Is she like the lone protestor in that famous photo from Tianenmen Square in 1989? The man with the shopping bags who stopped the tanks in Beijing to symbolise, in so many imaginations, defiance against the edicts of the powerful; and the power of individual conscience above the human need for safety and security. Or, is Cindy Sheehan a tofu-munching screwball whose tax-dodging antics make her a good candidate for a jail cell, not a foreign policy summit with President Bush?
The war in Iraq is, of course, ineluctably associated with George W Bush. But for Americans this week, Cindy Sheehan’s name has begun to represent almost as much about Gulf War Two as the President. Both the American Left and Right have been transfixed by her. The spin from liberal blogs, and the counter-spin from conservatives has been truly epic.
In an activist stunt that’s spectacularly succeeded, Cindy’s vigil outside the President’s ranch in Crawford, Texas has been the first item on American breakfast TV shows all week. Her online diary records interviews with Time. She’s going to be on the cover of the celebrity obsessed People. Hell, even the Oprah media empire wants to hear from her!
And Bush (who didn’t respond even after tens of thousands of anti-war activists trashed San Francisco after he declared war), dedicated much of his weekend radio broadcast to rebutting Cindy.
Just ten days into his annual holiday, President Bush’s time-off with ‘his sort of folks’ in redder than red(neck) Crawford isn’t looking quite so relaxing with Cindy waiting outside his ranch. With a placard, and a 1960s-style peace tent, she’s demanding to meet the President, so that she can find out why America is in Iraq and when the GIs are going to come home.
The President has been refusing to see her. But his attempt to pull down the shutters isn’t working.
When his presidential motorcade passed by her a few days ago, on the way to a corporate fundraiser, President Bush’s media clippings never looked worse.
A quick scan of leftist websites brings up her salvo against President Bush’s nomination as Time‘s ‘Person of the Year, 2004’. But the magazine never published her letter last December. And a speech she gave in South Carolina, two years after the Iraq war began, didn’t register with the press either.
Cindy’s from Vacaville, California, a town on the rim of the Bay Area (the region around San Francisco that most conservative Americans regard as a coffee-sucking socialist dystopia). But her new-found, unshakable moral authority stems from the fact that her son, Casey, died in Iraq last year. And now, in the dank heat of a Crawford summer, she’s done more for the American peace movement than almost a million protestors in New York (at the Republican National Convention, last year).
With George W Bush’s approval ratings on Iraq now almost as low as fellow Texan Lyndon Baines Johnson’s were in 1968 in the midst of the Vietnam War, she’s also become the most prominent Democrat around. But, as with Michael Moore and one-time Presidential candidate Howard Dean last year, Cindy is a Democrat that the Bill Clinton wing of the Democratic Party doesn’t want to listen to. She’s pretty stridently Bolshie, by the standards of American politics. For instance, she caused angst for centrists and conservatives alike, in recent days, by calling for Israel to get out of the West Bank.
But in a public debate dominated by Fox News on the one hand, and the liberal radio station Air America on the other, it increasingly looks like hyper-liberal activists and politicians are all that can counter George Bush’s Republicans. Because, in American politics, what you say isn’t as important as how you say it. And Cindy’s scratchy tones sound more convincing on talk radio than ‘Slick Willy’ Clinton (or John Kerry), with their calls for less welfare, and more warfare.
Despite the apoplectic reactions of American conservatives, Cindy’s vigil has stuck in the public’s mind. And conservatives, who were so enthusiastic about ‘average Americans’ after they voted for Bush last year, have taken to calling the American people ‘wrong’.
Jonah Goldberg from rightist weekly The National Review, described many voters as ‘grotesquely ignorant of their government and current events’. It seems symbolic of an August where the President is starting to lose control of more than his holiday golf swing.
In the most individualistic country in the world, it took one woman to say so.
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