Wanted: Unruly Activists
The first thing the members of Congress did before they heard the testimony of General David Petraeus, the Administration's new political point man on the war, was to throw the members of Code Pink out of the room. The Code Pinkers are those obnoxious females wearing their eponymously colored T-shirts with end-the-killing slogans on them.
The women of Code Pink are liable to pop up at any solemn public gathering demanding peace at the top of their voices. They are unable to understand that elected officials are better informed and wiser than they are and thus they mistakenly dis people important enough to warrant bodyguards.
During Code Pink's brief moment in the sun, several Republican members of Congress groused to House Arms Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D. Mo) about the scandalous trouble-makers. American politicians, who these days are equipped with security details, have come to regard political heckling as a misdemeanor of greater gravity even than making a pass at an undercover cop in a men's room. Heckling used to be an inseparable part of public debate and, once upon a time, a politician was judged in part by his ability to come through with the kind of humorous riposte that sets audiences to laughing and the hecklers to the sidelines. Lincoln, Churchill and Disraeli were masters at it.
The Code Pinkers are playing what ESPN would call Extreme or X-politics. X-politicians make noise, bust up meetings, chain themselves to furniture, do the big floppola in front of the security personnel and wail like hell when they are dragged off. Most of us are incapable of playing X-politics, but thank God the women of Code Pink are not.
You don't play X-politics because you want a new school superintendent or a stop sign on your block. You play it when it's about war, about dying, maiming and mass misery on a scale too large for any mind to encompass. You play it because the war party always has all the drums and all the bugles and all the flags. You play it because somebody has to smash through, be the truth-teller. And it's not going to be people with normal temperatures and Anglo-Saxon inhibitions.
X-politics is only for the lion-hearted. Samuel Adams played it at the Boston Massacre and the wildest, craziest and yet most essential X-politician in our history was John Brown, Old Potawatamie, who ended dangling from a noose, the North's most electric abolitionist martyr.
An X-politician does not have to lead an armed insurrection, but he or she must do something that enflames indignation and ignites anger. On a small scale that is what Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr did. He's the man who was gang-tackled by the Capitol cops to keep him out of the hearing room. Put your hands together and give it up for the Reverend as you watch the seven-minute video of his encounter with Capitol Hill's finest.
MoveOn.org plays its own, somewhat more sedate brand of X-politics. The day before the hearings it kicked war partisans in the shins with a full-page New York Times ad, with a headline that screamed, "General Petraeus or General Betray Us?". It drove the likes of Orrin Hatch (R. UT) to offering resolutions of condemnation and denunciations of MoveOn.org's wickedness for suggesting the General cannot be counted to tell the whole truth.
(In the interest of full disclosure, the writer confesses to having sent MoveOn.org a small contribution immediately after having read that ad.)
A newspaper ad alone could not have so convincingly disseminated the thought that Petraeus had moved from being a four-star general to being a four-star Republican politician. For that the ad had to provoke a furious reaction from the war lovers.
The essence of X-politics, whether it's Cindy Sheehan or Eli Pariser, one of MoveOn.org's better known people, is to use the other sides' rage, money and status against itself.
May Code Pink strike again. And again.
Nicholas von Hoffman is the author of A Devil's Dictionary of Business, now in paperback. He is a Pulitzer Prize losing author of thirteen books, including Citizen Cohn, and a columnist for the New York Observer.
© 2007 The Nation