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August 14, 2005

Cindy Sheehan, Democratic Savior?
Posted by David Adesnik

Sheehan2No matter what you think of her politics, you have to give Cindy Sheehan credit for staging one of the most brilliant pieces of political theater that Americans have encountered in a very long time.

Conservatives such as Michelle Malkin and Bill O'Reilly have blasted the liberal media for lavishing attention on an unworthy protest, but that hardly takes away from what Sheehan has accomplished.  After all, there are countless efforts made by anti-war protesters which don't result in this kind of coverage.  But Sheehan did a perfect job of framing herself as a lonely voice in the wilderness of Crawford, attempting to soften the heart of an American pharoah hiding behind the darkened windows of his limousine.  And as the NYT points out, Sheehan had the good luck (or perhaps the good sense) to stage her protest in the "slow news month" of August, when journalists are almost desperate for news.

But the broader question here for Democrats is not whether they can learn from Sheehan's tactics, but whether they should embrace her success as the foundation for a full-frontal assault on Bush's war policy.  Thus we come back to the question of what exactly Sheehan's politics are.  Although Sheehan hasn't been terribly consistent in her criticism of Bush, there is no question about what her politics are now: The war in Iraq is not a noble cause.  Pull out now before any more of our soldiers get killed.

In a certain sense, the question of whether or not to embrace Sheehan is same as the question Democrats faced in January of 2004: Should the party close ranks behind a charismatic anti-war firebrand or should it run to the center by adopting a more nuanced approach to the war?  My sense is that John Kerry's loss has led numerous Democrats to embrace the Sheehan approach.

For example, over at TPM Cafe, blogger cscs asks:

Cindy Sheehan has a simple question for the President:

Is Iraq a noble cause?...I believe Democrats who advocate a "stay the course" plan for Iraq have a responsibility to answer the same question.

So, is Iraq a noble cause?

This question generated 64 responses, almost all of which describe the war in Iraq as a manifest failure, both moral and strategic, that must be brought to an end right now.  Yet as one of those commentators pointed, leading Democrats such as Bill Clinton adamantly insist that we must stand by the people of Iraq as they embark on one of the most improbable and ambitious transitions to democracy in the history of the modern world.

Moreover, Clinton insists that one's support or opposition to the initial invasion of Iraq is absolutely irrelevant to whether we should stand by its people now, in their time of need.  That is the moral case for staying in Iraq and describing it as a noble cause.  Although Cindy Sheehan relentlessly speaks the language of compassion, she never seems to address the question of whether there are Iraqi mothers just like herself who are sending their sons out to fight an extremely dangerous war against Ba'athist and Al Qaeda terrorism and therefore deserve American support that will save many of their children's lives.

But in addition to the moral question of whether to stay the course in Iraq, there is the strategic question as well.  If we pull out of Iraq, then what?  This is another question that neither Sheehan nor her supporters seems willing to answer.  What if the low-grade civil war in progress today erupts into a full-scale bloodletting of the kind that took place in the aftermath of the first Gulf War?  And what if the Ba'athists and their Al Qaeda allies prevail in that war and transform Iraq into a staging ground for internation terrorists attacks, a la Afghanistan except with oil?

But perhaps the most important question for those who support Sheehan is not moral or strategic but partisan politcal.  The advocates of a pullout seem confident in their conviction that it is the moral and practical thing to do.  But what about 2008?

You can call Bush either stubborn or principled, but the bottom line is that he seems dead set on keeping tens of thousands of American soldiers in Iraq for as long as he is President.  And the Republican Congress seems to have few qualms about providing Bush with the necessary funds.  Recently, there has been widespread speculation in the media about the administration's semi-secret plan to pull out, but those stories never seem to pan out.

So what we are looking at for 2008 is another scenario, similar to 2004, in which American soldiers are fighting for their lives and the Democrats aren't sure whether the centrist voters that decide presidential elections will trust a Democratic party that continues to embrace its Vietnam heritage of demanding prudent withdrawals rather than investing ever more resources in the prospect of victory.

My intuition is that the response of centrists will depend on just how badly the war is going.  What the Democrats really need in order to make their anti-war stance both marketable and credible is for the army itself to turn against the war, along with a good number of prominent Republicans.  Otherwise, the GOP will once again be able to brand the Democrats as the party of appeasement and surrender. 

That is really what's at stake in the debate about Cindy Sheehan.  The Democrats have to decide whether they are willing to gamble their political future on the United States losing another war in the manner that it lost Vietnam.  Even opposing that sort of quagmire has had an enduring impact on the Democrats' reputation as guardian of our national security.  If democracy prevails in Iraq, the Democrats may find that they have cemented their status as the minority party of this generation. 

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Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Cindy Sheehan, Democratic Savior?:

» The fire and Bush's feet from The Editor's Blog
History will judge Cindy Sheehan's heroic vigil at President Bush's Crawford White House as a watershed moment in the anti-war groundswell. Sheehan's now blogging on her encampment and says her mission is to hold Bush accountable: The mainstream media... [Read More]

» The fire and Bush's feet from The Editor's Blog
History will judge Cindy Sheehan's heroic vigil at President Bush's Crawford White House as a watershed moment in the anti-war groundswell. Sheehan's now blogging on her encampment and says her mission is to hold Bush accountable: The mainstream media... [Read More]

Comments

" My sense is that John Kerry's loss has led numerous Democrats to embrace the Sheehan approach.

For example, over at TPM Cafe, blogger cscs asks..."

While you're at it, why not do a quick impressionistic reading of dailykos or freerepublic to get a sense of the liberal and conservative pulse?

Come on David, you can provide better evidence than this!

"If democracy prevails in Iraq, the Democrats may find that they have cemented their status as the minority party of this generation."

Is the converse true? Because there are already stories about the administration starting the "diminished expectations" game...

Love your slant, a cavalier attitude regarding war with Iraq went a long way toward isolating the US on the real war against terror, has practically destroyed our effective ground fighting forces and equipment. Even worse, it appears that war profiteering has reached a level that is not only unsustainable, but will be hard to defend in any court of law. I am hopeful there will be a trial in the senate, a genuine twofer, with Cheney and his puppet getting prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

Hey, Dan. Good to hear from you. Btw, you still owe those citations on discursive entrapment.

With regard to TPM Cafe, I'm not relying on it as definitive evidence of where the Democratic party now stands vis a vis Iraq, just as an illustration of the growing strength of the left. Do you think that the stay-the-course wing of the party is actually gaining momentum, or did you just want more evidence from me?

And Mike C., I'm glad to see you're looking forward to a trial in the Senate. The last one we had was really great for this country.

I don't think the Bush administration is planning to stay the course. All of the indications are that they are planning to cut and run next year, after declaring a partial victory and blaming all problems on the liberals. It is going to make for some very interesting campaigns as Rethugs (and for the most apart that's exactly what their politicians are) try to frame the pullouts as a victory and Democrats advocate staying or slower pullouts, because, as you say, the genuinely honorable action is to help the Iraqis now.
I do think all Democratic politicians and opinion leaders should admit that we should not have invaded and they and should be loudly and at great length condemning the Bush administration for the horrible mistake of starting the war, the incompetent occupation, and the dishonesty of proclaiming victory in the reality of defeat. We should withdraw our support for any Democrat who is still enabling the Rethugs by supporting the initial invasion. Anyone who can't see what a mistake that was doesn't belong in our party.

whomever wrote this post--i pray you enlist or re enlist or drive a truck in iraq-get up and go now and make the democrats a permanent minority party. otherwise, there will be no Americans left to secure iraq, except for contractors, and then blessedly, the public will see republicans for what they are...traitors, treasonous chickens, and liars who are corrupt. so get up and go fight. this was one of the most meaningless posts I have read on this subject. this is so stupid, i can't believe someone had the audacity to post it. ta ta have fun in iraq. if you come back without some limbs or in a wheelchair forever or perhaps brain deader than you are...remember it was a noble cause you got blown up for. your noble cause not the majority of americans.

Anyone know the Dixie Chicks? Tool? Bush is cornered in Crawford and the media's there, but as of yesterday there were only 300 of us demonstrating. The college kids have a couple of weeks before classes resume, which means the demographic most opposed to the war in Iraq has some time on their hands. Bring the music and they'll come to the dance. Throw in a couple of charismatic liberal speakers and by next Saturday the Democratic Party could be looking at a revolution.

Sherry, it's great to hear from people who are on the ground in Crawford. I may disagree with what the protesters there are advocating, but I am all for direct reporting that lets as many people as possible get an unfiltered perspective on the news. I hope you keep reading DA and would be glad to post some of your observations as blog posts rather than comments.

Karin, thanks for keeping the tenor of debate civlized and promoting substantive discussion instead of personal attacks.

Jill, my response to your prediction would be to ask why Democrats have been predicting since the late summer of 2003 that Bush would cut and run, but he hasn't? Is it because those predictions are just a reflection of Democrats are hoping for and not what Bush wants?

An excellent piece of analysis, David. The most salient part for me was perhaps the fact that in framing their opposition to the war through the prism of a mother grieving for her son, the Democrats risk coming across as selfish and inwardly focused, and craven. In this sense the Democrats would be abandoning the truly liberal ethos espoused by JFK that America is willing to fight for freedom anywhere, anytime, because these are the principles that American stands for. (I suppose one could say they lost that during Vietnam)

I don't mean to dismiss Democratic criticism of Bush's handling of the war as I say these words. I myself supported the war, but voted for Kerry because I thought he was more capable of handling the reins in this crucial endeavor. But I would appreciate more Democrats realizing this isn't just about American troops, it is also about an oppressed people fighting for their lives to build a workable society. If you want to give up on that hope, that is fine, but don't think you are morally superior in doing so. And in lionizing Cindy Sheehan I would hope you realize if a new, peacable Iraq can be established than her son most decidely will not have died in vain, so how about leavening your cynicism with a little hope and support for the men and women, Iraqi and American, putting their lives on the line for such a goal.

while i agree with most everything else in the above article, i fail to see how bill clinton's opinion is relevant. if i recall correctly, he is a liar and a murderer, same as bush. remember? bill clinton bombed iraq, killing god knows how many civilians. there is no doubt in my mind that he has an equal stake in maintaining the current staus quo as, say, rumsfeld. it's time to ask some serious questions about the war and the role of the economic elite within it. who dies first? who laughs last?

It's no accident that the Dems are talking about Sheehan like they were talking about Howard Dean 2 years ago. In both cases, Joe Trippi was running the media show ... Say, how's President Dean been doin' lately?

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