Reading about the war-anniversary protests online just now got me thinking that the progressive agenda faces a major public relations challenge between now and the election: ensuring that coverage frames anti-Bush/anti-war protesters in a way that helps, rather than hurts, what they're (and we're) fighting for.
Between Orwellian "free speech zones," the ease of caricature many leftist protesters present (I'm thinking puppets, long hair, "radical chic" types, etc) and the knee-jerk reaction culturally conservative but economically persuadable swing voters might have to a parade of TV images showing demonstrations, I worry that the Republicans will frame dissenters as "anti-American" and/or make a "law and order" pitch as they did in 1968 and again in '72. We're going to have around a million people protesting the RNC in New York this summer--and I absolutely will be among them--and whether press coverage of those protests emphasizes the substantive points of dissent--basically the entire anti-Bush case--or the style and tone of the most extreme demonstrators, could have an enormous impact on the vote in November.
How do we win this framing battle? I have a couple ideas but would love to hear from everyone else here. One, I'd like to see as many protesters as possible waving American flags--and I want veterans and nice old women as prominently positioned as possible. Corny? Simplistic? Manipulative? Yeah. But this election is too damned important not to push every advantage. We need to make the case that we're not protesting because we hate America--we're out there because we [b]love[/b] this country, and we hate how Bush and his cronies are deforming and perverting everything that's best about America.
Two, we need our most patriotic and eloquent spokesmen out there in pundit land, making the case again and again and again and again that protest is among the highest forms of patriotism. I nominate General Wesley Clark, who nobly made this a cornerstone of his campaign, and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), probably the greatest living American protester by virtue of his work in the civil rights movement, as our primary spokesmen on this... especially if one of them is also our vice-presidential nominee (would to God it be so... and if You're really taking requests, make it Lewis!).
Three, I want this issue directly put to Bush by Sen. Kerry, with the inevitable result that some reporter will ask it directly: Do you consider the act of protest patriotic? Regardless of how you feel about the substance, do you support the right of Americans like the million people demonstrating outside Madison Square Garden to peacefully express their views? Whichever way he answers, we gain by it.