Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Column 47 (National) - Cindy Sheehan

The Right has a favorite tactic that, if you don’t have too high a regard for the truth, has until recently been very effective – when there is a setback to what you are doing, change the subject. Richard Clarke says the Administration was inattentive before 9/11? Question his character. Thomas Wilson questions Rumsfeld about armor? Call him a media plant. Karl Rove is under fire? Nominate John Roberts to the Supreme Court ahead of schedule. Public support for the war in Iraq is eroding? Assassinate Cindy Sheehan’s character. Character assassination is a tactic dear to Rove’s heart that has been adopted widely on the Right. It’s not a new tactic, of course – it is a descendant of the “big lie” propaganda technique – tell lies, tell them loudly, and tell them often and a certain number of people will believe they are true.

Cindy Sheehan has chosen to protest the war in a very public way, and others have rallied to her banner at the Bush ranch in Texas. She has made a meeting with the President her goal, and I think that is a poor choice for a number of reasons, but it is a choice she and others are free to make. From the point of view of the Right, however, this makes her fair game for slander. Her marriage, her motives, her dead son all become grist for the vicious mill of the radical right wing press and commentators.

No one can know what is in Ms Sheehan’s heart or her mind, or what was in her late son’s; She has lost a son, and I can only feel compassion for her loss. She has not represented herself as anything but a grieving mother who wants to know why her son died. She has not claimed to represent anyone else, and certainly not to represent other mothers who have lost their children, yet the Right has rallied other grieving parents to say she does not speak for them. – OK, fine. I don’t know how I would react if I lost one of my children, and I would venture to say that that tragedy is something each person must find their own way to deal with. I do not think that the parents who support the war are any righter or wronger than Ms Sheehan – everyone has to come to terms with their loss in their own way.

Yet the Right feels the need to demean Ms Sheehan by portraying her as either a dupe of some mythical radical Left or to distract us from the fact that increasing numbers of Americans are questioning the war. with epithets like “poster child for surrender” and “America’s most embarrassing mother.” The Right is increasingly desperate to make “support for the troops” equate to “support for the war,” and Ms Sheehan clearly communicates that that equation is false.

The fact is, (and even Trent Lott gives testimony to this in his new book,) that President Bush invaded Iraq because he was determined to invade Iraq, and then made up a thin tissue of justifications for his actions. He continues to do this by linking the war in Iraq to the war on terrorism, and by insisting that those who oppose the war are advocating that we “cut and run.” This is an administration that is becoming increasingly desperate in the face of waning public support and a President who is incapable of admitting he is wrong. As a result he has flip-flopped on key promises he has made (e.g. on the Valerie Plame issue and the Transportation Bill), and the strategy of fighting a war while hiding and obfuscating the true sacrifices involved is backfiring. To quote Frank Rich, “this White House no longer has any more control over the insurgency at home than it does over the one in Iraq.”

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