Skip to comments.Speak of the Dead: The Cindy Sheehan story...[good article]
Posted on 08/20/2005 5:26:35 PM PDT by Roscoe Karns
Speak of the Dead: The Cindy Sheehan story is only the latest instance of the left's grief-based politics.
IN THE FOUR YEARS OR so since September 11, liberals have found a new weapon of preference, and that weapon is martyrdom. They have discovered grief as a tactical weapon. They tend to like grief they can use. They use it to arouse guilt and sympathy to cover a highly partisan message, in the hope that while the message may be controversial, the messenger will be sacrosanct and above reproach. Since 9/11, they have embraced this tactic repeatedly, and each time with a common objective: to cripple the war, to denounce the country, to swing an election, but mainly to embarrass and undermine the president.
The first time was in May 2002, when Democrats accused Republicans of insulting the dead of September 11 by selling a photo of George W. Bush on Air Force One on that day. The second was in October 2002, when Democrats tried to capitalize politically on the shock and sorrow from the deaths of Paul Wellstone, his wife, and his daughter. The third go was with the "Jersey Girls," four young widows whose husbands died in the Towers, whom Gail Sheehy formed into a Bush-bashing regiment, and who ended up campaigning for John Kerry and cutting commercials for him. And the fourth, of course, is poor Cindy Sheehan, the bereaved mother of Army Specialist Casey Sheehan, who was killed in action in Baghdad in April 2004. Sheehan is now surrounded by the usual clique of far-out cause-mongers, who orchestrate her every move for maximum drama. All of these episodes involve attempts to attack without fear of reprisal, by exploiting the sympathy people feel for those who have suffered as well as the natural reluctance to hurt those in pain.
Let us meander down memory lane, way back to May 2002, when the Republican National Committee offered for sale to some of its donors a set of three pictures from the first year of the Bush presidency, including one from September 11 that showed him talking on the phone from Air Force One as he looked out the plane's window. Immediately, a cry went up from prominent Democrats that he had insulted the dead. "Disgraceful," said Al Gore. "Incredibly disrespectful to the families of the thousands of Americans who lost their lives just hours before this photo was taken," said Terry McAuliffe, then chairman of the Democratic National Committee, without telling us why.
This was the start of an ongoing campaign on the part of the Democrats to rule the attacks and Bush's response to them out of bounds, down to attacking as crude and exploitative his decision to hold his 2004 convention in New York. This was a predictable partisan ploy, but by March 2004, the party had found some new allies. When the Bush campaign unveiled its campaign ads, including some shots of the smoldering wreck at Ground Zero, with rescue workers bearing a flag-covered stretcher, the attack was already prepared. The newspaper headlines said everything: "Sept. 11 Victims' Kin Urge Bush to Pull Ads," read one Boston Globe story. "Bush Ads Using 9/11 Images Stir Anger," ran one in the Washington Post. "It upsets me tremendously that . . . my son could be used as a political pawn," said one victim's father. "To say that we're outraged is the truth, but it's more than outrage," said a woman whose brother had died in the North Tower. "It's a deep hurt and sorrow that any politician . . . would seek to gain advantage by using that site." "Our message to all politicians is, 'Keep your hands off Ground Zero,'" the brother of another victim said
Into the breach charged a vast herd of Democrats, all lashing Bush for his lack of fine feelings: "Speaking to a crowd of 2,000 at a campaign rally in New Orleans," the Boston Globe reported, "Senator John F. Kerry whipped the audience into a frenzy of booing as the presumptive Democratic nominee denounced Bush for using images of the September 11 attacks." It was not until weeks later that it was fully revealed that all of those quoted were not a cross-section of victims' relatives repelled by the president's crassness, but members of a minuscule subset who belonged to a pacifist group called September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, whose press conference was orchestrated by MoveOn.org. In the end, it turned out that they not only did not represent all or most of the families, they didn't even represent their own families, as some of their parents and siblings were opposed to their acts. Indeed, their impact was neutralized, as they succeeded in rousing a counterreaction among survivors who were hoping to stay out of politics, but were galvanized by them to stand up for the president. By enlisting the dead, they gave Bush's campaign a very rough send-off, which of course had always been the idea.
AN EVEN LESS GOOD IDEA was that embraced by some Democrats in Minnesota when Paul Wellstone was killed in a plane crash at the very end of a close 2002 Senate race against Republican Norm Coleman. Wellstone had died with his wife, his daughter, and five
others, and the shock of the loss stunned the state and the nation. Two years before, when Missouri governor Mel Carnahan had similarly been killed in a plane crash in the closing days of his Senate race, party leaders had drafted his widow and successfully framed the race as a memorial to the dead man. Wellstone left no natural successor, but there was a proxy of sorts in former vice president Walter F. Mondale, who had been around so long he seemed he could be Wellstone's father, and who agreed to run in his stead.
The race, Mondale's drafters hoped, could be run as a memorial to Wellstone, in an aura of reverence. Harry Reid and other Senate factotums warned Coleman's campaign that it would be improper to criticize Mondale, or to campaign at all until after Wellstone's memorial service, which would be several days later (and a week before the election). Meanwhile, Democrats felt free to frame Senate races all over the country as tributes to Wellstone, that they wanted to win in his memory. Caught in this box, Coleman slipped to eight points behind Mondale, and was thought to be finished by the day planned for Wellstone's public memorial. Then everything changed.
"Most of the event feels like a rally," thought Slate's Will Saletan as he entered the University of Minnesota arena. "The touching recollections are followed by sharply political speeches urging Wellstone's supporters to channel their grief into electoral victory. The crowd repeatedly stands, stomps, and whoops." Republican senators were booed, while Democrats were cheered, none more so than Mondale. "As the evening's speakers proceed," reported Saletan, "it becomes clear that to them, honoring Wellstone's legacy is all about winning the election. Repeating the words of Wellstone's son, the assembly shouts, 'We will win! We will win!'" Then Wellstone's friend and campaign treasurer took the stage to address by name Wellstone's Republican friends in the House and the Senate and beg them to "honor" the fallen man by helping Mondale win the race: "We can redeem the sacrifice of his life, if you help us win this election," he said.
In translation, this is the unspoken theme of grief-centered politics: We are suffering, so you owe it to us to give us what we ask for. This is the claim of Cindy Sheehan and the Jersey Girls, and it carries with it an implied accusation: If you don't do what we ask you, you don't care that our loved one is dead. But no one had ever heard it stated so baldly or bluntly as at the Wellstone service, and the bluntness repelled. "The late senator was treated as little more than one broken egg in a great get-out-the-vote omelet," wrote Christopher Caldwell in these pages. "The pilots and aides who died with him were barely treated at all." People stalked out. People complained. Floods of cash poured into Norm Coleman's campaign, which found itself suddenly energized. The scandal had not only dissipated the aura of reverence, it gave Coleman permission to run hard against Mondale. He did. Not only did he win, but the riptide seemed to extend to neighboring states, helping pull in Jim Talent, who edged past Jean Carnahan, who had been comparing the Wellstone disaster to her own husband's death. Lesson to liberals: Grief-centered politics has to be subtle. It's a lesson they haven't quite learned.
IT WAS NOT LEARNED by the Jersey Girls, the four widows from the Middletown area, who, like Cindy Sheehan, had lost kin in the war, but in lower Manhattan, not Iraq, and husbands, not sons. They were discovered by Gail Sheehy, a writer and liberal Democrat, who had come to their town to write about healing, and stayed to dabble in activist politics, forming the Moms into a corps of crusaders, bent on finding the flaws in the system, and then on blaming them all upon Bush. The Moms seemed at first to have been apolitical (two of them claimed to have voted Republican), but they soon began sounding exactly like Sheehy, who became their coach, their den mother, sponsor, and publicist, detailing their struggles in the New York Observer under a series of headlines such as "Four 9/11 Moms Battle Bush," "Vigilant Widows Wait for Condi With Suspicion," and "Moms Battle Bush." Wrote Sheehy: "So afraid is the Bush administration of what could be revealed by inquiries into its failures . . . it is unabashedly using Kremlin tactics to muzzle members of Congress . . . but there is at least one force that the administration cannot scare off or shut up."
Trading on the reluctance of people and of politicians to seem to be rude to pretty young widows, she used their status as the bereaved to push the government into staging an investigation of the events leading up to 9/11. Sheehy tossed off stories of the four in their kitchens, coloring Easter eggs and planning their Passover seders, as they discussed their ambitions to nail Condi Rice. "It's The Mmes. Smith go to Washington," she trilled happily. "Instead of Jimmy Stewart shouting himself hoarse in the well of the Senate, these young suburban widows have banded together to coax and cajole, outwit and outlast their national leaders until officials face up to their mistakes." For "face up to mistakes" read "embarrass the president," a goal they did not try to hide.
Sheehy, the Moms, and their legions of fans saw them as heartbroken souls facing a sinister government, but to a growing number of people they came to appear as both sad and obsessive, demanding in retrospect a form of clairvoyance from government, and over their heads in discussing such matters as counterintelligence. "In the public pronouncements of the Jersey Girls we find . . . hardly a jot of accusatory rage at the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks," the Wall Street Journal's Dorothy Rabinowitz noted. "Who . . . would not be struck by the fact that all their fury and accusation is aimed not at the killers . . . but at the American president, his administration, and an ever wider assortment of targets, including the Air Force, the Port Authority, the City of New York?" (One who was struck was Debra Burlingame, sister of a pilot who died at the Pentagon, who emerged as the head of a backlash against them. By the time Condi Rice did testify, the family members had split into two different factions: the Moms, who staged a conspicuous walkout, and the Burlingame forces, who applauded her lustily.) In the end, the Moms and the commission went out with a whimper, the Moms enraged when it failed to damn Bush. By now, they were linked to the website of Peaceful Tomorrows, but it no longer mattered, nor did their endorsement of Kerry, who lost. This was the end of their spell in the limelight. When they failed to deliver what Sheehy expected--the ouster of Bush, or at least his embarrassment--she quickly lost interest, and the four moms are now back in New Jersey, bereft not only of their husbands, but also of the publicity, adulation, and public attention on which they seemed to have come to depend.
AFTER THE JERSEY GIRLS, there was nowhere to go but to "Mother Sheehan,"* who, like the Wellstone Memorial, may be about to implode. In her case, her cover as Everymom is more easily broken, as her connection to the Loony Left is far more explicit, and her tongue is a lot less controlled. You might not know it from her televised interviews (where she seems well coached by the expensive media mavens retained by MoveOn.org), but the Internet is alive with her unscripted sayings, and they make quite a collection. To anyone's knowledge, none of the Jersey Girls or members of Peaceful Tomorrows has appeared on a program with Lynne Stewart, the convicted lawyer and friend to Islamic terrorists, and proclaimed her a personal heroine. None has ever said anything like this to a public gathering: "We have no constitution. We're the only country with no checks and balances. We want our country back if we have to impeach George Bush down to the person who picks up the dog s--in Washington. Let George Bush send his two little party animals to die in Iraq."
Few Everymoms have ever told newsmen: "America has been killing people on this continent since it was started. This country is not worth dying for." Few Everymoms have been endorsed and commended by David Duke, the Hitler admirer, because he agrees with their statements that their sons were killed to help the Jews. The Crawford Peace House--the Crawford, Texas, group that sustained her protests against the vacationing president through the first half of August--is dedicated less to opposition to the war in Iraq than to the belief that Israel is the source of all evil, so she has now added that to her list.
It took a few weeks for Peaceful Tomorrows to reveal itself as a partisan outfit, and months for the same thing to occur with the Jersey Girls, but with the Sheehan phenomenon, it has only been a matter of days. And the reaction has set in already: Other family members, also bereaved, have denounced her performance, and other military families have come forward to declare she does not speak for them. Among them has been Linda Ryan, whose son, Marine Corporal Marc T. Ryan, was killed in Iraq in November. "George Bush didn't kill [Cindy Sheehan's] son," she told her local New Jersey newspaper, the Gloucester County Times. "George Bush was my son's commander in chief. My son, Marc, totally believed in what he was doing." "She's going about this not realizing how many people she's hurting. When she refers to anyone killed in Iraq, she's referring to my son. She doesn't have anything to say about what happened to my son."
SINCE THE FLORIDA RECOUNT, the left has been driven mad by their loathing for George W. Bush, which subsequent elections in 2002 and 2004 only intensified. And since 9/11, they have also been turned into grief-seeking missiles, and slipped into a confusion and squalor that boggle the mind.
"The moral authority of parents who bury children killed in Iraq is absolute," declares the New York Times's Maureen Dowd. What she means is the moral authority of those she finds useful. Does she accept the moral authority of Linda Ryan, who finds Sheehan disgraceful? Does she bow to the moral authority of the thousands of parents of the dead and the wounded who support the war and the president, and find her snideness disgusting? Can she begin to guess at what the phrase even means?
There are so many people who have buried children, and so many more who have had children wounded, and so many more who have children in danger, that their political views cannot be uniform. What happens when the opinions behind which they put all of their moral authority collide? When parents and other family members of the dead and wounded disagree about politics, who gets custody of the moral authority? Is the moral authority of Cindy Sheehan compromised by the dissent of her husband, who is also a parent in agony?
It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that for Dowd and her ilk, moral authority stems less from service or suffering than from the potential to cause serious trouble for Bush. Thus combat service gave great moral authority to John Kerry, running against Bush for president, but did nothing at all for the 100-plus Swift Boat Veterans who opposed Kerry, most of whom had more medals than Kerry, had more wounds than Kerry, and also served much longer terms. (Dowd and other liberals denounced these combat veterans as assassins and liars, denying the curative powers of service and sacrifice. But then, c'est la guerre.) To them, the grief of Cindy Sheehan is more valid than the grief of her husband and other numerous relatives, and much more valid than the grief of Linda Ryan, which they fail to acknowledge as meaningful. The grief of a Kristen Breitweiser is more meaningful than that of a Debra Burlingame, and much more meaningful than that of Ted Olson, whose wife died on the plane that went into the Pentagon, but who is also a conservative stalwart, whose wife was also a conservative stalwart, and who argued and won the case of Bush v. Gore. What's his moral authority? Do we need to ask?
Do we need to ask also what they have been doing to politics, with these poisoned injections of grief? The health of the political process rests upon vigorous argument, in which the back and forth is intense and protracted, so that the holes in all arguments--and there are holes in all arguments--are thoroughly aired and exposed. But no one wants a vigorous argument with a 30-year-old widow who has seen her husband burned to death in the wreckage of the World Trade Center towers, or with a parent who has just lost a son. No one wants to have an argument, period, or even be heard to be raising one's voice.
Political cut and thrust does not go well with the etiquette of bereavement, which tends to short-circuit all argument, which of course is the point. It inhibits argument, makes response awkward, and sometimes can stop it completely, putting an opponent in the position of Norm Coleman before the Wellstone Memorial fracas, in which Democrats were free to seek votes based on sentiment, while anything Coleman tried to say about Wellstone's replacement was called an insult to the dead. People who put mourners up front on policy issues are like robbers leaving a bank with a hostage between themselves and police fire. To do this on purpose, to drive an agenda, is beneath all contempt.
Here is a message for our friends in the grief-based community: Really, you must cut this out. We are tired of having our emotions worked on and worked over; tired of the matched sets of dueling relatives, tired of all of these claims on our sympathy, that at the same time defy common sense. The heart breaks for everyone who lost relatives and friends on September 11, as it does for the relatives of the war dead and wounded, as it does for the sons of Paul Wellstone. It does not break for MoveOn.org, Maureen Dowd, and Gail Sheehy, who have not been heartbroken, except by a string of election reverses, and are using the anguish of other people in an effort to turn them around. Especially, it does not break for George Soros, who, after squandering millions on the Kerry campaign, is now using poor Cindy Sheehan to get back in the action, and it does not break for political operative Joe Trippi, late of the Howard Dean meltdown, who is trying to do the same thing. She is now the vehicle for a collection of losers, who will use her, and then toss her over and out once she has served their purposes, or more likely failed to do so. Her family has broken up under the effects of this circus; she has now lost her husband, as well as her son. Please, send her back to her therapist, and what is now left of her broken-up family. And please--do not try this again.
"People who put mourners up front on policy issues are like robbers leaving a bank with a hostage between themselves and police fire."
And using the word "children" makes you think of Chechnya. We should be thinking of boiling our enemies in oil, not offering them tea and crumpets.
Thanks for a great post!
This article lays it all out.It is an expose' of the shameful depths dems gleefully wallow in.
Great post,it should be seen by every American who cares about the truth.
People who put mourners up front on policy issues will also be likely to give aid and comfort to the enemy, and, given enough time, give rise to home-grown suicide bombers from their midst.
The left is unhinged, and is a threat to freedom and liberty.
I came across a quote from the Greek historian, Thucydides recently that speaks of and to people of Ms. Sheehan's views perfectly.
"Fix your eyes on the greatness of Athens (read US) as you have it before you........fall in love with her......remember that this greatness was won by men with courage...knowledge of their duty, and with a sense of honor in action....So they gave their bodies to the commonwealth and received......praise that will never die, and.....
the grandest of all sepulchers.......a home in the minds of men, where their glory remains free to stir to speech or action as the occasion comes........their story is not graven only on stone over their native earth, but lives on far away, without visible symbol, woven into the stuff of other men's lives...For you now it remains to rival what they have done....knowing the secret of happiness to be freedom....the secret of freedom a brave heart...
This lady, the author, can cram a lot into a small space. Read it twice. Powerful piece...powerful.
"In translation, this is the unspoken theme of grief-centered politics: We are suffering, so you owe it to us to give us what we ask for."
Worse yet, there is some sick psychosis in these people in that they want to suffer, want to be grief-stricken. They expect to be hated, and are lost w/o that sense of persecution.
Don't believe it?
Recall the days of Reagan's first term, when these same peacenics were in hyper-60's mode. Peter Paul and Mary were raising big bucks for PBS, and the Smothers Brothers were trying to make a comeback. Peacenics did those hokey "nuclear free zones" and did die-ins and decried US's Central American policies.
Then one day the wall fell, followed by the defeat of various communist regimes in Central America. Nukes were chopped up and American troops came home.
Did the peaceniks celebrate? NOOOOO!!!! They didn't celebrate one time. They didn't hold mass celebrations of the end of the Viet Nam war either. In fact, in both cases these people were hopeless lost, their favorite psychosis ripped from them.
Bump. Wonderful essay.
I had no idea Gail Sheedy was the promoter (and trainer) of the Jersey Girls.
Thanks for posting that...good article!
I hope while Harry Reid is recuperating from his "mini-stroke", he will read it...but, I betcha just he opposite will happen...
He will USE his stroke to try to score points on embryonic stem cells, and us it to try for sympathy "let-ups" from the mean old Republican Senators...and double-mean Bush Administration.
This is fabulous! I am reminded once again how angry I was when it was objected to that the President had pictures of himself at ground zero. This is OUR country that was attacked, he is our leader, and it is our history. How dare THEY play politics with it, which is the real truth. They did it, not the President.
Leftists only win if they can silence their opponents.
The use of grief as a weapon is just another tactic to achieve that end.
If my wife died, I cannot imagine trying to make political hay out of her death.
And let's not forget the Dem's last stunt in Crawford a year ago. Kerry sent Max Cleland to Bush's ranch to deliver a letter asking him to denounce the Swift Boat Vets. OK, Cleland isn't dead, but a triple-amputee war "hero" is the next best thing to elicit sympathy. Shameful exploitation.
And if you don't know why I put "hero" in quotes, you need to go find Ann Coulter's article on the truth about Max Cleland's injuries.
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