On July 25, Cindy Sheehan announced that since Nancy Pelosi failed tomove to impeach Bush and Cheney by Sheehan’s deadline two days earlier,she will run as an independent for Pelosi’s seat in Congress. I havea lot of respect for Sheehan, but I hope she’ll reconsider.
First of all, should impeachment really be a litmus test? Sure, itwould be emotionally satisfying to haul the president before theSenate–look how much fun the Republicans had with Clinton. I understand why some of my Nation colleaguesare so keen on it. But it’s not going to happen–the numbers in Congress and Senate aren’tthere , and I don’t care how many people sign petitions and call theircongressperson, that is not going to change. Despise the Democrats for caving in — on war funding, on FISA, on abstinence-only education. Pressure them, confront them, make them feel your wrath. But to insist that they work themselves into a lather for what is essentially a symbolic gesture with no chance of success? I don’t see the point of that.
Second, Sheehan’s run is futile. There’s a place for outsidercandidates, even longshots. Ned Lamont lost hisSenate race, but first he won the primary and he ran to win. Moreover, even though he lost the race, he made his point: hiscandidacy put the Democrats — and the media — on notice that antiwarfeeling was far deeper, and antiwar opponents far better organized,than they had believed. Nancy Pelosi has been a cautious — too cautious — leader, and if a lefter candidate could take her seat, fine. But let me go out on a limb here: Sheehan has nochance of defeating her, and still less chance of moving into an open seat because the impeachment of Bush and Cheney has moved Speaker Pelosi, next in line, into the White House. Sheehan’s candidacy is less likethat of Ned Lamont than it is like the barely visible symbolic third-party runs of JonathanTasini and Stanley Aronowitz for Governor of New York. She’ll getmore media than those gentlemen, because she and Pelosi are national celebrities,but I doubt she’ll come much closer to victory. Thus, instead of showingthe Democrats how strong is the threat from the left, it will showthem how weak it is.
Third, and most important, Sheehan already has a crucial role inour politics: as an activist. More than any other single person, she changed the discourse about the war. She put a middle American face on theantiwar movement at a time when it was widely caricatured as a ragtagcollection of hippies , Stalinists, and movie stars. She forcedthe media–and the country — to acknowledge that antiwar feeling was widespread and growing and included even red staters, even militaryfamilies. By her simple demand that Bush meet with her and explainwhy her son died, she pointed up the president’s evasions andbefuddlement and arrogance — the ban on photographs of coffins,his seeming lack of concern for the deaths of soldiers, his basicrefusal to engage. No matter that she sometimes seemed to be conducting her political education in public. She was a mother wrenched out of her ordinary life by tragedy — that is a very powerful and inspiring symbolic role.
Maybe Sheehan got tired of being a symbol, a catalyst. I didn’treally understand the somewhat murky blog post she wrote in May, announcing her resignation from the antiwar movement , buther frustration and impatience were clear enough.
Still, the placefor symbolic protest is in protest movements. Elections areabout something else and are played by different rules. There, symbolic figures are mostly wasting theirtime, and tend to emerge smaller than they went in.
CORRECTION: As is noted in the comments thread, Jonathan Tasini ran for Senate, not Governor of New York. He competed against Hillary Clinton in the 2006 Democratic primary, and did not run as a third party candidate. In the primary he received 115,943 votes (including mine), or 17% of the total. Sorry for the mistake!
One More Thing: As you can see, I’m giving the comments thread another chance. I value people’s responses to what I write, so as long as the discussion is relevant and civil, I’ll keep it open.