of pixie dust.
As night fell, in one telling example, several of those marchers from the past, having astonished themselves with their cleverness and bravery by shouting insults and imprecations at George W. Bush as they strode past the White House, rewarded themselves at a certain downtown restaurant. One of them, high on euphoria for having settled peace on the Middle East with the work of a single afternoon, lifted a glass of pinot grigio, the replacement for Chablis as the elixir of the chic chicks, in salute to her tablemates: "Here's to friendship, sex and revolution."
A middle-aged man at an adjoining table, having had to endure an hour of overheard conversation laced with obscene clichés and windy pieties, couldn't resist a retort: "Maybe not much sex and not any revolution, but at our age, one out of three ain't bad."
True, if harsh. Gallantry in America, after all, died a long time ago, done in on the same day civility was slain, leaving only melancholy remembrance in its wake. But even the casual observer can see that anti-war marches aren't what they used to be, when the armies of the night gathered over a week of semi-thrilling anticipation and high expectation, jockeying for position and consuming vast amounts of booze (legal), smoldering substances (illegal) and beef stew splashed with enough red wine to disguise it as bourguignon. A fugitive from justice could only pine for the real thing, long gone.
Full disclosure: I was one of "the Washington 13,000," arrested at a Vietnam march of yore, when a dozen of us minding our own official business on Pennsylvania Avenue couldn't get out of the way of either the cloud of tear gas or the rattled young National Guardsman who told us that we were under arrest and to wait on the corner until a truck came by to take us to the holding pen at RFK Stadium. When he left, so did we, and I've been on the run since.
Saturday's rage at George W. seemed real enough, but the march against the Iraq war, like a march against the war in Vietnam, is the social life for a lot of frustrated folk who are excessively angry and terminally grateful for a reason to be permanently estranged from the land of the pleased and the home of the saved. They can never forgive America for bestowing on them an abundance of the good life.
The young reporters tried to recapture the sordid intoxication of the '60s they never knew, pumping empty drama into their coverage of a demonstration that was to the real thing what the Little League World Series is to the bottom of the ninth of Game 7 at Yankee Stadium. The cops have learned better than to get into arguments with march organizers over crowd estimates to be fair, 5,000 can look like 500,000 to the untrained eye and the fiction of "more than 100,000" became conventional wisdom overnight.
The usual suspects stirred what there was of the crowd, whatever its size. It was considerably less than 100,000 even counting the dogs and their fleas. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, a half-step slower and puffier than he used to be but still the equal of Arianna Huffington at bumping others out of the way when a television-network camera crew looms on the horizon, was there to make his usual rhymes without reason. The homemade posters seemed stripped of imagination: "Bush lies." And "Bush liar." And "Lies by Bush." None of these had the imagination or resonance (but all of the derivative hatefulness) of "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many babies did you kill today."
The speeches were full of the familiar vile meanness of these occasions, so that many in the crowd, drawn by the decent impulses of the kind and peaceful, occasionally winced at the rhetoric on stage. But none of it any longer has the power to sting: Marxist cant, like old Marxists, is wrinkled with mildew and age, too.
Cindy Sheehan, with neither the face nor the form of Jane Fonda, gave it her best shot, and managed yesterday to get carried off, laughing, by the White House cops when she showed up to attempt a curtain call. But celebrity without the sex, alas, is just rice without the red beans.
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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.
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