Cindy Sheehan's wrong turn

The antiwar leader is threatening to run against Nancy Pelosi because the House speaker won't support impeaching President Bush.

By Joan Walsh
July 10, 2007 3:51AM (UTC)
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I'm grateful to Cindy Sheehan for igniting the antiwar movement with her visit to President Bush's Crawford Ranch in August 2005. Many people date the beginning of the end of the Bush presidency to public outrage over his Hurricane Katrina incompetence, but I think Sheehan's Camp Casey, a month earlier, was crucial in bringing the bloody, mismanaged war, and the president's culpability for it, to public view. She brought the issue to where lazy Beltway journalists were -- stuck in Texas on vacation with Bush -- and suddenly stories about Iraq war casualties and bereaved families were on the network news, not just on the Web.

I was also a little relieved when Sheehan said she'd retired from the movement in May. I never wanted to criticize Sheehan; she lost her son and she tried to do something brave and world-changing with her grief. But her visits with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Cuba's Fidel Castro showed a weakness for dead-end "the enemy of my enemy" alliances that are common to a fringe of the American left, and her rhetoric moved too easily from anti-Bush to anti-U.S., when I think the point is winning over ever-larger segments of American voters, not alienating them. In May she told reporters she was taking a break from the struggle to spend more time with her three children, and I was happy for her.


But it was a short break. Last week Sheehan announced she was going on a walk from Atlanta to Washington, D.C., to start a "people's accountability movement," and this week she says she will challenge Nancy Pelosi for her San Francisco congressional seat if Pelosi doesn't support efforts to impeach President Bush. Now, impeachment deserves a whole blog post of its own (at least), but the short version is: I think it's a waste of Democrats' limited political capital. (As usual, Digby says it best.) If Bush critics in the House and Senate can't muster the votes to limit his escalation of the war, how will they impeach him? I hope Congress continues to investigate all of this administration's scandals, and if more evidence of wrongdoing emerges, and more Republicans show some courage and integrity in turning against the lawless Bush-Cheney cabal, I will be happy to change my mind about impeachment.

Until then, I think it's the wrong move for the Democratic leadership to push right now -- I think their priorities have to be stopping the war, winning the White House and retaining control of Congress in November 2008 -- and I think Sheehan's threat to run against Pelosi is misguided. It just shows how much work the left has to do to build a voter base that understands the importance of avoiding circular firing squads. Nancy Pelosi isn't perfect -- I wasn't thrilled with the way she tried to depict the Democrats' cave-in on the war-funding bill as some kind of victory -- but she's done a decent job holding together a fractious caucus that isn't unanimous about anything, including the war. She is not the enemy.

A symbolic run against Pelosi is just the thing that certain lefties love: They don't have to worry about doing the work it would take to actually win a House seat for the antiwar movement, they only have to posture for the cameras, and in picturesque San Francisco, no less, not some discouraging red-state outpost. I particularly admired Sheehan for traveling to Crawford to protest the war on Bush's turf; I had hoped for better from her in her second act.

Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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