You are herecontent / Republicans despise Cindy Sheenan because she undermines one of their dirtiest rhetorical tricks.
Republicans despise Cindy Sheenan because she undermines one of their dirtiest rhetorical tricks.
From the article Martial Flaw by Jonathan Cohn for The New Republic 09/02/05
(tnr.com, subscription required):
the day Cindy Sheehan, mother of a fallen American soldier, began her
vigil in Crawford, Texas, President Bush left the job of attacking her
to his henchmen in the Republican Party and his sycophants in the
press. Instead, Bush has largely confined himself to one modest,
respectful response: that Sheehan's opposition to the war in Iraq is a
relatively lonely one within the military community. "I met with a lot
of families," Bush explained at a late August press conference. "She
doesn't represent the view of a lot of the families I have met with."
Bush may be right about that. Sheehan's appearance on the national
scene doesn't prove that most military families oppose the war any more
than it proves that immediately withdrawing soldiers, the policy she
has advocated, is the one the United States should now pursue. But
Sheehan's value isn't as a barometer of public opinion or as a source
of foreign policy wisdom. It's as proof of one very simple point: that
a person can criticize the war and still support the troops.
If that idea seems self-evident, then you haven't paid much
attention to politics these past few years. Whenever Bush and his
allies have faced rising opposition to some element of the Iraq war,
they've tried to shut down the argument by suggesting that their
critics are undermining the morale and safety of U.S. troops abroad--in
effect, using American soldiers as human shields in a p.r. war. They
did so most famously, and offensively, at the 2004 Republican National
Convention, when an unhinged Zell Miller, the ostensibly Democratic
senator from Georgia, accused Democrats of slandering the soldiers.
"Democratic leaders see America as an occupier, not a liberator,"
Miller said. "And nothing makes this Marine madder than someone calling
American troops occupiers rather than liberators." Republicans and
their supporters launched similar rhetorical broadsides after rising
insurgency activity in 2004 (when Representative Rob Portman said that
criticizing Bush's leadership was "demoralizing" to the troops), after
revelations this year about prisoner abuse in military detention
facilities (when Deborah Pryce, another House Republican, attacked
Democrats for "jumping at any chance to point the finger at our own
troops"), and after a recent series of setbacks (when Oliver North
lashed out at the "old, anti-military, 'Blame America First' crowd" for
dwelling on them).
These arguments have resonated because many Americans believe that
the Democratic Party, or at least its more left-leaning elements, is
hostile toward the military. And they believe this because, not that
long ago, it was at least partly true. During the Vietnam era, the left
frequently attacked the nation's soldiers as well as its political
leaders, calling them baby-killers and ostracizing them upon their
return home. And, starting in the 1970s, many prominent Democrats
called for reduced defense spending, solidifying the impression that
they wanted to weaken the military as an institution.
But nobody in the respectable left is calling American soldiers
baby-killers anymore--this, despite the fact that thousands of Iraqi
civilians, many of them children, have in fact died because of the war.
During the prison abuse scandal, the left directed its anger over the
torture and humiliation of detainees squarely at the policymakers who
allowed it to happen, not the frontline soldiers who carried it out. In
Washington, the split between the military and Democrats flared up
briefly in the early '90s, when President Clinton proposed allowing
gays to serve openly in the Armed Forces. But, lately, when Democrats
have been talking about military issues, it has been to castigate the
president for not deploying more manpower and better equipment to
Iraq--in effect, for doing to the military what critics said the
Democrats were trying to do back in the 1980s.
Have Democrats just become more politically savvy? In some cases,
perhaps. The constant proclamations of patriotism--like the loud
"U.S.A." chants at last year's Democratic National Convention in
Boston--can have a forced, obviously self-conscious quality about them.
But some of the change is real. During the 1960s and early '70s, the
military stood for all of the values--conformity to prevailing social
attitudes, blind obedience to authority, et cetera--against which the
left was staging a full-scale social revolution. That's a big reason
why it became the object of such ire. Today's culture wars, which are
largely about sex, religion, and the intersection of the two, simply
haven't provoked the same kind of widespread upheaval. And, however
contrived patriotism by the Democrats may seem, the fact remains that
many prominent Democrats are decorated war heroes who convincingly
speak the language of honor and who seem genuinely dismayed that the
administration left U.S. troops so obviously unprepared for the task at
That these shifts haven't registered fully in the national psyche is
testimony, in part, to just how deep a scar the left's past contempt
for the military created. It is also testimony to the way Bush and his
allies have cleverly used the cultural distance between red and blue
America to reinforce perceptions of liberal sentiment about American
soldiers. But that's why people like Sheehan are so important. Critics
can truthfully say that she doesn't understand foreign policy, that she
hangs out with radicals, and that she espouses extremist views herself.
But the one thing they cannot plausibly say is that she has contempt
for American soldiers.
Indeed, the basic rationale for her appeal is to get the troops out
of harm's way--to keep them from dying and to spare their families from
grieving. And she's not the only one talking that way. Quite apart from
the surprisingly strong candidacy of Paul Hackett, an Iraqi veteran who
opposed the war and nearly won an Ohio congressional election last
month, reports from the front lines suggest many soldiers have started
expressing their own misgivings about the war's rationale, execution,
and feasibility. Noting the difficulty of fighting an insurgency with
strong civilian support, one Marine quoted in a recent story by
KnightRidder's Tom Lasseter asked, "Why do I feel like I'm in a f------
Vietnam movie?" If our soldiers are asking these kinds of questions
themselves, surely they don't mind if we keep asking them, too.
is a senior editor at TNR. He is currently writing a book on the U.S. health-care system.