In this day of polarized politics, it’s incumbent on good citizens to be vigorously truthful. Even in the heat of battle, partisans should own up to their mistakes. Rectifying errors builds credibility. Honest self-criticism ensures a healthy debate and a healthier democracy.
OK, fine. I messed up.
Late last month, my wife, Susie, and I took a day trip to Shutters, an elegant, white-veneered hotel along the ritzy Santa Monica shoreline. It’s a special-occasion place, and we went there to take in a rare parental reprieve.
We went to the hotel’s second-floor veranda overlooking the Pacific and ordered spinach-and-artichoke dip and two margaritas. Except for a mild wind, the day was perfect for checking out seagulls and passers-by on the boardwalk below.
Santa Monica is an upscale part of Los Angeles, and Shutters is a pricey joint. But the nearby pier-cum-amusement-park and its spacious public beach is a multifaceted, people-watching experience.
Soon after our drinks arrived, a group of mostly-college-age kids began walking by in large bunches, many in tandem holding large rope segments in groups of 20 or so. They clearly were marching for something they considered important.
As they passed, the protesters stared sourly at the second story where we sat. Fellow patrons wondered aloud what this now massive conga line was all about. About 300 people into the procession, I spotted a sign that had “war” written in it. One T-shirt read, “Stop forcing our children to be your soldiers.”
It’s a voluntary army, you stupid kids!
A thousand marchers into the protest, the sour looks aimed at the hotel’s clientele began to wear on us. The marchers’ defiant smugness started to make an enemy of me.
“Oh, no,” I thought. The antiwar movement that I saw growing only days after Sept. 11, 2001, was at it again. I thought: Even with a new president - and one who mostly shares their point of view - the I-love-a-protest-parade political left couldn’t help itself. It likes ruining nice sunny days. Protesting is what these people do. Sneering at their fellow citizens is their chief skill. Projecting arrogance is their birthright.
So with the antiwar sign, the T-shirt and the thousand-strong parade right under our noses, I began to seethe. These anti-warriors were trying to destroy the peaceful seaside vibe and our pleasant Jose Cuervo buzz.
Knowing that Susie considers a true escape a day when politics isn’t on the menu, I kept my observations to myself. I even restrained my natural impulse to run down to the sand to go mano a mano with the rabble-rousers.
But when one dude raised his fist like runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos did at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, I could not hold myself back. I jumped from my seat and bolted to the center of the balcony, where the American flag waved furiously in a now-harsh wind. Positioned next to Old Glory, I countered the young punk and reached out my right arm directing my middle finger in his direction.
As soon as my finger was raised, a phalanx of photographers began snapping away at the white middle-aged man wearing a white LaCoste shirt next to the old red, white and blue. Cognizant of the power of imagery, I owned the moment and refused to back down. The fist wielder immediately dropped his arm. I clearly had won and envisioned photos of the anti-antiwar protester making the front pages of the Los Angeles Times.
Satisfied by the small victory, I sat down to finish my cocktail. With my wife pretending not to be embarrassed, we went back to enjoying our midday excursion. But instead of waking up Sunday or Monday morning to see my face in the paper, I instead received an e-mail from a journalism student at a local university who recognized me from a recent debate on campus.
The e-mail began like this:
“On 4/25/09 an event hosted by the Invisible Children called ‘The Rescue’ took place in Santa Monica. I shot the event. 4,000 youth marched in solidarity for the children abducted and forced to fight for the LRA in Northern Uganda and more recently in the Congo. I had felt a sense of hope in my generation’s methods of activism at the event.”
Oh, no. It only got worse.
“I believe most people in America are in agreement that human slavery, genocide and child soldiers are a terrible thing. This event was hardly controversial. The protest marched by ‘Shutters on the Beach.’ After reviewing the photographs I was taking for the event and confirming the facts (you were in Santa Monica at the date and time) I realized you were flipping the protesters off. I am curious to why this is the case.”
In order to prevent my eternal damnation, and to end what has been three weeks of difficult REM sleep, please visit: www.invisiblechildren .com.
Andrew Breitbart is the founder of the news Web site www.breitbart.com and is co-author of “Hollywood Interrupted: Insanity Chic in Babylon - the Case Against Celebrity.”