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.”

kill-bush

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.

FILED UNDER: Media, Race and Politics, US Politics, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. john personna says:

    I like the little “MY OPINION” at the top of the guy’s sign.

  2. Russ Wellen says:

    Hey, “Jail that skeeza Condoleezza” is a classic!

  3. Idiot says:

    No one said it was right when either side says truly horrible offensive things, but spare me the false indignation that civility has only been breached from the Right or the Tea Party. I don’t ever recall Dem leadership disassociating themselves from their nutters until after they were control of Congress. They were perfectly willing to egg Cindy Sheehan on,and use her status as mother who lost a son in war until Sheehan called on Dems to cut off war funding. Then, of course, they tossed her aside.

    James, where was your concern for racial civility in Saint Louis when a conservative black activist named Kenneth Gladney was beaten by SEIU thugs and called the “N” word? Maybe I didn’t check your blog that day and missed it.

    And I am just curious going forward how will anyone know if something racist is said at a Tea Party event if it came from a true supporter of the Tea Party movement or someone who is a plant?
    http://www.crashtheteaparty.org/

  4. anjin-san says:

    or someone who is a plant

    If you take away the anger and the victim mentality, does the far right still exist?

  5. James Joyner says:

    James, where was your concern for racial civility in Saint Louis when a conservative black activist named Kenneth Gladney was beaten by SEIU thugs and called the “N” word?

    I oppose activists being beaten by thugs. I don’t, however, make it a mission to document and comment on every incident.

  6. Triumph says:

    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.

    There is a major difference that you are missing here. The tea party protesters are DEFENDERS OF FREEDOM.

    The dingbats who were protesting during Bush were traitors, attacking the commander in chief during a time of war.

    The tea party is a reflection of God’s will to erase demonic influence on America.

    This path to socialist nazism that Obama is pushing is much different than Bush’s steady leadership. It demands much more trenchant critique. The anti-Bush protesters had Bush Derangement Syndrome and were wacky as the day is long.

    Tea partyists are true Americans.

  7. Idiot says:

    “I oppose activists being beaten by thugs. I don’t, however, make it a mission to document and comment on every incident.”

    Why comment on real violence and real racism when it’s the SEIU or from the Left against a black conservative as opposed to “concerns” and the “possibility” of it from the Tea Party?

    Additionally, are you concerned about the prayers by the NJ teachers’ union for the death of Governor Christie? While the comments are sarcastic in nature they don’t lend themselves to political civility, nor do their calls to 17,000 members to search for dirt on Governor Christie and Schundler.

    Politics should be civil and there have been efforts by both the Tea Party and Reps to enforce it. With the profusion of cheap video camcorders and mobile phones that can record video, why hasn’t anyone claimed Andrew Brietbart’s $100,000 reward of a Tea Party attendee using the “N” word? There will, however, always be nutters, and nutters have the right of free speech and free assembly like everyone else (as your post clearly demonstrates) and it’s impossible to keep nutters out of a public event sponsored by either the Left or the Right. The concerns from the Left about the Tea Party and calls for civility would carry more weight had they done so during Bush administration instead of feeding and profiting from the incivility to set a narrative going into the 2006 elections much like they are trying to do so now taking the opposite view that all opponents of the Dems are racist and homophobic that make too many Hitler analogies. Where were the calls of civility from the Dems and the Left against the Bush = Hitler theme or the movie, “Death of a President,” fantasizing about Bush’s assignation? Where were yours?

    I think you are trying to make your point the hard way (craps reference). Either that or your concern isn’t that sincere now.

  8. sam says:

    fantasizing about Bush’s assignation

    Dude, don’t go there. This is a family blog (if sometimes the Aadams family).

  9. Have a nice G.A. says:

    If you think that most if any T.E.A. party activists are racist you are a brain washed idiot and are whats wrong with this country.Seriously.

  10. grampagravy says:

    When I think of all the demeaning things I have seen people do on various television shows (Springer anyone?), I have to wonder how many of these nutcase protesters with ridiculous signs are just hoping to see their mugs on TV. The media lap this stuff up, and the public just loves to see how much better we they than those numbskulls. It’s win-win unless you believe the country is really that nuts.

  11. Have a nice G.A. says:

    If you take away the anger and the victim mentality, does the far right still exist?

    Anjin,LOLOLOLYou can’t seriously be trying to flip this from left to right, right, your joking right?????? oh my God you are serious,,,,,,:(

  12. spencer says:

    Now that we are some 7 years from the start of the war and it is winding down what I would love to see from someone like you is an accounting of what the US has gained from this war.

    Specifically, can you tell me how the US is better off or we have more influence in the rest of the world or we or less likely to suffer terrorist attacks.

    Second,explain how draining resources from Afghanistan where Al Quada was on the run and we actually had a good chance of capturing Ben Laden
    to attack the tooth-less tiger of Iraq that had nothing to to with 9/11 or had no WMDs improved the US position in the world.

    Lacking this, at least write something showing the benefits the US gained from defeating Iraq.

    I fully agree that creating something of a reasonable democracy in Iraq was a good thing, just show me why it was worth the lives and fortune we have spent on it.

  13. steve says:

    Well written James. I would offer only one caveat. We have a long history of anti-war protests. With your background, I would expect you to know that. War protests have often turned ugly. Protests turning ugly and nutty over policy changes seems less frequent, but I have no data, just an impression which may well be wrong.

    Steve

  14. mattt says:

    First, I disapprove of hateful rhetoric of the type that might be considered incitement to violence, from either side. That said, I think some context is in order.

    People protesting the invasion of Iraq were protesting an aggressive war of prevention (not preemption, even by Bush’s account). They believed the war was being sold dishonestly, based on trumped up “intelligence” and would lead to the deaths of tens of thousands of innocents. As someone who supported the invasion at the time, I have to admit they were right.

    The tea partiers are protesting – what, exactly? The Obama tax cuts? The bank bailouts that were undertaken by the Bush administration? A very moderate regulation of the health insurance industry, along the lines of what the GOP proposed in the 90s?

    Extremism is most worrisome when it’s divorced from reality.

  15. Michael Reynolds says:

    Proof positive there is no racism in the Tea Party movement:

    What racism?

  16. pylon says:

    Idiot went with Gladney? Really?

    The Gladney that all videos showed was perfectly fine at the time of the incident and then went on TV in a wheelchair? The Gladney that was shown to be just a guy looking for a few quick bucks?

    http://blogs.riverfronttimes.com/dailyrft/2009/09/why_i_quit_the_tea_parties_confessions_of_button_seller.php

  17. george says:

    The general rule is: its different when our side does it, because we do for good reasons.

    This is possibly the one thing both sides agree on.

  18. Have a nice G.A. says:

    The general rule is: its different when our side does it, because we do for good reasons.

    This is a silly concept, kinda like never discussing politics or religion with friends and family, surely invented by a liberal that was up to no good.

    What racism?

    Who in the great income taxed hell is this fool.

    Harry I thought you was a big backer of the Leader of Democrat party, the party of slavery and the Klan.

    Stop bring up racism it does not make any sense for you to do so.