Protest Too Much

Everyone thinks they know everything. Regular people think it matters what celebrities say, celebrities think they know more than President Bush, and President Bush thinks Qatar is a musical instrument.

But I kid the leader of the free world. The truth is, though I don’t believe this is necessarily true in all cases, when it comes to foreign policy, Bush almost certainly knows more than I do. He has access to sensitive information and top-secret debriefings; I can barely even read. It’s his job to know what’s best for this country, and I have no choice but to assume he’s doing his job. If he proves to be incompetent, I can fire him by not voting for him in 2004, the same way I didn’t vote for him in 2000. I can also dock his pay by refusing to pay my taxes. But for the time being, he’s the man who was elected by a substantial chunk of voters — almost 50 percent! — to lead the United States. What makes us think we know better than he does how to lead?

Which is why I don’t get the protesting. Do we think Bush is going to hear about the protests and say, “What? Some people are against the war? Well, heck, we’d better pull out, then.” Is that the reasoning? Do people walk around during their daily lives and think, “I know Bush has advisers, experts and diplomats to help him make informed decisions … but what about MY opinion? Does he know what I think?”?

I understand the principle behind it: In America, we have the right to express our opinions. And I fully support that, but you know what? The expression of your opinion should not block traffic, nor should it end in your arrest. Opinions whose expression requires being fingerprinted afterward are opinions that maybe ought to be reconsidered. Perhaps it would not betray your integrity too much if you came up with a set of opinions that could be expressed from the comfort of your own home, or at least from the sidewalk. I’m just sayin’.

Besides, now that the war has started, the time for protest is past. What is the point now? Do you honestly think the best thing would be for Bush to say, “Whoops, I messed up,” and pull the troops out? Now that we’re in it, right or wrong, we have to finish it. The thing to do now is support the troops and hope for a quick resolution. I have no qualms about saying unequivocally that protesting is a complete waste of time.

As with many issues, there is madness on both sides. First, let’s discuss Michael Moore’s shenanigans at the Oscars last week. Upon winning the prize for best documentary, Moore — who had somehow been crammed into a tuxedo but had still refused to shave, on the grounds that any attempt to render himself presentable is a wasted effort — gave the following speech, transcribed verbatim:

“On behalf of our producers Kathleen Glynn and Michael Donovan from Canada, I’d like to thank the Academy for this. I have invited my fellow documentary nominees on the stage with us, and we would like to — they’re here in solidarity with me because we like nonfiction. We like nonfiction and we live in fictitious times. We live in the time where we have fictitious election results that elects a fictitious president. We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons. Whether it’s the fictition of duct tape or fictition of orange alerts we are against this war, Mr. Bush. Shame on you, Mr. Bush, shame on you.”

We will ignore his use of the made-up word “fictition” for approximately one second, and then we will talk about it.

“Fictition”? Come on, Michael. If you have an audience of 1 billion people, and you have something to say that you think is important — something you’ve obviously planned in advance — go ahead and take the time to learn some actual English words with which to express yourself. In fact, I will add that to my previous list: If your opinion is so bizarre that it requires the manufacture of new words just to convey it, then maybe you need to take it down a notch.

What is galling is not that Moore opposes the war, but that he presumes to speak for everyone. His speech was met with many loud boos in the audience, which Moore later insisted were from only five or six people — which is clearly wrong to anyone who witnessed the event — and that they were his friends and family, urged by him to boo in order to create diversity. In other words, even when half an audience vocally expresses its disagreement with him, he refuses to acknowledge that anyone disagrees with him. This is insane behavior.

Our other example of extreme conduct comes from Portland, Ore., which is the most beautiful city in the world, as you know if you have ever spoken to a Portlandian for more than five seconds, which is the maximum length of time a Portlandian can go without telling you how beautiful Portland is. Personally, I think Portland smells too much like hippies.

Anyway, according to The Oregonian, a newspaper whose name always makes me giggle, Portland Fire Bureau officials last week ordered U.S. flags removed from fire engines, “concerned that their presence might provoke dangerous confrontations with antiwar demonstrators.”

In other words, officials decided that since antiwar protesters are upset with America’s current administration, they probably hate America in general, and therefore also the flag. One assumes firefighters were instructed not to carry apple pies, baseballs or their mothers around with them, either.

Now, apparently Portland demonstrators have been burning flags up there, the idiocy of which I’m sure is apparent. But what difference does that make here? Was the fire department really afraid someone was going to try setting a fire truck on fire? And if they did try it, wouldn’t the comedy of the situation make it worthwhile? Fortunately, the fire department changed its mind the next day, and flags are back on the trucks now.

Times like these inspire people to overreact (though, in fairness, people overreact a lot during regular times, too). Let us all take a step back, calm ourselves, and remember that regardless of whether President Bush has done the right thing, regardless of whether he was even legally elected in the first place, one thing is indisputable: “Qatar” is a funny name for a country. I hope we never have to attack them.

This was, like, the longest column ever written, and there was a lot more material I could have included. The war was such an all-consuming topic in those early days that I could have written about it every week.

Of course, now that we've been in Iraq for years and years, even after the initial mission was accomplished (remember? There was a big banner and everything), now I think protesting is sensible and that getting out is even more sensible. It was only early on, when there was a specific goal to be attained, that protesting was pointless and pulling out would have been premature.

Thanks to, um, whoever it was who sent me the story about the Portland fire trucks. (Micah, I think?) As always, feel free to send links to noteworthy/unusual/maddening/amusing news stories. I read a lot of online newspapers and magazines, but there's so much out there that I'm bound to miss a lot.

I was being honest when I said I didn't vote for Bush in 2000. I also didn't vote for Gore. If you must know, I didn't vote at all. I don't remember why. Maybe I forgot. I didn't live in Florida, so it didn't really matter anyway.