Unlike most New Yorkers, I didn't hightail it to the Hamptons for the week that by chance contained the Republican National Convention, the beginning of the U.S. Open, and NYU move-in day. I decided to stick around not because I was planning to protest or attend the conventionI did have tickets to the Openbut because I thought it might be interesting to see all the predicted hubbub. And besides, I live in Midtown far enough east to avoid all the commotion if I so desired.
I made two as of yet unsubstantiated observations. First, most if not all New Yorkers did in fact go to the Hamptons leaving no more than normal traffic jams near the protestsas there would be near any protest, and we have a lot of themand the rest of the city pretty mellow. My second observation, which as it were happens to be a secondhand observation, is that the majority of protesters were by no means Democrats. But weren't they protesting the Republican convention and the Bush administration? Yes. Doesn't that make them Democrats? Not necessarily.
First, a quick point of clarification: I assume that most of the protesters who vote will vote for John Kerry, however, that doesn't mean they identify as Democrats, nor does it mean the Democrats see the protesters' values and stances on issues as consistent with their own. This observationreally an inferenceis secondhand because the data come courtesy of one of my favorite newspapers, The New York Sun. Those outside of the New York metropolitan area aren't lucky enough to have daily access to this relatively new paper, but it's always worth the read if you can get your hands on it. After the first day of major protests, the Sun took a poll of over 250 random protesters, asking them a short list of political and ideological questions. Although walking around asking people questions will not necessarily yield a representative sample (certain elements of response bias almost certainly exist) and probably only a part of the survey was printed, the results of the poll are truly telling.
Skipping the non-political background questions (most protesters were from New York City, etc.), the first significant question reads: "Did you support or oppose the American war in Afghanistan in 2001?" 62 percent of protesters polled opposed the war. Remember, nowwe're talking about Afghanistan, not Iraq. At the time of the invasion, going after bin Laden and his Taliban protectors was almost unanimously favored by Democrats in the House and Senate, with only few exceptions (Kucinich, to name one). Today, an overwhelming majority of Democrats still believe it was the necessary and right move following the attacks of September 11. But the protesters see otherwise.
Moving on. "What system do you think is best: Socialism, Capitalism, or Communism?" This question is a bit tricky because 31 percent of respondents said "other/undecided/won't answer." This is a bit of a problem because we don't know what "other" meansit could very well be "some middle road between capitalism and socialism." Despite that, the results are very un-American (not necessarily anti-American) to say the least: More people were willing to say socialism than capitalism (34 to 33 percent). Add to the socialism column the 2 percent for communism, and the gap widens. Again, this is certainly not the view of mainstream Democrats.
Finally, the kicker. "Please answer whether you agree or disagree with the following statement: America is overall a negative force in the world." 52 percent agree, while only 40 percent disagree. It is no secret that many Americans are critical of what the Bush administration has done over the last four years, and what America has done in its history (at times I am certainly one of them). However, I bet there are few, if any, Democrats in elected office who would ever venture far enough to endorse that statement. You better believe that if John Kerry ever said America is a negative force in the world, he would ensure his defeat in NovemberI certainly wouldn't vote for him.
So what does this all mean? Why does it matter that the protesters who took to the streets of New York do not hold the core values of the Democratic party? It matters because in creating an "anybody but Bush" rallying cry over the past four years, the Democrats have adopted for themselves some pretty extreme allies. Now with the election just a month or so away, they have yet truly to distance themselves from those new allies, and in doing so have alienated centrists and pro-war Democrats like me.
So, Mr. Kerry: Do you think America is a negative force in the world? There are only two answers; one alienates me, and one alienates more than half of the convention protesters. Your answer, and the answer of the Democratic party, can sway this election, and will certainly define the progressive party in America for years to come.