Little Havana vs. Seattle

Liberals love protests, taking to the streets and demanding "social change." They're flocking to protests against free world trade, the use of fossil fuels, homophobia, and gun rights, to name a few lovable liberal stances. But when the protests don't match that "progressive" agenda, the reception isn't so rosy.

The daily protest vigil of Cuban Americans around Elian Gonzalez's adopted home is a good example. Time Miami correspondent Tim Padgett recently began an article by disparaging the "hard-line" anti-communists surrounding the six-year-old survivor. "The 'banana republic' label sticking to Miami in the final throes of the Elian Gonzalez crisis is a source of snide humor for most Americans. But many younger Cuban Americans are getting tired of the hard-line anti-Castro operatives who have helped manufacture that stereotype."

There's your public-relations line of the day: anti-communist protesters are a source of snide humor and embarrassment. When they're not portrayed as embarrassing their fellow Cuban-Americans, they are being depicted by the press as dangerously authoritarian, anti-democratic opponents of the First Amendment. By contrast, Padgett declared, "moderates" aim to "reconnect the city" to "mainstream U.S. civic values." These are the people who endorse the approach of Bill Clinton and Janet Reno, whose "civic values" have never been a source of snide humor in Time magazine. Not even Clinton and Reno's newfound love for the "rule of law" brings a chuckle.

Padgett complained about the prospect of civil disobedience against Clinton administration efforts to send the boy packing to Cuba.. "The U.S.'s Cuba policy," he wrote, "has indulged the notion that Miami, because of its special anti-Castro mission, sometimes gets a pass on the democratic rules that the rest of country observes." Sociologist George Wilson told Padgett that because Cuban exiles are perhaps the country's most privileged group, "most Americans refuse to believe that their civil disobedience over Elian is legitimate." Padgett then proclaimed: "Viewed from that perspective, shutting down freeways is no longer protest, merely petulance."

Shutting down traffic against communism is undesirable, but shutting down traffic to protest "global capitalism" is another thing entirely, according to this same magazine. Pages after Padgett, Adam Zagorin quoted one leftist leader, "It's going to be a festival of resistance. We want to stop the current model of globalism that helps giant corporations at the expense of virtually everyone else."

Zagorin concluded by saluting the festival: "The protests will surely raise the temperature of debates on global-trade and economic issues. For demonstrators, their appetites whetted by Seattle, the agenda includes the U.S. political conventions this summer. And preparations are also under way for a series of major protests in Prague when the World Bank and IMF meet there in September."

Time didn't find anyone to be embarrassed by the hard-line "opponents of global capitalism." No one argued they created an unpopular stereotype, or had a "desperate craving for geopolitical attention in this post cold-war world."

Instead, reporters are promoting a group of protesters - who gained publicity in Seattle by widespread destruction of property and the aggressive use of force to tie a city in knots - like a rock band on a city-by-city Shutdown Tour. Wouldn't it be great fun if these business-bashing hippies surrounded and shut down the filthy megacorporation Time-Warner at Rockefeller Center?

Time's not the only offender on the coverage of dueling protests. Rich Galen points out that National Public Radio's Kathleen Schalch found it newsworthy to report on the "pageantry" the capitalist-haters would bring to Washington: "Workshop leader Nadine Block gently helped the group focus on images that might say something about the IMF and the World Bank and re-create some of the pageantry of the demonstrations in Seattle and then demonstrated what you can do with cardboard."

On the Cubans in Miami, NPR reporter David Welna did suggest one protest was "billed as a civic religious candlelight vigil." But his colleague Philip Davis warned of an explosion of hate: "Miami residents braced for an explosion of disruptive protests from the Cuban-American community," in what was "the biggest and perhaps last chance for Miami's Cuban community to spotlight their hatred of the Communist regime in Cuba." With their sulfurous coverage of Cuban-American protests, the liberal media may be sending the signal that protests just aren't supposed to be a capitalist tool.

This double standard also applies to the relative idealism of the protesters. When the Cubans march, they're not marching for a little boy's freedom, they're for seducing Elian with ticky-tacky Disney theme parks, McDonald's Happy Meals, and Power Ranger action figures. But when the Seattle slackers march, no one makes fun of them for opposing the supposed global evils perpetrated by ticky tacky Disney, or McDonald's, or plastic toy makers. Liberals may insist the Cold War is over, but their disdain for the West suggests the battle for freedom must never die.