Party in the Street

Michael Heaney and Fabio Rojas’s new book Party in the Street: The Antiwar Movement and the Democratic Party after 9/11 tries to explain the puzzle of antiwar protests falling greatly after the election of Obama, who mostly continued previous war policies:

In examining war policy positions taken by candidates in the 2004 and 2008 [US presidential] elections, we find that Democratic politicians articulated more fervent antiwar positions than did politicians within the Republican Party, even though there were varying positions among politicians in both parties. Exit poll data reveal that politicians in the Democratic Party benefited during electoral contests from the support of antiwar constituencies. However, when we look at the evolution of actual war policies from the Bush to the Obama administrations, we find more continuity than change. The Obama administration shifted emphasis from Iraq to Afghanistan, but these shifts were still only a slight redirection of the trajectory set forth by the Bush administration. Given Obama’s continuation of many of Bush’s policies, we would have expected the antiwar movement to react with steady or increased levels of protests. Yet, antiwar protests declined during Obama’s presidency, even in the presence of policies that continued war. We argue that, in order to explain this pattern, a new perspective is needed on the relationship between parties and movements. (p.8)

On the surface, this looks like simple hypocrisy: Democratic party elites exploiting false voter beliefs that Democrats are more anti-war than Republicans. Heaney and Rojas are clear that this belief is false:

Our focus is not on why the antiwar movement failed to prevent – or to end – the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We think that the answer to this question is similarly evident: Barriers to policy success for the antiwar movement may have been insurmountable from the start. In general, antiwar movements tend to be less successful in achieving their policy goals than other social movements because they challenge the security interests of state actors and, thus, receive relatively little facilitation from the state. As a result, antiwar movements rarely prevent nations from going to war. (p.7)

But Heaney and Rojas do not phrase their explanation in the language of hypocrisy. They talk instead of identity:

Political actors embrace multiple identities during their participation in politics. When these identities overlap, they have the potential both to amplify party-movement cooperation (when they reinforce one another) and to undercut party-movement cooperation (when they conflict with one another). Thus, the interplay of multiple identities helps to provide an explanation for the dynamics of the party in the street. Drawing upon scholarship in the intersectionality tradition, we hypothesize that partisan identities often trump movement identities during periods of conflict, a tendency that may lead to important identity shifts among mobilized actors. …

Antiwar activists with identities linked to the Democratic Party tended to depart from the antiwar movement earlier than did activists without Democratic identities. Further, … although Democratic Party members generally held an antiwar point of view, their mobilization for the antiwar cause usually assumed a lower priority than mobilization on many other issues, such as health care. … We reach these conclusions after controlling for alternative explanations for individuals’ behavior, such as the possibility that differences in ideology may account for activists’ opposition to war under all circumstances, as opposed to under specific conditions. (p.9)

While this is all plausible, it seems to me rather evasive on the source of the key “reinforcement” and “conflict”. The authors don’t directly say why being anti-war and Democrat reinforce each other with a Republican president, yet are in conflict with Democrat president. Yet if Democrats were actually much more anti-war than Republicans, why is there a conflict between being anti-war and Democrat with a Democrat president? And if voters thought Republicans were no more pro-war than Democrats, why is anti-war reinforced with a Republican president?

When we identify with a party, we tend to be willing to believe its idealistic descriptions of itself, even in the face of consistent and strong evidence to the contrary. We like to think we pick a party because we agree with its positions, but in fact we often change our positions when our party changes its positions, to stay loyal:

At least some members of the mass electorate switch their issue preferences to align with their partisan identification, even when that issue is highly salient to them. … “The fact that partisanship leads to changes in attitudes on issues like abortion, government provision of services, and government help for blacks for many citizens clearly runs counter to the idea that party identification is largely a summary of other evaluations.” …

What does a politician do when she or he is left behind by the party on a key issue? … Politicians are much more likely to deliberately adjust their issue positions to the party’s new stand. … Politicians who elect to leave the group … are met with great scorn by their former colleagues. (pp.77-79)

Added 8p: If they had framed their story more in terms of hypocrisy, they might have asked which media or interest groups tried to tell antiwar protesters the truth before Obama was elected, what reception they received, and why did other big media chose not to tell.

Added 9a: More evidence here that voters change positions in response to changes in which politicians are in power.

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  • JW Ogden

    I remember my Aunt, a democrat, once saying that since the president ran with an anti-war stance and then continued with war that he must have been briefed after the election with some information that we are not privy too that makes a strong war case. USA government actions in the middle-east are so inexplicable to me that I sometimes ask myself what they know that I don’t, but I always come to my senses and say no what they know is that the Democrats loose if they appear weak and Republicans are dedicated to electing people who will beat down bullies because is works on the school yard.

  • lump1

    I don’t think it’s clear that anti-war Democrats ease up on protests when they have Democratic leaders, other things being equal. In the case of Iraq, what we found so outrageous and worthy of protest was the decision to go to war, the war’s strategically stupid initial conduct, Abu Gharib, etc. The election of Obama didn’t instantly end the war, but the most outrageous and protest-worthy US actions did not happen post 2008. Protests in the last 6 years focus on Guantanamo Bay, because it’s the most objectionable thing left from Bush’s wars.

    From what I read of the Johnson administration, I don’t think that the anti-war Democrats exactly gave him a pass on Viet Nam. Did Nixon’s election suddenly galvanize them into protest? If Nixon had de-escalated the conflict like Obama did with Iraq, that might have appeased the movement. But instead, Nixon escalated everything, and we got Cambodia and Tet, along with a sense of utter pointlessness. So yes, there were protests, but the protests were *direct responses to reprehensible leadership actions* not instances of identity politics. Recent Republican leaders simply undertake more transparently reprehensible military actions, so they get proportionately more protest. It’s a simple story that fits all the evidence I know.

  • Dain Fitzgerald

    Leftists have all kinds of priorities apart from war, so with an actual chance to pursue them with a Dem in office, they go for it. Giving up on the anti-war thing only seems like “hypocrisy” to libertarians who have few if any competing agenda (or conservatives who are looking for cheap “gotcha!” points).

    • The question is why the promising issues to talk about and lobby for are different depending on which party is president.

  • The antiwar movement had placed its confidence in Obama, and his continuation of interventionist policies contributed to the movement’s demoralization.

  • Chalid

    The intensity of the conflicts the US is involved in is now lower. For example if you look at war deaths, they went way down under after Obama took office. (e.g. Fewer dead Americans means fewer Amercian antiwar protests, regardless of who is president (and whether or not that president is responsible for the reduction).

  • which media or interest groups tried to tell antiwar protesters the truth before Obama

    I don’t know what truth you’re referring to.

    media or interest groups tried to tell antiwar protesters the truth
    before Obama – See more at:

    • I mean the truth that Democrats aren’t more antiwar than Republicans.

  • Yossarian

    Well, Democrats being in power seemingly does little to prevent US from meddling in yet another fresh conflict, which could potentially lead to another Cold War.

  • Quixote

    Are you sure the basic premise, that policy didn’t haneg appreciably, is true? How did they quantify policy, and what dimensions did they compare between Obama and Bush?

    If there was an appreciable change (even one of less than the desired magnitude) than the puzzle is solved. And solved simply at that.

  • Guest

    There’s a difference between the Democratic party as a whole and any individual member, especially when that member is the president.

  • David Condon

    I would argue the key change was replacing Donald Rumsfeld with Robert Gates, but the influence of this decision showed up over the course of several years. I think comparing policy in 2009 with policy in 2008 is wrong. The key decisions were already made, and GWB had already quietly changed directions. Afghanistan wasn’t ever the major source of dispute; it was the decision to invade Iraq and how that invasion was carried out. I agree that voters change positions in response to their party positions however.


    Like David Condon said: Iraq always drew much more protest than Afghanistan.

    The Obama administration (partly through following agreements already made by the Bush administration) has drastically reduced deployment of American troops in wars, this took several years so one might be puzzled why there wasn’t more anti-war protesting in say, 2009 or 2010, but a) the financial crisis was distracting people and b) the Obama administration had already made promises and signed agreements and had begun overall withdrawal (more troops were withdrawn from Iraq then were added to Afghanistan). Perhaps party-tribalism played some role in people trusting the Obama administration to stick to those agreements and promises.

  • What if the relevant difference between Democrats and Republicans concerns the size of the military budget? [This was manifested in the sequester compromise. Recently, even Rand Paul called for an increase in military spending.]

    To say party loyalty can be a source of hypocrisy is really to belabor the obvious and to disguise the true hypocrisy: that the argument about the Iraq war was about deaths, when it was really about spending. [We have a mercenary army; antiwar activists aren’t terribly exercised about their deaths, and the carnage abroad continues unabated.]

  • Ronfar

    This might indeed be one of those things that is more about rhetoric and giving the appearance of agreement rather than actual policy changes. Someone appearing to say “Yay war!” and fighting wars angers different people than someone saying “I hate this war too – let me try to figure out how to fix this mess” even if they end up doing the same thing.

  • charlie

    Amazing the number of commenters that are questioning the obviously true premise.

    A parallel example is outrage at Bush as an executive branch ‘bully.’ Obama’s second-term unilateralism has awakened this complaint on the Right, but the Left has nothing to say about it (other than maybe it being ‘brave’ and ‘necessary in the face of congressional GOP recalcitrance’).

    • Lord

      A closer parallel would be Republicans discovering the deficit and opposing stimulus once Obama was elected. What never mattered or was the right thing to do suddenly became imperative to oppose.

  • Trimegistus

    “Anti-War” protests were always Anti-Bush. After November 2008 they were no longer necessary, so Soros quit funding them, the media quit obsessively covering them, and magically the anti-war activists melted away.

    They did resurface a few years later as the “Occupy” movement when it became necessary for Obama to throw a scare into some business leaders who weren’t coughing up enough big donations or favors to Party leaders. Once that was accomplished, they also faded away as if by magic.

  • The reasons for the death of the Iraq antiwar protests are complex and debatable–although I think it is obvious that partisan hypocrisy (and coalition politics) are partly responsible.

    That it’s not the sole reason also seems clear because the British antiwar movement, more vigorous than the American, also died. [The drying up of Soros money is an interesting possibility–if so, it again testifies to the malignant influence of billionaires who intervene in the public arena and possess the pecuniary ability to manipulate the public agenda.]

    But the point being made about partisan hypocrisy (I find this very strange) is so painfully obvious these days–so obvious it is almost embarrassing to see it the subject of an OB post–because of the grotesque, clownish behavior of … Republicans, in relation to health care measures that originated in the Heritage Foundation. [I say this as one who finds the two parties indistinguishable on anything important.]

    • David Condon

      The Republican party’s response on health care has to be the most blatant example of policy flip-flopping I’ve ever seen. They’re not even consistent from year to year anymore.

      • Why has Robin never used the strongest example to make his point. “Illicit motives”?

      • Curt Adams

        Actually the flip-flop on carbon trading is even more extreme. For some time, the Democrats had been pushing for carbon taxes and the Republicans for cap-n-trade. When the Democrats basically put McCain’s proposals FROM HIS 2008 PLATFORM into a bill in 2009, suddenly the Republicans said cap-n-trade was a horrible abomination and insisted on carbon taxes.

        Yeah, the flipflop on insurance exchanges was execrable but at least it hadn’t been their presidential nominee’s position 6 months before.

      • David Condon

        Energy policy has never been a major issue in policy, but health care definitely has been. There is that the McCain plan was more similar to the ACA than to the eventual Republican proposal in 2010 which seemed to come out of left field, but I was mainly thinking of the Medicare cuts. They pushed for more Medicare cuts in 2009, 2011, and 2013, but argued the Democrats cut Medicare too much in 2010 and 2012 for the elections. It wasn’t just a one time change on a minor policy; it was an annual flip-flop on the most important policy being debated at the time.

  • mobile

    I think their premise is incorrect. The ferocity of anti-Iraq war sentiment was always much stronger than the anti-Afghanistan war. Emphasizing Afghanistan while de-emphasizing Iraq was a great improvement in policy to the median anti-war protester.

    • The Obama program was to shift the war effort to Afghanistan. The question is whether the Afghan war was less opprobrious for antiwar activists because Democrats favored it.

      What is the alternative explanation? The al Qaeda connection, which Bush somehow managed to misplace? These legalistic distinctions carry little weight in public opinion.

      [The U.S. is as responsible for al Qaeda in Afghanistan as for the carnage in Iraq: Islamic fundamentalism owes its origin as a contemporary force to the U.S. support of Islamic extremists against the Soviet invasion, whose victory would have likely produced a rosier future.]

      • Curt Adams

        Almost everybody was for the Afghan war, because of 9/11. Partisan issues were genuinely put aside for that one. Also, opposition to the Iraq war was a case where popular opinion dragged the politicians along – initially the Democratic politicians were divided on the war and even after public opinion turned decisively against it some still tried to excuse their initial support or partial support (e.g. Kerry and Clinton).

  • Curt Adams

    Obama did what he promised up until Daesh took over Mosul. He promised to leave Iraq, and did, and promised to leave Afghanistan, which he almost did although he didn’t quite finish the job.

    Under Bush, we had over a hundred thousand ground troops and about a thousand ground troop casualties per year. We were also fighting one war in Iraq under obviously false pretenses where most Americans thought we shouldn’t be there. Under Obama, at present we have no ground troops, minimal casualties, and where we’re involved (Daesh) at least everybody agrees our opponents are reprehensible and the arguments are mostly about practicality.

    So he’s kept his promises and tremendously improved the situation. Of course the protest movement has mostly stopped. “Yeah you did what you promised but we want MORE” and “Stop saving refugees from mass murderers” aren’t very convincing slogans, anyway.

    • IMASBA

      Pretty much what I thought (though there’s still the matter of the, very limited compared to Iraq and Afghanistan, involvement in Libya) and I have an “outsider view” (not American).

    • The officers corps of he Islamic State is based entirely on the old Hussein military elite. This is a continuation of the original Iraq war, not something new.

      Hussein was as “reprehensible” as Gadafi.

      [And the Ukrainian oligarch that Obama overthrew at the expense of international peace wasn’t (relatively speaking) that reprehensible at all.]

      The causes of war wax and wane, and countries learn lessons from their defeats (such as to use air power rather than than commit ground forces, so they can easily abandon the cause when the country implodes).

      • Curt Adams

        Gadafi was pretty comparable to Hussein, but Daesh is much worse. Some of the old officer corps are supporting Daesh, but they’re not running the show. They’re latecomers, and Daesh doesn’t trust supposedly-ex-secularists.

        Yanukovych was overthrown by a popular revolt. Who came up with this idea that the populace of foreign nation follows the secret orders of the US president?

        If Bush had used a strategy in Iraq similar to Obama’s in Libya, there would never have been a mass resistance to the Iraq War. Americans don’t care about foreign war casualties, and they don’t care about foreign states failing. Maybe they should, but they don’t.

      • The heavy involvement of the CIA in the Ukraine coup is widely acknowledged. According to a Stratfor report, it was in retaliation for the Russian successes in the Mideast and their position on Syria. And there is even a phone call on record, remember, when the U.S. official says “Fuck the European Union,” as they were more cautious.

        Are you saying that the chaos of Libya is qualitatively better than the war in Iraq–because U.S. troops were avoided? That wasn’t the attitude of most of the antiwar movement (to my best knowledge).

      • IMASBA

        There was never such a stratfor report. There was a Russian (newspaper) interview with the CEO of stratfor who talked about a geopolitical tug-og-war between the US and Russia. Besides, stratfor is a private corporation that tries to act like an intelligence agency, it does not have moles in the cia or anything like that and it has gotten a lot of things wrong in the past. Now of course since few people in the West can read Russian the state-controlled Russian media thought it was a good idea to sow confusion by claiming that the stratfor CEO had said things he had not, and then they linked to the Russian newspaper article (all the stories eventually link back to that one article). Most Westerners never tried to read the interview from the link (it’s in Russian), score 1 for Putin’s propaganda squad.

        The simple truth is that people in the west of Ukraine hated Yanukovich. A revolt against him in Kiev was no more unlikely than a protest against George W. Bush in Portland, Oregon. The use of violence to suppress the protests only made things worse until almost the whole country and parliament turned against Yanukovich. Only in the east did he still have supporters and with the aid of a lot of Russian weapons and “volunteers” those people are now at war with Kiev. It’s possible the Ukrainians will one day depose the current pro-Western leadership too, they’ve often swung back and forth, but Yanukovich really went too far. Still, that’s a lot less likely if the east successfully seccedes.

      • I largely agree with the stratfor CEO’s analysis as far as it goes, but I also agree with you it isn’t dispositive evidence or close to it.

        But there is a smoking gun: the “Fuck the EU” discussion, which makes it clear that the U.S. participated in the coup.

        Yes, the Western Ukrainians were dissatisfied with Yanukovich. That doesn’t mean without covert U.S. intervention they would have chosen to overthrow an elected head of state by unconstitutional means .

        [Putin’s “propaganda mill” is nothing in effectiveness compared to the American counterpart.]

      • IMASBA

        The fuck the eu comment was about victoria nuland preferring the united nations as mediators instead of the eu (against the wishes of the Obama administration, she’s a conservative republican). Ironically Russian media keep accusing the EU of being behind the revolt. There were definite political and economic events going in Ukraine that were certainly enough to cause mass protests, especially in a country that has a history of such protests. The protests went on for months and there were plenty of ways for Yanukovich’s party to stay in power (chiefly getting rid of their corrupt leader and signing the cooperation treaty with the EU that Yanukovich had promised voters but didn’t deliver on).

      • That’s not all the comment was about. She was advising on who should assume power in the Ukraine.

        [Added.] Obama’s use of conservative Republicans to implement his policies rather shows the absence of a divide between the parties on war.

      • IMASBA

        Sure the US tried to negotiate with the new power brokers in Ukraine, as did European powers (and the Russians), telling them that certain actions would lead to less or more support. But that was AFTER the revolution and is quite normal in any country. Even in the US political party leaderships factor in foreign acceptance when endorsing candidates for important offices.

        Blaming the CIA for everything is to belittle the abilities of other countries (including Russia), the hardships of the Ukrainian people (it really is a poor and corrupt country that has not recovered from the Soviet-collapse to the degree its neighbors have, it’s a miracle the whole revolt and civil war didn’t happen earlier) and the role of chance/chaos in the world (that last one is a bias that has a fancy name which escapes me right now, but I’m sure you know it).

      • Curt Adams

        “Widely acknowledged?” By whom? The extent of the “evidence” is the Victoria Nuland said she thought some person was the best choice for a particular political post. Seriously? I express opinions like that all the time. Does that mean I have the power to set off popular revolts in foreign nation?

      • “So let me work on Klitschko and if you can just keep… we want to try to get somebody with an international personality to come out here and help to midwife this thing.”

        What the transcript shows is top U.S. diplomats who think they have the connections (forgive me if I believe them) to run Ukraine politics during an international crisis.

  • RogC

    It takes substantial funding to keep even a small movement focused. Once the funding is withdrawn then most of the group will fade away quickly and the members are recycled to whichever topic is currently being pushed. Whether a movement is left or right, the mechanics are the same. To stir people up for the for the flavor of the week is simple and cheap but to keep any protest active for a significant period of time requires deep pockets.

  • stevesailer

    How much of Vietnam Era anti-war protests were actually part of a covert ethnic struggle for control of the Establishment? It seems like the winners of the Sixties cultural revolution have no intention of allowing the same fair play that they exploited.

    • Are you suggesting that the leading role of the Jewish ethnicity was established in the Sixties?

  • Sam

    This is simple. The wars in the Middle East are not for America they’re for the Israelis. Since Jews own practically all the major media they don’t cover much in the way of protest. People seeing no protest don’t.

    The whole 9-11 thing is a farce. It’s easily discernible as such due to the extraordinary behavior of World Trade Center build #7. Building #7, not hit by a plane and only having two or three floors on fire, fell the same speed as a bowling ball dropped in free air for roughly 108 feet. It is of course impossible for a few floors burning to drop the whole building as if it had NO support for ten floors. Even molten steel has some resistance.

    Videos released by NIST due to the freedom of information act show reporters walking into the back of building #7 through to the front and up in the building AFTER the North tower fell. Supposedly the North tower started all the fires and destruction that made building #7 fall. Yet we see none of that.

    There are also videos showing building #7 an hour or so before it collapses. There is no all consuming fire.

    The sooner we stop letting the Jews control our country the sooner we will have policies that are not ape shit stupid.

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  • Tark

    Trump takes after Bush in most respects