Yesterday, military veterans marched on Washington in protest of the closure of open-air memorials. Some conservative activists also joined in and gave speeches, which the Million Vet March has did not appreciate as they wanted this to be a non-partisan event.
As you might expect, the media and the Left focused all their attention on the political speakers (and a few confederate flags that were displayed) than on the quite reasonable and mostly apolitical demand that open-air memorials be opened. In fact, they’ve put more attention on a few speeches there than they have on just about any of the petty bullshit going on with the shutdown, such as forcing people out of private homes and closing private businesses because they happen to sit on federal land.
(The excuse being given for these closures is safety and liability. I’ve addressed this before, pointing out that the government has sovereign immunity from most lawsuits and no one is going to slip and fall at the Vietnam memorial who wouldn’t have slipped and fallen before the shutdown. The goes the same for the Lake Meade situation: the Lake is in no danger of flooding. Quite the opposite actually.)
The protest — which was about as non-violent as you could get — has provoked the usual shock and outrage from the usual quarters. The political protesters made this easy with the confederate flags and a demand that Obama “put down the Koran”, which was unfortunate. But it’s also a deliberate confounding of the protesting veterans with a group of tag-along politicians.
Still, even given that, the reaction to the political protest is disproportionate, to say the least. Andrew Sullivan said it was an act of rebellion and we are in a “cold Civil War” (as with most commentators he is taking the views expressed by the likes of Larry Klayman as representative of every conservative within a 3000 mile radius). Funny enough, these adjectives were not thrown out when much more aggressive and hysterical protests were held to protest the Iraq War. Or the Contract with America. Or for abortion rights. Or for gun control. Or all the way back to the Vietnam protests (when we really were in a cold civil war). To throw such epithets at a small group of political protesters is ridiculous. To throw them at a bunch of people who just want the memorials re-opened is absurd and offensive, no matter what you think of their cause.
Even if you disagreed with what Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz were saying, so what? People peacefully marching on Washington for whatever reason is a good thing. It’s not revolution or disobedience: it’s our right and duty as Americans to express our views. Abortion protesters have been protesting Roe v. Wade for forty years. They know they have little hope of ever overturning the law. But they feel the issue is important enough that they have to say their piece and maybe persuade some people to their side. What on Earth is wrong with that? That Obamacare is “settled law” means nothing. As far as I’m concerned, if you think a law is bad, you can peaceful protest it all by yourself until the Sun goes dark. You don’t need anyone’s permission, approval, or sanction to go to Washington and say you think our leadership stinks.
As far as the politicians go, I agree with Friersdorf, with the caveat that I only think this about the sub-protest with the politicians, not the main protest with the veterans. After supporting their overall intention of re-opening the monuments, he notes:
What actually bothers me most about this little rally is what it says about the priorities of Tea Party leaders like Cruz and Sarah Palin, and the rank-and-file conservative activists who trudged out to the World War II Memorial to protest its closure. They speak the language of liberty in expressing outrage at the metal barricades, insisting that it’s an insult to soldiers who risked their lives to beat the fascists.
Meanwhile, the Veterans Affairs Department has furloughed almost 8,000 employees (half are veterans). Its backlog of disability applications has been increasing for the duration. “The Pentagon says it no longer has authority to pay death gratuities—which is typically a cash payment of $100,000—to the survivors of servicemembers killed in action,” CBS reported last week. (Since then, Congress has passed and President Obama has signed a bill reinstating the benefit). And even when the federal government is functioning normally, it fails to adequately care for the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, who are suffering from high rates of suicide, PTSD, and joblessness, in large part due to the wars of choice they were asked to fight and that conservatives, who are still allied with a faction of haws urging even more wars of choice, overwhelmingly backed.
What I think, when I see that memorial closures are the thing that gets conservatives in the streets, is that movement leaders and rank-and-file activists alike cannot be counted on to identify and take on the most serious issues facing veterans, or the most serious threats to liberty. Instead they spend their time seizing on symbolic issues that promise to result in the best optics for a given news cycle—World War II veterans traveled to Washington and can’t visit the memorial dedicated to them! Think what victory would mean in this instance: The barricades would come down, which will happen anyway as soon as the government reopens. In other words, there’s no substantive upside for this particular rally, whether you’re concerned about benefitting veterans or safeguarding liberty. It was held so that Cruz and Palin could aggrandize themselves, so that conservatives could revel in their self-image as liberty loving patriots who honor veterans, and so that the Obama Administration would look bad. Protests are nothing more than political theater for these people. Or if they actually intend to effect change, their strategy verges on nonsensical.
Veterans marching on Washington is great. I hope they come out more often … not just for this but for all veterans issues. I hope they also come out whenever our leaders are flogging a stupid pointless war or shredding our liberty with ever more surveillance. Good on them.
Opportunistic politicians who helped create the problem in the first place preening for the cameras? No thank you.