The 'Galloway effect'

It was a sight to see. When George Galloway raised his right hand and swore to tell the truth, no one expected that he meant to tell the truth - least of all the two senators unlucky enough to be in the line of fire. After the dust settled, it was clear that nothing would be exactly the same as before. It is hard, as an American writing about Galloway's Washington appearance, to keep from excessive hyperbole. After all, it was the first time that the anger, frustration and passion of those of us who opposed the Iraq war, who oppose the ongoing occupation, were expressed in such a straightforward and complete manner. I'll be blunt: on that day, he spoke for the millions on this side of the Atlantic who have been straining to have their voices heard. On that day, Galloway was the voice of the American anti-war movement as much as he sees himself as the voice of the British anti-war movement. I happened to be at a bar in a small city that could best be described as 'middle America'. The television was tuned to CNN, and Galloway was the star of the show. I did not watch all of his statement; I spent most of my time watching the people watching - and listening - to Galloway. I watched the expressions of people's faces as Galloway tore into Republican senator Norm Coleman. Americans are so unaccustomed to a political figure speaking plainly, calling things by their right name, and not accepting the venom of the Republican propaganda machine as fact. I have to admit, I got a cheap thrill out of watching the Republicans in the bar choke on their lunches as Coleman was knocked from pillar to post. After Galloway was done, I heard someone at another table turn to her companion and say, "Wow! Now that was a statement." Her companion replied: "Yeah. If only Kerry had taken on Bush like that." Almost immediately after the microphone was shut off, the 'Galloway effect' began to wash across the body politic. The blogosphere exploded with reprints of Galloway's senate testimony. Every liberal pundit, bobble-head ('talking head') and paid mouthpiece weighed in with his or her viewpoint. Anti-war commentators finally had the words to shut down pro-war loudmouths. Of course, it helped that Galloway was able to effectively counter the inquisition of the two senators who spoke at the hearing. It helped him on two levels: first, it made his own statements about Iraq that much stronger; and, second, it forced liberals, who are wedded to the Democratic Party but opposed the war and occupation, to choose sides. Liberal discussion boards on the internet were ablaze with flame wars between 'Galloway Democrats' and those supporting Democratic senator Carl Levin, who, along with Coleman, conducted the questioning. Messages saying things like "I just sent Levin an email" or "I just called his office to express my anger" were posted by the hundreds. In other words, Galloway managed to do what close to two years of organising by the 'official' anti-war movement has not: cause a section of Democratic supporters to break with their politicians and stand for principle - even if only partially. Looking at the experiences of the last few years in their broader context, I tend to think that George Galloway's appearance before the senate will be regarded as one of those 'the emperor has no clothes' moments. Comparisons have already been made between Galloway's statement and that of Joseph Welch in 1954. Welch was the US army lawyer who pointedly asked senator Joseph McCarthy, "Have you no sense of decency, sir?" That question effectively ended the anti-communist witch-hunts of the 1950s. Certainly, Galloway's own tip of the hat to that time, starting his statement saying, "I am not now, nor have I ever been, an oil trader," was meant to evoke such a comparison. Certainly, the right honourable member for Bethnal Green and Bow earned a considerable amount of political capital during his short visit to Washington. Should he return to this side of the Atlantic any time soon, he could easily utilise that capital to revitalise an anti-war movement that seems to be floundering under the weight of its own contradictions. The two main anti-war coalitions in the US, United for Peace and Justice and International Answer, are increasingly tying themselves openly to the liberal ('roll over and die') wing of the Democratic Party. Whilst such moves are to be expected from UFPJ, which is led by social democrats and the 'official' communists, the fact that it is also happening to Answer, which is led by the supposedly revolutionary Workers World Party, shows the level of degeneration afflicting the movement here. I do not envy the man. He has some tough decisions to make. His actions in Washington have won him the respect (an appropriate term, I think) and admiration of millions of liberal and radical-liberal Americans. But he is a British MP, serving in a seat that only last month was filled by a pro-war Blairite. Galloway could take his chances and try to make a prominent place for himself in the US (a task I can see succeeding), or he could build on his successes in Britain. He could continue to lead a massive anti-war movement in Britain, or help rebuild and revitalise a massive anti-war movement in the US. Or both. No matter how you slice it, however, unless he does something, Galloway will end up squandering the political capital he has earned. I, like so many others, certainly hope that the 'Galloway effect' does not become just another echo highlighting the extent of the political vacuum that exists here today.