Peace activist Cindy Sheehan’s plan to challenge Representative Nancy Pelosi for her Congressional seat in November 2008 has elicited cries of praise and dismay across the progressive political spectrum. In July, when Sheehan announced her candidacy, The Nation‘s Washington correspondent John Nichols saw some value in her candidacy and praised her efforts to hold Pelosi’s feet to the fire.
More recently, Nation columnist Katha Pollitt urged Sheehan not to run and continues the conversation here. On the pages of The Nation magazine, columnist Gary Younge argued that the best strategy to advance the interests of the peace movement was political, not electoral. And in a recent poll on this website, Nation readers weighed in, supporting a Sheehan candidacy by a margin of three to one.
In the following editorial dialogue, Sheehan responds to Pollitt’s critique, and Nation editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel explains the magazine’s position on George W. Bush, the war and campaign politics.
SAD FOR THE NATION
Dear Katrina and all,
The Nation had me on the cover of its magazine in March 2005 as one of the new faces of the antiwar movement. At the end of 2005, John Nichols of The Nation named me “Progressive of the Year” and has since said that I am a true “Jeffersonian Democrat.” The Nation also invited me to its foundation dinner in NYC at the end of 2005, presumably to exploit my popularity to sell tickets.
The Nation‘s editorial staff and other staff also invited me to talk with them about not supporting “pro-war” Democrats in any elections anymore, and the editors wrote an editorial stating that. Tom Hayden was also instrumental in formulating that policy.
Now they are supporting a “pro-war” Speaker of the House, who says she is against the occupation with her mouth but gives George more money to wage the war with her actions. They support a Speaker who has made a mockery of the Constitution as much as BushCo has.
The Nation just joins a long line of orgs, entities and persons who supported me while I challenged Bush and the Rethugs, but now that I recognize that it is the two-party system that is inherently corrupt and ruining our nation and the world, they are not just abandoning me but trying to undermine me and my candidacy. I believe in doing this, The Nation is also supporting the status quo of continuing war, death and the destruction of our middle class and way of life here in America.
I am not sad for myself, but sad for The Nation and our nation.
Maybe Katha Pollitt et al. should go to the Middle East and view the carnage that this Administration has caused with the complicity of the Democratic Party, which she so stridently defends.
Peace and Justice,
THE VALUE OF DEBATE
I was saddened to receive your letter. As you well know, The Nation has, from the very beginning, been in the forefront of opposing this disastrous war. In fact, very few media outlets have been more strongly and consistently opposed to the war than this magazine, whether in its conception, planning or execution. In tough and sharp editorials, as well as feature articles, we have criticized Democrats, Republicans and Independents for failing to adequately oppose the Bush Administration’s pursuit of this bloody, misguided mission. And we will continue to do so until this occupation is ended.
What also saddens me is your misunderstanding of the magazine’s role in our politics. For 142 years, we have been a forum for a debate and conversation among the left, progressives, liberals, independents–and even conservatives with a conscience. We relish a pluralism of views among our writers and readers–and our larger, often fractious community. Week in and week out, we publish writers who may not agree on everything but who share a fundamental belief in the necessity of ending this war and occupation, and of building a fairer and more just and equal country and world.
I understand that Katha Pollitt’s criticism of your decision to run against Speaker Nancy Pelosi has rankled you. But re-read Katha’s blog. Her criticism is framed by real respect for your “crucial role in our politics: as an activist.” And, as you must know, she is expressing views that some in the left, liberal, progressive community also share.
No doubt many of our readers and contributors agree with Katha’s opinion on this issue; and no doubt, many disagree with her and support your race against Pelosi.
Katha’s legitimate criticism of your political campaign against Pelosi, like John Nichols’s legitimate sympathy for it, as expressed in recent blog posts on our website, represent the honest expressions of people who are united in their desire to see this war end but who disagree about how best to achieve that purpose politically. It strikes me that their blogs highlight two sides of a debate among those opposed to war that is taking place every day across the country. In the Nation community, we have no disagreements about whether this war should end. We do have disagreements about the best political strategies we should adopt in order to end it.
I am pleased that The Nation‘s website has room for that debate–both among our writers and among our responsive readers. I am also pleased that there is room to publish this letter from you, someone I respect as a voice of dissent. As Katha Pollitt wrote, “More than any other single person, [you] changed the discourse about the war.”
I believe that your letter serves as a reminder that people who disagree about tactics do not necessarily disagree about principles or long-term goals.
Peace and Justice,
KATRINA vanden HEUVEL