WASHINGTON, September 7, 2013 — There is much more going on regarding the decision to take action in Syria than is appearing in the major media.
The opinions of experts and major political figures are receiving thorough coverage; public opinion and grassroots activism are getting much less. Sen. John McCain’s latest comments are easy to cover, and it is relatively easy to put a reporter in the Capitol to cover the debate. It is more difficult to cover the debates which are raging in social media and among the politically concerned segment of the population.
There is a contrast between the increasingly vocal masses opposing intervention and the more widely reported politicians taking the other side. Who is a member of Congress more likely to listen to — thousands of irate constituents posting angry comments on their Facebook walls, or party leaders on television?
As members of Congress become more media savy, and as social network activism becomes more sophisticated, the balance is moving in the constituents’ favor.
The level of grassroots activism from the left and the right in opposition to military action in Syria is unprecedented. Sources in Congressional offices privately confirm that emails and calls are running as much as 500 to 1 against intervention. Democratic Representative Peter DeFazio tweeted that calls and emails to his office currently total 1135 against to 18 for intervention in Syria, or 98.5 percent opposition.
This is partly due to the level of organization of grassroots groups opposing war. Groups like the Republican Liberty Caucus have done a full-court press to get their activists out, with petitions, press releases, resolutions, email campaigns, phone-calling campaigns and even “twitter bombs” all aimed to sway Congress to their side. From the left we see the same coming from socialist groups like ANSWER, which is marching on the White House today.
The campaigns for and against intervention have made for strange bedfellows as groups from the far left and the radical right are taking the same side against against party establishments that both favor a military attack. A staff member for one conservative Senator commented that this was the first and likely the only time that the Senator and MoveOn.org were on the same side of an issue.
A lot of this is spilling out onto Twitter, where opinions appear almost instantaneously from every perspective. The hashtag #Syria is getting about 100 tweets a minute. Members of Congress are using Twitter heavily to promote their positions, led by Rep. Justin Amash who has hammered on the issue relentlessly.
Syria is also a big issue at townhall meetings, where supporters of intervention are facing angry crowds demanding answers. According to numerous media reports, Senator John McCain was heckled by angry constituents at a townhall event on Thursday in Phoenix. Senator Lindsey Graham faced a similar situation at an event in Mt. Pleasant, where his attempts to shift attention to Obama and stir up fear of WMDs in Charleston harbor were not well received.
Graham should be worried about his pro-war stance: A PAC poll shows that his approval has fallen to 42 percent, and while he leads a trio of opponents in the Republican primary, according to a Landmark Communications poll, he still comes in at under 50 percent in hypothetical head-to-head matchups with each of them.
Upstart candidates like Dan Bongino in Maryland’s 6th District and Rob Manness in Louisiana’s Senate race are making an issue of Syria against Democrats who are supporting the President’s agenda. Bongino tweeted, “It’s a dangerous world but we are not the only ones in it. We are not the world’s police force.” Maness urged caution in a statement, saying “the lives of our sons and daughters serving in United States military should not be risked in a mission that lacks full justification.”
Supporters of military action in Syria are pulling out all the stops in their efforts to win over votes in Congress. At meetings and briefings, they are reportedly presenting horrific and graphic pictures of sarin gas victims, resorting to an emotional humanitarian argument which the Center for Defense and Foreign Policy described as “laudable, but it is a poor basis for a rational foreign policy and a dangerous motivation on which to to launch military action.”
What they seem unable to do is counter the overwhelming grassroots pressure against military action with similar popular support. There just does not seem to be a significant base willing to support attacks on Syria within the war weary American public in either party.
In the coming week we will see whether all this talk about Syria and all the calls and emails have enough weight to counter pressure from Speaker Boehner and other leaders who haave signed on to the President’s plan. Many House members and a few in the Senate may be gambling their reelection hopes on how they vote on this issue.
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