August 28, 2005
Sheehan as food for thought
Painfully aware as I am that no camp in America's endless verbal war is free of sin, I have had to cross-examine myself in light of the all-out assault from the right on Cindy Sheehan.
From the talk shows to the columns to those downright chilling blogs, Bush loyalists who've never come within a country mile of a combat zone have carpet-bombed a bereaved mother whose worst offense is embarrassing the president about a supreme sacrifice when he's trying to relax.
Sheehan's refusal to follow the script, which says her son Casey died in Iraq for freedom, has made her a heroine of the antiwar movement, a distinction hardly calculated on her part and arguably melodramatic on the part of activists.
Now a public figure, she's subject to rebuttal. But to line up to lay into her, as these war buffs have done, to call her a "crackpot" engaged in "swindle" on behalf of a constituency that "doesn't think" and "borders on treasonous" is plain dastardly.
To pick at the consistency or judiciousness of her remarks when she is challenging a foreign policy that is built upon non sequiturs and falsehoods is nothing short of desperate.
To dredge up her divorce and other private irrelevancies is, sadly, standard procedure.
It is not as if Sheehan or her supporters should be surprised. Suffering, along with certified valor, did not spare John McCain, John Kerry or Max Cleland from ruthless personal assaults when those men inconvenienced the Bush forces; and indeed no critic of this commander-in-chief is afforded noncombatant status as long as he or she hits the media radar. And it's not principle, it's politics; you can get away with murder, rhetorically speaking, if you're a useful televangelist.
So again, what of the other side? Are there Cindy Sheehans and Valerie ("Fair Game") Plames on the right, defamed and derided by liberals in gang fashion for not hewing to the correct political line?
I'm wracking my brain. I know I've tried to stay mindful of Israelis and Palestinians, of those in the Twin Towers and those in Baghdad, of policeman and people who died in confrontations with them, even as I come down on one side of the issues raised by these dichotomies of grief.
Would I dismiss a Gold Star mother as a shill or a kook for speaking out in favor of staying the course? I would like to think I would defer to her even if I raised the terrible prospect that her son's death may have been in vain and for somebody else's vanity. Just as likely, I'd leave her to the rest of the media and find, if not another issue, another example.
And a bigger target. Bush, Dick Cheney, McCain and Kerry are on their own, as long as the shelling confines itself to policy, performance and truth. But ordinary people exercising their right to intrude upon our mass national vacation shouldn't be made to feel as if they've stuck their heads out of a foxhole (or into a Fox den).
The test for an opinion-spinner is empathy. If you don't get out much and your interest is in scoring points rather than in savoring life, you'll have no difficulty blowing off an authentic person with an unwelcome message. I don't care how many millions of readers or viewers you command; if you see a Cindy Sheehan as an enemy rather than as a story, your words will turn rapidly to dust.
Again, I'll leave it to my readers to grade me. I know I deserve at least a B for effort; and if you mark on the curve, it ought to be a breeze.
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