The nuclear freeze movement is not dead, not even sleeping, say its battered friends on Capitol Hill.
It has been a poor season for citizens who want to stop the arms race, both here and abroad. The European elections seem to have wiped out all vestiges of the once-powerful force that surged through the streets and squares of the continent in such numbers as to give office seekers a bad case of nerves.
But the polling results in England, West Germany and Italy restored the custody of the nuclear issue to the strategic planners and the experts. The "unilateral disarmers" of Britain's Labor Party were routed and the victory of Margaret Thatcher depleted and demoralized the ranks of the women of Greenham Common, who used to turn out by the thousands at England's missile sites. In West Germany, Helmut Kohl became chancellor and assured the deployment of the cruise and Pershing missiles.
Even Petra Kelly, the voluble young woman who is one of the leaders of West Germany's leftist Green Party, falls briefly silent when contemplating the returns. She says stoutly that the Kohl voters were really voting for the economic miracle he promised and not for the Euromissiles, but it was not a distinction that could be registered on the ballot. She is organizing nonviolent demonstrations for the fall, but she does not expect them, or anything else, to stop the placing of the new missiles on German soil.
In Italy, the first European country to choose its missile site, the peace issue was not raised. At the 11th hour, the Communist Party took an anti-missile stand, but it did not effect the fuzzy outcome.
Progress in Geneva, the only place where deployment can be stopped or deferred, was at a standstill. The U.S. arms negotiators, according to melancholy dispatches, were not speaking to each other, much less to the Soviets.
Here, the depth of congressional sentiment for arms control was measured and found to be of truly breathtaking shallowness. House members, trying to humor constituents who unaccountably favor action that would actually halt the testing, production and deployment of all nuclear weapons, voted for the freeze and then, within weeks, turned around and gave the nod to the testing of the biggest, deadliest--and most useless--item in the arsenal.
The biggest contribution to President Reagan's triumph of May 24 was made by three defecting Democrats: Les Aspin (Wis.), Albert Gore Jr. (Tenn.) and Norman D. Dicks (Wash). They negotiated strenuously with the White House and helped run up a total of 91 Democrats who argued that a vote for MX was a vote for peace.
House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.), the only member of the Democratic leadership to vote against the MX, received incensed delegations of freshmen and other arms-control advocates, who demanded a caucus to rail against their defecting brothers and accuse them of making a gift of the peace issue to Reagan.
The speaker granted a delay of the second stage of MX--the authorization of $2.5 billion in production funds--until after the July 4 recess. An intense in-House lobbying campaign, member-to-member, was organized. At the grass roots, furious freezeniks began acquainting members with their rage and their inability to reconcile a vote for the MX with a vote for the freeze.
Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Calif.), the acute politician who heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, apparently thinks that these emotionally charged efforts will pay off in next week's scheduled vote.
"The freeze movement is alive and well in this country," he said. "It has forced members to face what they mean when they say they are for a freeze. Members know now that MX was not just another weapons system to throw a vote to."
Coelho says he thinks the chances of a turnaround on MX next week are "excellent."
Rep. Thomas J. Downey (D-N.Y.), the youthful commander of the anti-missile forces, who says he regards the MX as the best way of showing the difference between Democrats and Republicans on war and peace, credits the freeze movement and allies in Common Cause and the Council for a Livable World with making members realize they can't get away with it.
"They had a lot of explaining to do when they were home," said Downey. "We're going to make a fight of it."
Aspin, who convinced so many Democrats in May that they could have it both ways, has hardened his position. He spent part of the recess telling his constituents that presidential candidates of his party were being perceived as "bordering on being unilateral disarmers" because of their support of the freeze.
"Aspin and company have become irrelevant," says Downey. "The issue has passed them by."