Crazies Can Spoil a
by Casey Lartigue, Jr.
A New Visions Commentary
paper published June 2003 by The National Center for Public Policy
Research, 501 Capitol Ct., N.E., Washington, DC 20002, 202/543-4110,
Fax 202-543-5975, E-Mail [email protected],
Reprints permitted provided source is credited.
At an anti-war "teach-in,"
a Columbia University professor called for the defeat of American
forces in Iraq and said he would like to see "a million
Mogadishus" - a reference to the Somali city where American
soldiers were ambushed, with 18 killed, in 1993.
"The only true heroes are those
who find ways that help defeat the U.S. military," Nicholas
DeGenova, assistant professor of anthropology at Columbia University,
told the audience at Low Library Wednesday night. "I personally
would like to see a million Mogadishus."
The crowd was largely silent at the remark.
They loudly applauded DeGenova later when he said, "If we
really believe that this war is criminal... then we have to believe
in the victory of the Iraqi people and the defeat of the U.S.
war machine." (New York Newsday)
Some have remarked that the war brought
out the nuts. I say they were always there.
It seems to be pretty typical of movements
for the crazies to take over, outflanking the moderates. The
moderates in any movement, especially those complaining that
their voices aren't being heard, will not want to silence the
dissenters among their own ranks.
I saw this happen in the various liberal
social causes I used to participate in, where people complained
about society stifling their voices or not recognizing their
concerns. Then, those same folks bent over backwards to accommodate
the radical nut in the room complaining that they - the people
in the room - don't recognize the "reality of the situation."
Yeah, we ain't gotta be afraid to speak "truth to power."
All we gotta do is (fill-in-the-blank with something that won't
Then, they started a rambling ten-minute
rant that makes some in the room uncomfortable but emboldened
others. The leader meekly tried to cut the person off, waiting
for the right moment instead of just telling them to sit down
and shut up.
I don't hang out with conservatives when
it comes to social causes, so I haven't observed them as much.
But I'm sure they have their own crazies. I'm thinking of someone
who stands up and says this country is great because of God,
guns, and guts, and let's keep all three! And then, after a long
tirade, will say, "Now I don't know exactly what we gotta
do, but I know we gotta do sumpthin'."
There is a split (most recently, within
the environmental and anti-abortion movements) between moderates
who want to convince people to come to their side and the crazies
who want to burn stuff down, spike trees and shoot doctors. As
with most movements, the moderates gain early control. After
a while, especially after some successes, the crazies will complain
that things aren't progressing fast enough and that more radical
action is needed. The moderates have already pushed for change,
and they don't know how to push back when their crazies challenge
Groups don't want to shout down their
own crazies because the crazies can still be useful foot soldiers.
But then they do want to spend time focusing on the crazies of
the other side.
Of course, the embarrassment is when
one of the crazies gets up at a protest and starts pulling against
the country on camera or when a crazy movie director dumps on
the President during an internationally televised awards ceremony.
The moderates will usually cheer the crazies on solidarity, but
they worry they are undermining their message with such radical
Of course, I'm not saying it always plays
out this way. I didn't pay close attention to the people outside
of the U.S. Supreme Court as the justices inside debated the
fate of affirmative action, but I bet it had a combination of
intellectuals and activists. And at least one crazy stood up
and talked about telling "truth to power" and saying
all we gotta do is (fill-in-the-blank with something that won't
(Casey Lartigue, Jr. is a member
of the National Advisory Council of Project 21 and an educational
policy analyst with the Cato Institute. Comments may be sent
to [email protected].)
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author,
and not necessarily those of Project 21.