I have a lot of respect for Cindy Sheehan. Increasingly, though, I'm starting to wonder what she's thinking.
When she started her activism against the Iraq War, she was in firm possession of the high moral ground. She was coming at the issue as a grieving mother anguishing over the thought that her son may have died for nothing. In that role, she earned the sympathy of a lot of Americans who may not have agreed with her political stance.
I don't believe the skeptics who now say Sheehan is putting herself "out there" just to get publicity, or as part of some scheme to line her purse. No one ever heard of Cindy Sheehan before her son Casey was killed in action in 2004, and there can be no doubt that her grief was initially what drove her.
What I wonder about is the path she's taken since.
Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with Sheehan broadening her efforts and becoming a spokesperson against the war. My problem is with the way she's doing it.
I saw it all too often during the Vietnam era -- the "peace" crowd increasingly circling the wagons, lashing out in irrelevant directions and spending a lot of time congratulating each other.
This is not how you win an argument. You win an argument by addressing the people who disagree with you, and trying to convince them.
One of our biggest problems as a nation, I believe, is that we tend to get tangled up in ideology. Come to think of it, that's probably the biggest problem of all nations -- it's part of the human condition.
What this does, though, is keep us from focusing on a problem in isolation. The Iraq War is not necessarily a Democratic, Republican, liberal or conservative issue. It is what it is, irrespective of our politics, and we need to take a clear-eyed, objective look at it. The same with global warming and tax reform and prison reform and all the other issues we've managed to politicize.
But back to Cindy Sheehan. In my humble opinion, she's getting scattered. Instead of focusing all her energy on convincing other Americans that the war in Iraq is a bad idea, she's now focusing on getting President Bush and Vice-President Cheney impeached.
Another bad idea, it would seem to me. For one thing, it would take a mighty convincing case against Bush and Cheney to conjure up the two-thirds majority it would take to get them out of office. Impeachment is easy -- a simple majority. Following through is excruciatingly difficult.
Just as the Republicans did it to Bill Clinton -- knowing they didn't have a two-thirds majority -- an impeachment of Bush and Cheney would just be a distraction at a time when we don't need to be distracted. And again, as with Clinton, what is the point of trying to impeach leaders as their term winds down to a close?
Moreover, if you make the issue a personal attack on Bush and Cheney, you open an argument that can't be won. For the most part, people either love them or they hate them, and it's hard to imagine that anything Cindy Sheehan says is going to change that. So rather than trying to make the point that the current administration is stupid, or evil, it makes more sense just to take the position that they're wrong, and let history take care of the final judgement.
Sure, it can be argued that the Iraq War is part of a larger problem in American foreign policy, and that we need to start viewing the world differently. But making trips to Venezuela (where leader Hugo Chavez is openly defiant and contemptuous of the U.S.) and Cuba, as Sheehan has done, isn't going to help change hearts and minds.
It's the Jane Fonda mistake all over again -- her trip to North Vietnam cost her any shred of credibility she may have had among moderates.
Having said all that, I think it's exciting that Sheehan is stopping here (I'm speaking as a newspaper person here), and I hope a lot of people turn out to hear her, whether they agree with her or not. Whenever we stop freely exchanging ideas, we stop being America.