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California and the West | CAPITOL JOURNAL

Once More Into the Breach for an Anti-Warhorse

May 13, 1999|GEORGE SKELTON

SACRAMENTO — By day, Sen. Tom Hayden works at his paying job, representing 800,000 citizens of Westside L.A. in the state Senate. Evenings, he dutifully puts in political appearances at receptions and fund-raisers. Then he returns to a downtown B&B and works until midnight on his true passion--protesting the war.

Hayden's like an old firehouse dog that hears the bell and springs into action. He hears the bombs and the blather.

"Clinton's like bomb-happy," he asserts. "It's like military quickies--in and outs. He finally got caught here. There's a serious problem. This is serious money. Serious consequences. And if you listen to his goals, he can't win."

Hayden got into politics protesting the war in Vietnam. His very name 30 years ago was synonymous with violent demonstrations. He angered many Americans by traveling to the heart of enemy territory, Hanoi.

In a 1988 autobiography, Hayden apologized, sort of: "Our cause was both just and rational, even if all our methods were not." He regretted "a numbed sensitivity to any anguish or confusion I was causing to U.S. soldiers and to their families."

That's all history. This is Hayden's 17th year as a state legislator. He's very much a member of the establishment, albeit an out-of-fashion liberal. He's 59 and Kosovo isn't Vietnam--or so we think. Hayden's not convinced.

"I feel from my past that if we don't stop this now, it's going to take us over," he says. "Clinton will be sending in ground troops for the newly discovered mission of helping the Albanian Kosovars. And everybody will be wondering, 'Well, why aren't we helping the Tibetans or the Guatemalans or the Salvadorans? What is this about?' And it will get more and more righteous and people will really get bitter with each other. . . .

"So I'm trying to nip it in the bud."

*

This time, Hayden's megaphone is a laptop computer, which he uses to tap out newspaper and magazine commentaries. He holds mini-rallies over the phone with old antiwar pals. He'll be speaking at "teach-ins."

No physical violence--just small-arms political volleys.

He wrote fellow Democrat President Clinton an "open letter"--faxed it to the White House--declaring:

"When I watch the smoke of bombs over Serbia, I smell the stench of hypocrisy. . . . Why the Kosovars and not the Mayans or the Rwandans? It can only be a geopolitical abstraction like restoring U.S. dominance of a new NATO alliance, the 'new imperialism'. . . .

"As you recall from Vietnam, Americans deeply resent credibility gaps and official lies. . . . Don't allow the Balkans to become a Vietnam, Mr. President, in order to avoid a Munich. . . .

"Attempting to save official face while escalating the bombing of faceless human beings only deepens the moral and strategic quagmire. The damage is done, the rest is damage control."

And speaking of damage, Hayden wrote in the Nation magazine, Vice President Al Gore and the Democrats' hopes of recapturing Congress "are becoming collateral damage of Clinton's war."

Well, I asked Hayden, what about that "Munich" point--can America really risk Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic becoming another Hitler? And what about ethnic cleansing and raping women as a weapon of war?

"Look, I don't want to compare suffering and brutality," he responds, "but after awhile, you dishonor the memory of the Holocaust by describing every brutal dictator as a Hitler. . . .

"This is crazy, man. The Jews were not trying to form a separate state inside Germany. The Albanians inside Yugoslavia have been trying to form their own state. The Jews were minding their own business. They weren't in rebellion."

And the rapes? "Well, we raped the native [American] people, you know. I don't know how many millions of Americans are the victims of ethnic cleansing. We ought to look at ourselves."

*

Hayden says it's all too familiar. Back when he first heard of Vietnam, he was pushing school reform and inner-city jobs as a community organizer--as he now does at the state Capitol.

"In my gut, I know that if this escalates there's no hope of dealing with our domestic problems," he says. "I'm sure Clinton will make the same argument Lyndon Johnson did--that we can afford it all. But I've never seen that. So far we know they've diverted $13 billion to this war. That's 13 times more than Clinton is asking for new teachers. My fear could be wrong, but it's not an imaginary fear. I see the money going out the door already."

"But look," he adds, "I don't want to give up my day job and go lead an antiwar movement. I just want this to stop so I can do my job."

Legislating is his job. Protesting war is Hayden's role in life.

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