WASHINGTON--After braving subfreezing temperatures here to urge the president to heed John Lennon (``Give peace a chance''), the 30,000 or 500,000--estimates differed; and how--at last Saturday's antiwar demonstrations returned to their suburban homes or their hotels, where they could watch HBO's live telecast of a concert by the Rolling Stones, three of whom are older than the president. Mick Jagger once said he could not imagine being 45 and still singing ``Satisfaction.'' He will soon turn 60, and so, it sometimes seems, will the unsatisfactory rhetoric of today's left.
There were some new rhetorical wrinkles in the antiwar demonstrations, such as: ``Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuhrer, Ein News Channel--Fox News.'' (Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather and Peter Jennings have a combined audience of about 31.5 million each night. Brit Hume's ``Special Report'' on Fox has about 1.2 million.) But some chants were variations of oldies but goodies: ``Hey, Bush, kiss my ass/We won't fight for the price of gas.'' (Today's U.S. average price of a gallon of regular is $1.45. The 1953 price, adjusted for inflation, was $1.95.) A Washington Post photograph of one of last Saturday's demonstrators showed an Illinois woman with ``No Nukes'' written on a face contorted by the rigors of struggling to prevent a war aimed at preventing Iraq from acquiring ...
In a process without precedent, America has been, for more than a year, walking slowly--never mind nonsensical headlines about the ``rush to war''--toward an optional war. Optional, that is, in the sense that although it is a defensible choice, it is a choice. War has not been unambiguously thrust upon us, as in 1861 by secession, or in 1917 by unrestricted submarine warfare, or in 1941 by surprise attack, or by aggression across international borders as in June 1950 or August 1990. Yet the left cannot mount a critique that rises above rock lyrics and name-calling.
Perhaps that is because a serious critique would arise from conservative sensibilities, including respect for the law of unintended consequences (which are usually larger than, and contrary to, intended consequences). And the fact that a government's ability to control events anywhere is severely limited because a community, a nation and the world are like mobiles--jiggle something here, and lots of things are set in motion over there.
But the left also is inarticulate because nowadays it is little other than an amalgam of baby-boomer nostalgia and moral vanity. Nostalgia, that is, for the days, almost four decades ago, when its political vocabulary and moral vanity were formed.
Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, announcing his opposition to the president's nomination of Judge Charles Pickering of Mississippi to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said the Bush administration is trying to turn courts into ``the sword that destroys''--yes, destroys--``basic civil rights.'' Schumer, who shares the New York stage with Sen. Hillary Clinton, must make up in shrillness what he lacks in star power, so he should not be considered guilty of sincerity in suggesting that the Bill of Rights and the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act are in peril.
Schumer was 14 in 1964; hankering for the excitements of one's youth is only human. Besides, Schumer may be one of those baby boomers who believes that their existence, in all its perfection, is the great and final goal toward which the universe has been striving since the Big Bang. Still, it should not be too much to expect that senators could make their arguments without resorting to synthetic hysteria.
Two Sunday's ago The New York Times' long lead editorial was an exercise in hyperventilation titled ``The War Against Women.'' It argued--actually, it asserted; the Times no longer argues, it hectors--that the right to legal abortions is in ``dire peril.'' The Times was understandably opaque about just how this frequently exercised right (at least 1.2 million times last year) to one of America's most common surgical procedures is going to perish.
The Times regarding abortion, Schumer and liberals like him regarding ``basic civil rights'' and the left regarding war with Iraq--all share an unarticulated, perhaps unacknowledged, but nonetheless discernable premise: Domestic freedom and international order are threatened by dark currents pulsing through the incorrigible American masses.
These currents would engulf the world, were they not held at bay by small platoons of the virtuous--the ``peace movement,'' the courts and certain editorialists. These platoons are carrying the flame from the days of segregation and Vietnam, when the going was bad and only they--or so they recall--were good.