Having provoked Rush Limbaugh to come to the defense of antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan last week, I’m now thinking that perhaps I should ask Condoleezza Rice to appoint me her Middle East envoy.
If Mr. Limbaugh and Ms. Sheehan can be brought together, after all, delivering peace to the world’s most bitterly divided region would surely be a cinch.
Last Wednesday, a column I had written was posted on the Web site of the London Guardian.
In it, I criticized Ms. Sheehan for what I considered her ardor for self-promotion, her presumptuous and callous disparagement of other bereaved parents who happened to disagree with her about the war in Iraq and the hubris that finds its latest manifestation in her quest to unseat Nancy Pelosi from the House of Representatives.
The column was headlined “The Epic Narcissism of Cindy Sheehan.” The next day, Ms. Sheehan’s unlikeliest defender stepped forward.
“Look at this headline.… This is from The Guardian, the U.K. Guardian,” Mr. Limbaugh told his listeners. “You know, the people on the left who are getting tired of Cindy Sheehan, the epic narcissism, they created her. I think this is an example, folks … of the cruelty these people can exude.”
Mr. Limbaugh added, by way of summing up: “Cindy Sheehan, when all is said and done, is a sympathetic and pathetic figure.”
Perhaps Mr. Limbaugh’s compassion for Ms. Sheehan is genuine. But that seems a tad unlikely, given his insistence at the height of her 2005 protest that “her story is nothing more than forged documents. There’s nothing about it that’s real.”
(The reference to forged documents was part of a rather strained comparison of Ms. Sheehan with Bill Burkett of Texas Air National Guard and 60 Minutes infamy.)
Mr. Limbaugh might, just possibly, have another agenda here besides a chivalrous desire to stand up for the antiwar movement’s most uncompromising face. After all, at this point Cindy Sheehan’s words and actions ultimately serve to benefit Mr. Limbaugh’s fellow conservatives rather more than mainstream liberals.
“The Democrats are the party of slavery,” Ms. Sheehan wrote on the Daily Kos earlier this month.
Set aside for a moment the curious behavior, ranging from an unseemly Vanity Fair photo shoot on her son’s grave to an absurdly brief “retirement,” by which Ms. Sheehan has gradually depleted the well of sympathy from which she could once draw.
Here is the bigger picture: American liberals suffered years of dominance by the Bush administration before the tide began to move in their direction. The war’s unpopularity, compounded by a host of other blunders emanating from the White House, has finally moved the center of political gravity leftward.
Republicans are in disarray, and the likelihood of a Democrat taking possession of the White House at the 2008 election seems to increase by the day.
Those opposed to the current administration have at long last gotten their hands on a sizable store of political capital. And what do Ms. Sheehan and her ilk suggest that capital be spent upon? Making loud but impotent gestures and forming circular firing squads.
It was only on Monday, shortly before she was arrested for disorderly conduct in Washington, D.C., that Ms. Sheehan finally confirmed that she would challenge Ms. Pelosi for her seat.
Ms. Sheehan’s beef with Ms. Pelosi centers on the latter’s disinclination to bring articles of impeachment against the president.
Ms. Pelosi’s position is much more sensible than Ms. Sheehan’s—at least for anyone concerned about enacting real change rather than simply hearing the sound of their own voice.
There is no possibility of Mr. Bush being removed from office, however much the segment of the left that adores Ms. Sheehan might like to think otherwise. The votes simply aren’t there.
A Democratic leadership that decided to move forward with articles of impeachment would not merely risk overplaying its hand as Congressional Republicans did during the Clinton administration. It would also further alienate those GOP members whose support the Democrats desperately need if they are to create the legislative pressure to bring the war to an end.
Earlier this month, as the Democrats sought and failed to pass a troop withdrawal plan—a questionable enterprise, in my opinion, but one undoubtedly favored by the overwhelming majority of liberals—a moderate GOP senator, George Voinovich of Ohio, lamented, “You wonder if they are more interested in politics than dealing with the substance of this.”
The battle lines in Congress would be drawn in even starker colors if an impeachment process were to begin. The possibility of bipartisan progress on any issue would be all but expunged. Presumably that is among the reasons why Ms. Pelosi has no interest in spoiling for that fight.
Senator Russ Feingold on Sunday announced his intention to seek a more modest goal—the censure of Mr. Bush. One of the administration’s harshest critics, Mr. Feingold said of impeachment that he did “not believe it is the right course of action right now.”
But even Mr. Feingold’s plan would serve as more of a distraction than anything else. Declining to proffer his support, Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid noted:
“The president already has the mark of the American people—he’s the worst president we ever had. I don’t think we need a censure resolution in the Senate to prove that.”
The problem here is not really Ms. Sheehan or Mr. Feingold. It is the strand of political activism of which she, in particular, is an exemplar. Ms. Sheehan represents a constituency that prefers to lose while glorying in its own ideological purity rather than sully itself in the battle for incremental victories.
Like political dogmatists of all stripes, the Sheehanite left remains, in Winston Churchill’s old phrase, so enraptured by “the integrity of their quarrel” that it has little interest in political reality.
Because of that very fact—and because it displays such a willingness to abjure the middle ground and to alienate the mainstream—it far too often becomes a net asset to those who diametrically oppose its every goal.
Ms. Sheehan should ponder whose interests are really served by her challenge to Ms. Pelosi. If she did so, she might also realize why Mr. Limbaugh is so keen to take her into his tender embrace.