Wednesday, August 17, 2005

How the right screwed up the Cindy Sheehan story...

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"It's amazing I won. I was running against peace, prosperity, and incumbency."

Those were the words of President Bush in June of 2001, speaking to the Swedish Prime Minister, unaware that a live television camera was still rolling. Via the failures of the Democratic platform in 2000, the political course of the nation was shifted in that bitterly close election. By any account, Al Gore could have had no more substantive basis upon which to defend the successes of the Clinton Administration, the role he played, and the prospect of continued peace and prosperity. And yet, as a consequence of a deserved defeat, the potential for a Democratic Presidential legacy reaching out into the new milennia was squandered. In 2008, unless there are dramatic charges to the Party leadership, or an ascendent, thus far unknown quantity emerging from the primary campaign, the Democrats will almost certainly lose their third successive Presidential election.

Innumerable weblogs, and news resources are enthusiastically noting the Bush Administration's disapproval ratings, and the fall in support for the Iraq war as some kind of jubilant indicator of a Democratic resurgence. It is nothing of the sort. The Administration, the Republican Party, and the Right might be losing its cast iron grip on the sways of public opinion, but unless the Democrats can evolve a coherent, relevant, mainstream platform, devoid of partisanship... then no matter the Administrations failings, come the 2006 mid terms, and the 2008 election, the GOP will handily retain its monopoly on power.

In my opinion, Republican's are screwing up. The poltical climate is changing, the post Iraq war public consensus is dispersing, and, yet, unaffected, their general sense of invincibility and grandiosity is leading them to exacerbate their political problems. Regardless of your opinion of Cindy Sheehan, from a politcal perspective... in terms of how she should be strategically viewed by Republican Party political operatives... she is a story that is seriously bad news for President Bush.

Cindy Sheehan is an inherently sympathetic figure: a mother who's son sacrificed his life in defense of the country. She speaks articulately, and emotionally. When you listen to her, at least in the mainstream press, she is warm, jovial, funny and likable. It is hard to not care about Cindy Sheehan if you have no pre-determined bias.

All of the nuanced issues that have been raised to undermine her credibility... her original response to meeting President Bush, and her association with and Michael Moore... these complicated inconsistencies, no matter how frequently referenced, will never be able to define the narrative of Cindy's story in the mainstream media. Who she is, and what she represents is, in and of itself, too compelling. While Cable News, Talk Radio, and Conservative blogs rightly and fairly scrutinize the integrity of Sheehan's protest... the agenda is being determined in the hearts and minds of average Americans by the images they are constantly fed of a very normal and human woman, fighting for the epitaph of her son's tragic death.

And crucially, the reason why those images have remained so prominent for so long has been the following in my opinion:

1) With each passing news cycle the attacks on Cindy Sheehan continue... those with the intention of discrediting her have been relentless in their attempts to do so... trying to reduce her to either a ruthlessly exploited, grieving mother... or an unbalanced divorcee compelled by extreme political motivations to the left of Fidel Castro. But, in reality, all these attacks are doing is perpetuating the longevity of her story's media presence, and unless some photograph of Cindy lounging with Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan is about to hit the press, the story will always be framed by her compelling humanity, and the sadness of her loss.

2) President Bush made the fatal error of not speaking to her at the beginning. Cindy's actual positioning on a whole range of issues is very flawed. She has stated for instance that the US should seek to immediately withdraw from Iraq... and that terrorism would stop if Israel withdrew from Palestine.

The tone of President Bush's press conference comments were perfect... compassionate and understanding, but asserting, respectfully, his disagreement with her opinion on the Iraq war. Why could he not have said this too her face? What on earth did he possibly have to lose that negated all the things that he had to gain: A diplay of Presidential compassion, and responsibility... and a debate of ideas that he could not possibly lose. + ending all credible grounds for the protest outside his Crawford Ranch.

And now, after all this time, the Republican's are left to sound like shrill attack dogs while Cindy does nothing more than appear in front of the TV cameras and say a few amiable words.

One of the great hindrances to the Democratic Party in 2004 was that in the primaries they were building from scratch due to such a poor performance in the 2002 mid term elections. Now I know that success in the 1994 and 1982 mid terms did little to help either the Republican or Democratic party respectively with their subsequent Presidential bids... but, in both of those instances the battle was with an incumbent. This is a pivotal and opportunistic time for the Democrats, and if they can regain momentum in 2006, headlined by Hillary's re-election to the senate, then the viability of their prospects during the primary campaign will stand them in good stead as Republican's confront the enormous task of replacing George W. Bush. Bush is a political heavyweight with right wing Conservative designs socially, and economically, and a very strong appeal to the party base... but more impressively, he has the sincerity to resonate with the electorate as a compassionate moderate. I see very few Republican's who can effectively bridge that divide as effectively as George W. Bush has done in 2000 and 2004...

The Democrats have to grasp the enormity of the task that is ahead of them, and seize the agenda, as Republican's continue to create their own problems... otherwise, by the time the Primary campaign starts, it might already be too late.

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