IT'S A SIGN of how bad things have gotten for the anti-war left that at yesterday's "Prominent Citizens Oppose War with Iraq" press conference, a large placard sat next to the panelists at the front of the room that read: "UN Inspections--Not U.S. War." A little free marketing advice: "Make Love, Not War" was a lot catchier.
The event at the National Press Club in downtown Washington was sponsored by a host of mainstream lefty (is that an oxymoron?) organizations--among them the National Council of Churches, and NOW. It's clear they're in a bind. On the one hand, they hate George W. Bush. But Saddam Hussein, who is quite wicked to women and homosexuals and other minorities, doesn't make a good victim.
Thus, the prominent citizens on display yesterday have decided to take this brave stand: They're for the United Nations and against war. The speeches were hardly inspirational:
-Robert Borosage, the co-director of the Campaign for America's Future: "Americans have no desire for a pax Americana."
-Jonathan Dean, a former ambassador: "The only two ways to achieve a peaceful outcome in Iraq are U.N. inspections or voluntary abdication."
-Ben Cohen, of Ben & Jerry's fame, gave "a business person's view of the war." We could, he said, spend the $90 billion that the war is projected to cost and "double America's foreign-aid budget . . . or have public financing of America's elections for two years."
-The religious left, in the person of Linda Fuller, of Habitat for Humanity, asked, "Can you imagine the difference if we voted, as a nation, to pray for Osama bin Laden?" Fuller then recounted a story about her son. Evidently, when he was a young boy there was another kid in the neighborhood who always bullied him. Confronted with what to do about this bully, Fuller convinced her son to invite him to his birthday party. The bully came to the party, and afterwards, the two were fast friends. Paul Wolfowitz, take note.
Fuller concluded: "God Bless America? Yes. But today I call on America to bless God." I'm not sure what she meant, but I'm pretty certain the People for the American Way wouldn't like it.
-The most memorable thing about the presentation of NOW's Olga Vivas was Vivas's job title. She's the "Action Vice President" at the National Organization for Women. (Is that like an action figure? Does she come with kung-fu grip? Shouldn't Dick Cheney demand the same title?) But she did have the best red meat of the day, saying that it isn't radical Islam, but rather "U.S. foreign policy" that "has already contributed to" the "oppression" of women in the Middle East. Besides, she asked, "Isn't there terror being inflicted on the women and children of the United States" by Bush's domestic policy?
Full disclosure: I went to this event hoping to be disturbed and wasn't. At least not by the speakers. But they might have been disturbed by the crowd they drew, which was further to the left, and with which they seemed out of touch. The question and answer session that followed wasn't about some namby-pamby, progressive, pro-U.N. triangulation--for the most part it featured people who either identified with Saddam Hussein's Iraq, hated America, or both.
Since sanctions have killed "at least a million Iraqis over the last eleven years," asked one person, how will U.N.-led inspections or military action be any better?
Another questioner, who identified herself as a "political psychologist," stood to make the argument that in his taped messages, Osama bin Laden hasn't been threatening America, just giving us fair warning. Also, she added, "Iraq is a threatened nation, rather than a threatening one."
The self-styled CEO of a group called Reparations Now stood up and said he wanted the "$200 billion" earmarked for the war to be used as a "down payment" to black Americans for slavery. He told the panel that he thought this would be a good position for liberals to confront the administration with. The panelists stared back at him blankly.
Then the Minister Imir Mohamed, of Black Power Nation, stood up and gave an impassioned speech about how the "United States has committed the greatest of war crimes and atrocities against black people."
The Prominent Citizens looked like they would rather be anywhere else.
Jonathan V. Last is online editor of The Weekly Standard.