Why ANSWER is not the answer

Do you want to know why the antiwar movement has virtually no political power, despite polls showing that a majority of Americans believe it was a mistake for the United States to invade Iraq?

Do you want to know why the antiwar movement has virtually no political power, despite polls showing that a majority of Americans believe it was a mistake for the United States to invade Iraq?

Do you want to know why no major national Democratic office holder — not Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), not Sen. Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidThe Trumpification of the federal courts Trump to rally evangelicals after critical Christianity Today editorial Left presses 2020 Democrats to retake the courts from Trump MORE (Nev.), not Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), not Sen. John KerryJohn Forbes KerryBring on the brokered convention 18 progressive groups sign unity pledge amid Sanders-Warren feud Mellman: Democrats — Buckle up for a wild ride MORE (Mass.), not Sen. Joseph Biden (Del.), not anyone — showed up at any of the antiwar events here in Washington this week?

Do you want to know why antiwar mom Cindy Sheehan has lost whatever credibility she once had?

You can find all the answers inside the antiwar movement itself, beginning with the rally held Saturday on the Ellipse.

Organized by the left-wing coalition United for Peace and Justice and the neo-communist group International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), the rally featured well-known speakers such as Sheehan, Jesse Jackson and the pro-Saddam British MP, George Galloway.

Then there was the former attorney general-turned-radical Ramsey Clark. And Al Sharpton. And Ralph Nader.

And besides the well-known names, there were representatives of far-left groups such as the Socialist Front of Puerto Rico, the Nicaragua Network, the Network in Solidarity With the People of the Philippines, the Women’s Anti-Imperialist League and the Global Women’s Strike.

You didn’t have to listen very long to the speeches to hear statements like, “Hurricane Katrina has shown the racist face of genocide.” Or the words of one former Haitian official who explained — with what appeared to be glee — that the United States lost the Vietnam War at home in the United States and will do the same with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But those were the fringe figures, you might say. What about one of the few elected officials to attend the rally, Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.)? What was her message?

Pretty much the same as all the other speakers. McKinney told the crowd that the Bush administration, and more generally the United States itself, is a dark and destructive force spreading across the globe.

“A cruel wind blows across America, starting in Texas and Montana and sweeping across America’s heartland,” McKinney began. (Texas is the home state of President Bush, and Montana is, well, McKinney probably meant to say Wyoming, which is the home state of Vice President Cheney.)

“It settled here in Washington, D.C.,” McKinney continued. “And despite our presence today, it continues to buffer, to buffet and batter the American people. This cruel wind blew disenfranchisement into Florida and Ohio. It blew hard-heartedness into the capital, division across our land and wretchedness in high places.

“The American people have been forced to endure fraud in the elections of 2000 and 2004, criminal neglect on Sept. 11, a war started on deliberately faked evidence, the outing of a CIA agent to cover up the truth, and now criminal incompetence in providing our security.

“When hurricane survivors lost everything, it was there for all America to see. Sybaritic men wrapped in self-righteousness worked to save their jobs instead of the people, as dead bodies lay strewn about the New Orleans Superdome. Military recruiters blew into Houston’s Astrodome to reap the harvest.

“This ill wind that engulfs our country is also global in its impact. It dipped into the Caribbean, hitting Haiti and Cuba. It reached into Latin America to slap Venezuela. It swept death, greed and destruction across Africa into Eastern Congo, and it breeds occupation onto the peoples of Iraq and Palestine.”

Add it all up, McKinney concluded, and you’ve got “high crimes and more than misdemeanors.”

Now, put aside the rhetorical flourishes — sybaritic men wrapped in self-righteousness? — and imagine that you are an independent voter. You’re concerned that nearly 2,000 American servicemen and -women have died in Iraq and more that 14,000 more have been wounded. You might be favorably inclined toward the antiwar movement, were it not led and populated by the kind of far-left figures who go around talking about racism and genocide and Florida and Ohio and the cruel wind coming from the United States.

But of course, that’s exactly what they do. So you stay away.

Will the movement ever change? Can it ever change?

Probably not. Any credible antiwar movement would have to dump International ANSWER, as well as the kookier members of the United for Peace and Justice coalition.

But the chances of that are slim. When it comes to putting on big demonstrations, ANSWER’s organizers are very good at the nuts-and-bolts stuff of getting permits, mastering logistics and motivating supporters to show up. Those are very useful skills.

So you are likely to keep seeing the extremists of ANSWER at the forefront of protests against the war. And as long as that happens, you won’t be seeing mainstream Americans — or their political representatives — joining in.

York is a White House correspondent for National Review. His column appears in The Hill each week. E-mail: byork@thehill.com