The NY Observer weighs in on antiwar strategy


Posted to on June 8, 2006


The NY Observer is a salmon-colored weekly devoted mostly to reports on million dollar real estate transactions and gossip about powerful media and political personalities. It was launched by tycoon Arthur Carter in the 1980s after he got bored publishing the Nation Magazine. Politically, it can be described as falling within the dreary parameters of 'smart' but banal liberalism of the kind found in, the Village Voice, the American Prospect, etc. Without Carter's millions, it certainly would have gone under long ago. He seems driven by the same mixture of vanity and influence-peddling found in Murdoch's NY Post, but on a much smaller--if not infinitesimal--scale.


In the current issue, there's an article on the antiwar movement ("Where Have All the Marchers Gone? They Feel Very Futile"-- by one Sheelah Kolhatkar, who will write about anything assigned to her apparently:


As one of the few women on Wall Street selling oil and gambling stocks at a mid-sized shop in the late 1970's, Lee Hennessee, a belle from North Carolina, noticed that her best customers were hedge-fund pioneers-ruthless men like Julian Robertson and Michael Steinhardt, who moved fast and bought stock in bulk. Ms. Hennessee jumped ship and went on to start one of the first hedge-fund consulting companies, the Hennessee Group, and has been tracking the ballooning industry ever since...


(NY Observer, "Hedge-Fund Frolic: Where There's Cash", April 5, 2004)


Just the sort of thing that would prepare you for sorting out various strategies for ending the occupation of Iraq.


Kolhatkar begins her piece by calling on the Village Voice's authority on the futility of mass demonstrations:


On April 29, over 300,000 people gathered (depending on who you ask) at 22nd Street and Broadway to begin New York’s latest large-scale march in protest of the war in Iraq


The next day, they can hardly have been surprised that the protest didn’t rate an A1 treatment from The New York Times.


But more galling was the reaction of New York’s oldest lefty newspaper, The Village Voice.


In an article headlined “How to Kill a War in 10 Not-So-Easy Steps,” the newspaper founded by Norman Mailer in 1955 wagged a patronizing finger at the organizers, then archly offered suggestions from lobbyists and consultants on how to actually end a war.


Not, it seems, by protesting.


It seems rather quaint to dub the Village Voice as "lefty" but I suppose from the perspective of Carter's high-Episcopalian, Park Avenue liberalism, the term might make sense. Then again, to the John Birch Society, Eisenhower was a Communist.


According to Kolhatkar, there's a "certain sluggish, defeatist feeling" in the antiwar movement, UFPJ in particular. Bill Dobbs, who served for three years as the media coordinator for United for Peace and Justice, confesses to her that "The peace movement’s floundering." He adds, "People really have to sharply focus on why Congress is allowing Bush to continue this war."


If it seems a stretch to view the Village Voice as "lefty", then Kolhatkar throws all journalistic caution to the wind by describing the ponderous, red-baiter Todd Gitlin as another "lefty":


“Movements tend to thrive when some critical mass of people have reason to believe that their activities are actually going to have an impact on policy,” the old-school lefty, 60’s protest leader and Columbia professor Todd Gitlin said. “And they don’t think there’s one chance in a billion that demonstrations will change the mind--if that’s the right word--George Bush, so there’s a sense of futility as well as uncertainty.”


This, of course, is not a new position for Gitlin who never forgave SDS'ers for not voting for Hubert Humphrey in 1968. If this is supposed to be "old school lefty", then poor Abby Hoffman must be spinning in his grave.


Kolhatkar has ideas about what antiwar activists should be doing and it is definitely not marching in the streets by the hundreds of thousands:


Last week, for example, demonstrators gathered at 14 Congressional offices around the state of New Hampshire, reading the names of soldiers who’ve perished in Iraq. The whole operation involved around 50 people, according to the Associated Press, and six of them were arrested for refusing to leave Representative Jeb Bradley’s office. But so far, nothing like that has unfolded in New York.


I hate to sound like a dogmatic Marxist, but this does not strike me as the kind of manifestation of social power that can change society. One might be better off writing letters to people like Jeb Bradley, pleading with them to be nice, and sealing it with a kiss.


Mostly, Kolhatkar's article is a barely clever push for the sort of dead-end reformism of and other outlets of tepid liberalism.'s director Tom Matzzie is quoted as saying, “the theory our members share when they join with us is that they’re going to create change in an election.” Evidently, this is Kolhatkar's agenda as well:


They are mostly focused on the election in 2006, he [Matzzie] said, and nudging the House of Representatives into Democratic Party hands is the critical end goal. Which is offering a delicious hint of hope. “Six months from now, you could be heading into a Congress where some of the most powerful chairmen are staunch opponents of the war,” Mr. Matzzie said, citing the anti-war Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha and the primary in Connecticut, where Ned Lamont is challenging the hawkish Joe Lieberman for his Senate seat. “That would be as big, or bigger, than we’d be able to win on any weekend protest right now.”


In a way, this makes perfect sense. Ned Lamont is a liberal Connecticut millionaire, just like Arthur Carter. If he is elected, then all that is necessary is to continue electing people to Congress just like him so that in 2 or 3 years the majority will vote for a timetable to get out of Iraq and redeploy the troops to just beyond the borders of Iraq, as John Murtha proposes.


I think Sheelah Kolhatkar should stick to writing about hedge funds. There's far less damage that can be done that way--as opposed to leading people down the blind alley of Democratic Party politics. But with the NY Observer's readership's obvious preference for looking for bargains in East Side townhouses or playing polo in the Hamptons, I doubt if much damage will be done in any case.