It is difficult by now to try dispassionately to assess the phenomenon of Cindy Sheehan, the grieving mother whose son was killed in Iraq and who has been staging a peace vigil outside the president’s home in Texas. But it’s worth an effort.
There are two major reasons Sheehan has received so much attention from the media.
The first, of course, is that when President Bush takes a working vacation in Texas, the White House press corps is obliged to follow him, but they end up doing a lot of standing around, hoping for a scrap of news.
So it’s not surprising they leapt like panthers on the story of a grieving mom hoping for an audience with the commander in chief.
The second, more serious phenomenon at work here is that opinion polls are starting to show a dramatic turnaround in Americans’ attitude toward the war.
An Aug. 8 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll showed 57 percent of American adults responding that the Iraq war has made the U.S. less safe, not more safe, from terrorism, up 18 percentage points in 60 days. The same poll showed 54 percent believing it was a mistake to send troops to Iraq and 44 percent saying it was not — a reversal of what Americans told pollsters in June.
How to cover the story of increasing skepticism about the war? Cindy Sheehan made herself available, so she became one public face of that skepticism.
As war skeptics from the beginning, we’re not entirely pleased. Sheehan has unburdened herself of an array of remarks ranging from personal insults of the president and his family to offhand remarks about Israel and Palestine. There’s a constituency for such outbursts, but they aren’t likely to resonate with most ordinary Americans.
But we have no reason to doubt Sheehan’s sincerity and we deplore some of the intemperate attacks on her from certain quarters. Still, her value as an antiwar spokesperson is limited.
Perhaps she will be yesterday’s news by September. The important thing will be whether a serious national discussion is under way about wars like Iraq.
This war is a reality and it will take more than a spotlight on Cindy Sheehan to end it soon.
Perhaps the best we can hope for is that quiet reflection on a large scale will lead to more widespread skepticism the next time a leader or faction within government tries to drum up public enthusiasm for another dubious war.