Reading about anti-Bush protests in London reminds me that the Republican National Convention will be held next summer in New York City, where a lot of people are Democrats, against the war, and angry about federal economic policies, from the big tax cuts to the scanty post-9/11 aid for New York. I hope there will be massive protests, but I hope that the organizers will heed the following message, which Harry Boyte saved from the March on Washington in 1963. In the program guide, Dr. Martin Luther King and the other organizers wrote: “In a neighborhood dispute there may be stunts, rough words, and even hot insults; but when a whole people speaks to its government the dialogue and the action must be on a level reflecting the worth of that people and the responsibility of that government.”
Specifically, I hope that the dominant tone in New York is one of sober disagreement with the incumbent administration and its explicit, declared values (e.g., opposition to taxes, unilateral preemptive warfare, and limitations on civil rights). I hope that the major images from New York City do not show protesters attacking symbols of capitalism or denouncing Bush as a war criminal or profiteer.
First of all, those positions do not impress me personally. Starbucks is not a symbol of an economic system that we should overturn, although I’m all for reform. The legal justification for invading Iraq was dubious, but the president is not a war criminal, nor did he authorize an invasion to increase oil profits. In any case, I don’t think that such rhetoric will have any resonance with mainstream Americans. People see Bush as principled and honest, but possibly superficial, inexperienced, and just plain wrong about some important matters, economic and military. So it’s very important to engage him on what he says, rather than rely on personal attacks or conspiracy theories to turn people against him.
In the Guardian newspaper, Harold Pinter writes, “Dear President Bush, I’m sure you’ll be having a nice little tea party with your fellow war criminal, Tony Blair. Please wash the cucumber sandwiches down with a glass of blood, with my compliments.” Just about the only thing that can make me defend George W. Bush is this kind of rhetoric; and I think my visceral sentiments may be in line with American public opinion.