A Response to PD Columnist O'Brien's Witless Piece
Commentary by Kevin E. Cleary
I usually try not to criticize other people named Kevin, especially other writers named Kevin. It’s this thing we Kevins try to do for each other, as a professional courtesy. But Plain Dealer columnist Kevin O’Brien’s recent column was probably the worst drivel I have read in years. It reminded me of why I stopped reading The Plain Dealer in the first place.
His piece was titled
He deftly criticizes the irrelevance of these protesters while promoting the hype that they would turn into “disturbing-the-peace” activists. Funny, when I read the whole thing again, I discovered that he doesn’t even mention the praying. It was probably just one of those silly little cases of conveniently ignoring facts, like he accuses the peace movement of doing.
Another ironic thing is that O’Brien himself is quite playful with numbers while accusing the activists of inventing the Iraqi civilian death toll out of thin air. The Washington Post extrapolated the Iraqi civilian death toll to be at least 100,000 people in October of 2004. Granted, The Washington Post may as well be The National Enquirer compared to the fine pages of the venerable and inscrutable Plain Dealer. O’Brien states “Even if by some chance he picked the correct nice, round figure out of the air... the civilian body count would make Saddam snort in derision.” I understand that we’re less evil than Saddam, but is that really the standard we should be using? I mean, if we stay under 6 million, we can still claim to be less evil than Hitler, and if the casualty currency inflates to Stalinist proportions... the sky’s the limit!
Speaking of the sky, O’Brien also uses some clever bits of metaphor to call the 9-11 terror attacks an air show, and suggests that the peace activists should stage one of their own. I knew some neocons were fond of violence against people who didn’t attack us, but this just seems to be taking it too far. I especially enjoyed the White-House-Talking-Points-Memo-style pivot from bashing critics of the Iraq war to the chest-thumping mention of 9-11. I could almost hear John Ashcroft singing “Let the Eagle Soar” in the background while reading it.
The most confusing part of his rambling diatribe was O’Brien’s lead-up to the 9-11 pivot: “I took a look back in The Plain Dealer archives to see what kind of coverage the Peace Show got when it started, back in 2001. Couldn't find a syllable.” At first I thought he was trying to make the point that he hated Hippies in the pre-911 world. You know, before it was fashionable. After all, if the Air Show in 2001 was also on Labor Day weekend, the protests would have occurred before Iraq attacked us on September 11, 2001... No, wait, I’m sorry, I think it was France that attacked us then.
Anyway, it got me thinking about the massive number of other war protests that happened before we actually invaded Iraq. I realized that Mr. O’Brien was right. There was barely a syllable of coverage in any of the newspapers about those, especially not in Cleveland’s only daily newspaper.
My favorite line though, had to be the Limbaugh-esque “On the way home, buy yourself a flag -- an American one -- and hang it out. Resist the urge to burn it this time.” Sure, it’s cliche’, but that line made me feel really sad that I missed the Peace Show. If I’d known that the peace protesters were going to use the power of prayer to set a flag on fire, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. That must have been awesome! I just thought there were going to be, like, warplanes flying and stuff, and I saw no reason to pay another $20 bucks to see equipment our taxes already funded.
O’Brien’s column is a prime example to me of the right-wing’s continually contorted logic: Anyone who is against the war in Iraq wanted Americans to die during 9-11, is simultaneously irrelevant and dangerous, and is really just a closet member of Al Qaeda. He applauds the arrest of five praying peaceful protesters, and then claims that this somehow shows the First Amendment is “alive and well.” So, apparently that whole bit about “freedom to worship,” and freedom to “peaceably assemble” is really just window-dressing for the important part of the First Amendment: O’Brien’s freedom of “the press.”