The wackadoo masses

WHAT DO YOU have to do to get a little peace and quiet around here? It used to be possible to adopt an antiwar platform and be left entirely alone by most mainstream Americans. Sure, you’d be sneered at by the media, ostracized by the major political parties and, from time to time, your in-laws would accuse you of living on the radical fringe.

But at least it was quiet out there on the fringe.

That’s the whole point of fringes, right? They’re not supposed to be too populated. The antiwar fringe used to be sort of like the frontier: nothing but virgin territory, big sky and social misfits. Yep, in those days, you could stand on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and shout, “Hey, the whole war in Iraq thing, it’s a huge mistake!” And no matter how loud you were shouting, it would be a big empty space all around you as senators and representatives scurried to avoid antiwar contamination.

But lately the antiwar fringe has been getting awfully crowded.

First there were the types -- rowdy, tech-savvy youngsters who sent too many e-mails and sometimes even showed up on your doorstep. By 2004, blogs opposed to the war in Iraq had started to multiply like bunnies: Suddenly you couldn’t take a step in the blogosphere without tripping over them.

Then somebody started giving the antiwar bloggers money and letting them publish books on real paper and inviting them to grown-up conferences. By the end of 2005, John Kerry as well as a battalion of retired generals were repudiating the war in Iraq.


Today, the antiwar fringe is starting to resemble California during the Gold Rush of 1849. When gold was discovered in 1848, California had a nonnative population of 14,000 and technically belonged to Mexico. By the end of 1849, the lure of gold had brought the nonnative population up to a boisterous 100,000 -- and California had been formally absorbed into the United States.

Similarly, when the war in Iraq began in 2003, only about a quarter of Americans disapproved of President Bush’s Iraq policies. But by this month, the trend had reversed, with 60% of Americans telling CNN pollsters that they oppose the war and savvy politicians rushing to stake out an antiwar claim before it’s too late. (To paraphrase Kerry, who knows a thing or two about this, who wants to be the last politician to go down for failing to admit the war in Iraq was a mistake?)

Opposing the war in Iraq isn’t fringe anymore -- it’s become part of what defines ordinary Americans.

You wouldn’t know it, though, from listening to the pundits. As far as many in the “mainstream” media are concerned, those who oppose the war in Iraq are still oddball extremists.

Take the reaction to antiwar candidate Ned Lamont’s successful effort to oust incumbent Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman in this week’s Connecticut primary. Lieberman spent the last five years cozying up to the president, defending the administration’s foreign policies more vigorously than many Republicans. Given the widespread public opposition to the Iraq war, Lamont’s victory was hardly a shocker -- yet the media persist in furthering Lieberman’s fantasy that he lost only because “the Democratic Party ... has been taken over by people who are not from the mainstream of America.”

Back in May, Jonathan Chait worried in these pages that Lieberman’s opponents were “left-wing activists ... exactly the sorts of fanatics who tore the party apart in the late 1960s and early 1970s.”

Jonah Goldberg, in his Thursday post-mortem on the outcome, comes to a similar conclusion: “The Democratic Party is, simply, a McGovernite party.... But ... that is not necessarily where the voters are.” In the New York Daily News, Michael Goodwin doesn’t bother with subtlety, calling Lieberman’s defeat a win for “the wackadoo wing of the party.”

No, fellas. What happened was just that the whole democracy thing worked just the way it’s supposed to, for once. A majority of citizens oppose the war in Iraq, so they went to the polls and voted for the guy who shares their views, instead of the guy who doesn’t.

Lieberman’s defeat only illustrates what most Americans already know: Mainstream Americans are tired of watching young Americans come home in coffins from an unnecessary war, tired of reckless foreign policies that have increased rather than decreased the threat of terrorism and really, really tired of incumbents who still don’t get it.

But with antiwar views now as ubiquitous as cellphones on Main Street U.S.A., where can you go if you just want a little solitude?

For those of you who just can’t stand being mainstream, here’s a thought: Maybe it’s time to go visit the neocons. It looks like they’re getting a little bit lonely out there.

Neoconservatism: It’s the new fringe.