Protest Sign Ugliness
Tired of seeing the mass media harp on the hateful signs seen at some Tea Party rallies, John Hawkins has collected 22 “Protest Sign Reminders: What The Liberal Rallies From The Bush Years Were Like.”
Sure, enough, there were plenty of signs equating America with Nazi Germany, calling for the murder of American politicians, and expressing hatred for the Jews (or, perhaps it was OJ Simpson).
They’re not, of course, representative of the tens of thousands of peaceful protesters who opposed the Iraq War or various other policies of the Bush Administration. But neither are the signs that get called out at the Tea Party rallies. Nuts come out of the woodwork at these things and, indeed, tend to be over-represented because saner people are less likely to be motivated to show up at demonstrations and tend to have jobs to go to.
And, yes, this was my position even during the most tense days of the Iraq War debate. See, for example, my post “On Dissent” from the earliest days of this blog:
I dissent, however, from the subtext of this argument: that those who oppose this war are thereby anti-American and against our troops. Clearly, some protesters are. But I suspect most of them are well-intentioned people who are either against war in general, have misguided notions of what constitutes a legitimate threat, or have an unrealistic faith in the power of toothless diplomacy.
I think most of the protests—indeed, most demonstrations in general—are rather asinine. They accomplish nothing but disrupt traffic, waste police resources, and provide fodder for ridicule. For the most part, they elevate symbolism and emotionalism over rational debate, which I disdain regardless of the cause.
Two points, though.
“They do it too” is both true and no excuse. Leaders of protest movements have some duty to disassociate with the extremists. And it behooves them to do so, anyway, because the radicals will turn away people who might otherwise sympathize with your cause — whatever it might be.
Further, the fact that one can point to nasty signs and bad behaviors in the other side’s rallies doesn’t necessarily mean they’re morally equivalent. If one side’s protests have 50 “good” signs for every “bad” one while the other has a 15 to 1 ratio, it’s fair to say the second is nuttier.
The problem, of course, is that we’re more likely to notice the nuts on the other side and see them as representative and more likely to discount the nuts on one’s own side as fringe outliers. And I’m not sure how one would be a legitimate comparative analysis. It might be possible to do it for a given demonstration and counter-demonstration; it would be exceedingly difficult if not impossible for a “movement” as a whole.