Now that Cindy Sheehan has left Crawford, Texas, to care for her ailing mother, perhaps the blowhards and war bloggers will stop vilifying the brave, grieving woman whose protest vigil reawakened the peace movement.
Like Max Cleland and John Kerry, the decorated Democratic veterans who endured vicious lies about their service because they dared to oppose President Bush, Sheehan has learned that the proof of her patriotism doesn't matter to the bullies of the Republican right. Forming an electronic mob, these so-called conservatives don't hesitate to rough up war heroes and Gold Star Families for Peace mothers in a manner that would once have been simply unimaginable in American politics.
In recent weeks prominent conservatives have charged Sheehan with committing nearly every variety of political sin, from lying, fakery and publicity seeking to communism and anti-Semitism. A few have gone so far as to accuse her of dishonoring the memory of her son Casey, an Army specialist killed last year in an attack by Iraqi insurgents.
Most of the attacks on Sheehan are scarcely deserving of any answer because they are based on the willful distortion or misinterpretation of her remarks. Early on, for example, the Drudge Report suggested that she had changed her account of her first meeting with Bush, praising his behavior then and angrily criticizing him now. That attack, based on a report in a Vacaville, Calif., newspaper, evaporated when the newspaper published a story defending her as consistent in her attitude toward the president and the war.
As Sheehan's presence outside George W. Bush's Texas home continued to draw attention that embarrassed him, the assaults on her intensified and took on a heightened ideological tone. Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh sought to discredit her by citing connections with liberal and leftist organizations that have supported her protest. Typically unable to suppress her McCarthyite tic, Coulter accused Sheehan of engaging in "Stalinist agitprop," while Limbaugh humiliated himself by comparing her "staged" protest to the "forged documents" given to CBS News by Bill Burkett. No sane person believes that Sheehan is a communist, of course, and the meaning of Limbaugh's stupid comparison remains obscure. What kind of political protest isn't "staged"?
Moreover, Sheehan has been upbraided repeatedly for her alleged assistance to the enemies of America who killed her son. Charles Krauthammer and David Horowitz have suggested that her criticism of the Bush administration and the rationale for war will encourage the Iraq insurgency -- that she is "serving" that insidious, treasonous fifth column who don't want America to win the war on terror.
Baiting a bereaved mother as a traitor ought to be beneath even Horowitz, but when he's desperate he can stoop quite low. The notion that the Iraqi insurgents or al-Qaida terrorists require "encouragement" from Sheehan or anyone else is idiotic. If Horowitz and Krauthammer were paying attention, they would understand that our troops are suffering, the war is going badly and the insurgents are doing their worst because the U.S. government is run by incompetents -- and not because of a protesting mother.
It may be true that Sheehan has made intemperate and foolish remarks about various topics, from American support for Israel to the personality of the president. She is politically inexperienced and in deep pain. (Christopher Hitchens and G. Gordon Liddy have called her "anti-Semitic," which in itself is mildly comical owing to their own spotty records. Hitchens once made a fool of himself defending Hitler-loving historian David Irving, and of course the fascistic Liddy is known not only for his professed admiration of the Third Reich but for his devotion to the late Richard Nixon, who sullied the Oval Office with his obscene sputterings about Jews.) Nobody sane is looking to her as a political philosopher or an expert on Mideast policy.
Whatever Sheehan has said or done, the real problem for the right is her demand that the president address questions for which he and his conservative allies have no convincing answers. He cannot explain the shifting rationale for the war that has cost the lives of Casey Sheehan and thousands of others. He cannot explain why the war was so poorly planned. He cannot explain why he has no plausible exit strategy.
For the right as much as for the left, Sheehan is a symbol. She represents a growing threat to Republicans, who fear that they will pay a heavy electoral price next year for the unjustified and unnecessary bloodshed in Iraq. And that is why, from the beginning, Bush's defenders have tried to change the subject to her supposed mistakes and misstatements. They would far prefer to mock and malign her than to talk about the supposed reasons that her son and so many other innocents are dead.