Saturday is garage sale day around the San Francisco area and so I went bargain-hunting for antiques and collectibles, as I sometimes like to do on sunny summer days.
But this weekend for the first time I encountered something I had never before seen: sale-givers were getting rid of their old political message-buttons — the kind one might wear at a protest. A few folks were selling their buttons for a quarter each, but in most cases the buttons were simply being given away, dumped in a “free box” of possibly usable discards for customers to rummage through at the bottom of the driveway.
As happens with emerging trends, I didn’t really notice that I was observing a pattern until the day was nearly over. It only began to dawn on me after the fourth or fifth sale with discarded buttons that something peculiar was afoot. It was almost as if the Birkenstock crowd had all heard some secret message telling them to get rid of those incriminating buttons. Luckily, because I sort of casually collect political memorabilia, I had been picking up and saving buttons throughout the day, so even though it didn’t occur to me to photograph them in situ at the sales, I was able to assemble my haul afterwards and snap a picture:
The first button I encountered was the one that says “Stop the War Against Iraq.” Because I am a cruel and sarcastic person, I picked it up and said to the woman giving the sale, “Hey, this one’s still usable. All you need to do is print out a little sticker that says ‘Syria’ and glue it on top of ‘Iraq’.” She glared at me silently, grinding her teeth, until I backed down the driveway and escaped.
Similar snark at later sales was met with similar “Get off my property” hostility, or in some cases pained silence.
The news that our Nobel-Peace-Prize-winning president was getting the U.S. involved in yet another war must have induced an epidemic of cognitive dissonance and ideological disintegration amongst the Bay Area’s liberal voters, who previously imagined that they embraced a consistent political philosophy. They opposed militarism — American militarism, at least — and Obama embodied their ideals, so everything was aligned in the universe. But what to do when you support Obama, and you oppose war — but now Obama supports war? You have only three options:
a. Go insane; or
b. Stop supporting Obama; or
c. Become a hypocrite and pretend that you never opposed war in the first place.
It became clear to me on Saturday that many Bay Area liberals were choosing Option C, which meant quickly getting rid of all those anti-war buttons left over from the Bush era, and along with them the liberals’ “principled” opposition to war as a concept.
To be fair, not all liberals are choosing that option. Some are simply going insane (or more insane than they already were) by existing in a state of unresolved cognitive dissonance; and some (mostly on the anti-American Marxist far left) are throwing Obama under the bus for being insufficiently revolutionary in all areas at all times.
But the average middle-information liberal — the kind who are still drunk on the idealized notion of an Obama presidency — place more value on aggrandizing Obama’s reputation and legacy than they do on any substantive political principles. And so when the time comes to choose between Obama and their personal integrity, they choose Obama. Which also entails quickly and quietly getting rid of all those principled anti-war buttons. Interestingly, as the photo shows, it also means getting rid of all those anti-Bush buttons, since the main reason to oppose Bush back then was because of his hawkish foreign policy decisions.
When a Republican is in office, the fair-weather anti-war crowd will oppose any kind of war “on principle.” But when a Democrat — particularly a liberal Democratic demigod — drags the country into a war, suddenly the principles evaporate and war is OK. This wasn’t always the case: In the mid-1960s the far left, which had applauded LBJ’s liberal domestic agenda, suddenly branded him an evil baby-killer when he turned our “advisory role” in Vietnam into a full-scale war. This emotional reversal was only possible because the left already had mixed feelings about the abrasive and manipulative Johnson in the first place. Obama, on the other hand, is much more of a symbol, an icon, and for a liberal to reject him personally feels much more like a rejection of the entire progressive project. Besides, since 2008 the primary liberal strategy has to been to brand anyone who opposes Obama’s policies as a racist, which makes it now impossible for the liberals themselves to oppose any of his policies, lest they run afoul of their own strategy and become branded as racists themselves.
In any case, the buttons have now been added to my political memorabilia collection, with a special note: “Collected in 2013 at the start of the Syrian War.”