“A little rebellion now and then is a good thing.” – Thomas Jefferson
A few weeks ago – right around the time that he and Nancy Pelosi ordered superdelegates to rally around Barack Obama – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid came to speak at the Commonwealth Club. He has a new book out, one that chronicles his journey from a ridiculously impoverished childhood to success on Capitol Hill. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen or heard the senate majority leader; he just might be the most unassuming, mild-mannered (meek) politician in Washington. Plugging his book on “The Daily Show” a few days earlier, the senator was weirdly unresponsive; Jon Stewart had to stop short of waving a hand in front of his face and asking if he was still awake. Basically, you wouldn’t expect him to invoke the vitriol of the far Left. You’d think that they’d save that for one of the Club’s (many) conservative speakers. If that’s the case, maybe you’ve never heard of Code Pink.
You know, Code Pink? According to their website, they’re “a women-initiated grassroots peace and social justice movement working to end the war in Iraq, stop new wars, and redirect our resources into healthcare, education and other life-affirming activities.” Which is all well and good; I don’t like war and I’m all for life-affirming activities. But their methods overshadow their message, and with tactics like screaming incoherently in the middle of congressional hearings and staging demonstrations on the streets of the-most-liberal-city-in-the-country Berkeley, I often find them downright frustrating. Watch this clip for a mocking explanation as a few writers from “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” protest Code Pink-style. Or watch the Rob Riggle piece I’ve embedded below, particularly the last thirty seconds. I think it gives you a pretty good idea.
There were a couple of police officers at the Harry Reid talk, and as we filed in I noticed that they were focusing on a few women sitting up near the front. Ten minutes into the conversation, Reid said, “I believe that the invasion of Iraq was the worst foreign policy blunder in the history of our country.” Moments later, two enormously tall officers swooped in and started to (gently) physically remove these women from the room. The high-pitched yelling began: “He’s throwing me out for doing nothing! Harry Reid, why is this man doing this to me? Why is he pulling me out of here? Because he thinks I’m going to ask you why you keep funding the war?” Pretty soon they started a chant of, “Who will stop the war? Not Harry!” The moderator, a local news guy, took it all in stride: “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to continue. We knew there’d be…something of a disruption. That’s fine, people have the right to express themselves.” And before we knew it, they were gone, escorted out of the Club.
Okay, these are perfectly valid questions. Why hasn’t anything happened in the year and a half since the Democrats won the majority? Is Harry Reid to blame? But I just don’t understand the logic of screaming in a room full of educated, relatively liberal-minded people. It was a joke; Reid and the moderator waited patiently as the women were dragged from the room and the audience exchanged a collective eye roll. You can hear the interruption clearly on the audio that was distributed to hundreds of radio stations, but I’d bet that the average NPR listener had the same reaction. I understand that he was easy access, and there was national media there and all that, but what was the point? Exposure? Fame? Harassment? The women had come from an early morning shouting match outside Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco home. Equally effective, I’m sure.
The outbursts at the Reid conversation are on my mind because I was recently transcribing a speech by Rick Wagoner, the chairman and CEO of General Motors. Yeah, there are plenty of reasons to be upset with GM, but when two people stood up and started shouting on top of each other, something incoherent about electric cars and lies and the year 2012, Wagoner paused, chuckled a little, and said, “We appreciate the passion for the topic, and we share it.” The audience laughed and he continued his (prepared) remarks as if nothing had happened. These people probably weren’t connected to Code Pink, but they used the same tactics. I respect the passion, but with reactions like those of Wagoner and the audience, doesn’t it sting more than if they’d kept silent?
Generally, I’m not opposed to protesting. In high school, I stood on street corners holding signs that said “Peace is Patriotic.” In 2004 I marched for Roe v. Wade; in 2007 I marched against the war in Iraq. I took the picture above at that protest in Washington. I believe there’s value in a collective expression of a strong belief. But I’m fairly realistic, pragmatic, whatever you want to call it without labeling me cynical or apathetic. The title for this post is taken from “The Daily Show”‘s segment “You’re Not Helping.” They’ve used the bit to criticize Geraldine Ferraro and Jeremiah Wright. So when Code Pink interrupted the Petraeus congressional testimony, Jon Stewart extended the message to them. It’s a fair point. I agree with Code Pink: the war in Iraq sucks and the Democrats haven’t been very effective. I just feel like they’d win more converts if they kept their voices down.
You can listen to the full audio of the conversation with Harry Reid and the speech by Rick Wagoner here with the Commonwealth Club’s free podcast.