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A quiet majority replaces Vietnam's "silent majority."
BY DANIEL HENNINGER
Friday, August 26, 2005 12:01 a.m. EDT
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" is an aphorism of uncertain truth everyone seems to have etched into their minds. Who can forget? From the sound of the "antiwar" tom-toms thumping across the land, forgetting the past is the one thing America doesn't have to worry about. We routinely open the sepulchers of memory, and just now it is the "ghost of Vietnam" that is strolling among us.
Gary Hart, a former Democratic senator from Colorado who ran for president twice and worked on the McGovern campaign, published an op-ed in the Washington Post this week in which he exhorted someone in his party to actively oppose Mr. Bush on the war--to "jump on the hot stove" of Iraq, notwithstanding the Democrats' searing experience with Vietnam.
Chuck Hagel, a senator from Nebraska and current presidential marathoner, is beating his singular path to the nomination by explicitly saying that as in Vietnam, we are "bogged down" in Iraq and "need to be out." Also on the yellow brick road to the presidency, Democratic senator Russ Feingold has called for withdrawal from Iraq by Dec 31, 2006
Maybe Santayana was misquoted. Maybe what he meant to say is those who remember history are condemned to repeat it. And repeat it, and repeat it.
Joan Baez, now 64, has descended from the mists to sing songs at Cindy Sheehan's Crawford ditch in Texas. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, respectively 62 and 61, have decided to cap their careers with a new song called "Sweet Neo-Con" ("It's liberty for all . . . unless you are against us, then it's prison without trial.") The ghost of Tom Hayden showed up on Bill O'Reilly this week to announce, with the confidence of experience, that "an exit strategy is an art form all in itself." And indeed some polls have dropped the war's support below 50%.
Here's a truer saying: It's déjà vu all over again.
Any politician aspiring to the presidency who gets the call wrong on the Iraq war may find himself in the ditch George McGovern dug for his party in 1972--with 37.5% of the vote. Perhaps the reason Democrats like Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden aren't jumping in front of Cindy's parade is that as a matter of species survival they're required to keep an ear to the ground. And you know what, the times really have changed since Vietnam.
Richard Nixon, amid a similar low ebb of popularity with Vietnam, gave a famous speech in 1969. This was the year after the Tet offensive, which caused Walter Cronkite's famous Hagel-like throwing in of the towel. In that speech Nixon described a "great silent majority" in America. The idea, of course, was that the daily media attention commanded by the antiwar movement was missing a class of Americans who sat home seething at the behavior of the protesters.
Today, because of the Internet, no one has to seethe in silence, as wired activists in both parties proved in 2004's high-tech election, and now. But it may be that the current infatuation with anti-Bush, anti-Iraq sentiment is again missing a political current flowing beneath the surface of the news, just as the media missed the silent majority 40 years ago and the values voters in the 2004 election.
I would call this faction the Quiet Majority. These people are organized and they are pro-active. But they pass beneath our politics unnoticed because they're about something deeper than TV face-time. There is a large number of groups that have organized in the past three years solely to support the American troops in Iraq.
• Bill Robie recently drove three hours from Atlanta to Camp Lejeune, N.C., to help Jim Hake's Spirit of America--which has nearly 14,000 supporters--load school supplies bound for Iraq. "Groups like SoA, Home for Our Troops, Operation Homefront, Fisher House and others don't get much attention," he wrote me a few days ago, "yet they represent the true character of our nation."
• John Folsom is a Marine Reserve colonel from Nebraska, now in Iraq. Two years ago he "passed the hat" among colleagues and raised money to create Wounded Warriors, which supports military hospitals by buying laptops for bedridden soldiers, TVs and overhead projectors for medical staff. His support base is small. "It's almost like a family," he told me.
• Soldiers' Angels was started in 2003 by Patti Patton-Bader, the mother of a sergeant in Iraq then. It now has 45,000 members. Its executive director, Don MacKay, says: "Our members come from across the political spectrum. But there is one opinion they all share: Our soldiers deserve every ounce of support we can muster."
The message boards some of these groups maintain make clear that troops are aware, in detail, of antiwar activity. Again, this isn't Vietnam. They have news access. If the Democratic left does levitate another antiwar movement, it won't be the unanswered opposition of the Vietnam years. The counter-opposition will draw numbers from these pro-troop groups. They, too, are Internet-linked. They are better informed than most people, they are committed, and they are articulate. And they have stories to tell.
Does this add up to millions of pro-Iraq voters? Who knows? But the quiet, mostly nonpartisan, pro-G.I. activism of these people has put them closer to the reality of the war--its pain, its losses, its successes and kinships. My guess is their kind of support is what the troops on the front want most now, rather than having to sit along the Euphrates River wondering if Chuck Hagel, Russ Feingold and the Rolling Stones are going to pull the rug from under them over the next two years.
Mr. Henninger is deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page. His column appears Fridays in the Journal and on OpinionJournal.com.