Sheehan and the Antiwar Movement

Dana Milbank
Washington Post staff writer
Thursday, August 18, 2005 1:00 PM

Can Bush foes turn Cindy Sheehan into the symbol of a nascent antiwar movement? This is a growing question as Sheehan, whose son was killed in Iraq, has been the focus of increasing media attention. Sheehan has been camping out at President Bush 's ranch in Crawford, Texas to protest the war in Iraq. Thus far the White House has declined Sheehan's demands for a meeting with the President, but Sheehan is associated with a number of antiwar vigils taking place around the country.

Washington Post staff writer Dana Milbank was online Thursday, Aug. 18, at to discuss his Washington Sketch on the antiwar vigils led by Cindy Sheehan , the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq.

Video: Dana Milbank on Sheehan. Aug. 17, 2005.

The transcript follows.

____________________ This discussion will begin at 1:30 p.m. We apologize for the delay.


Dana Milbank:

Sorry for the brief delay. I was detained in the national archives searching for John Roberts's smoking gun, but all I could find was Sandy Berger's boxer shorts. At any rate, let's get on with the chat and determine, once and for all, whether Cindy Sheehan is Rosa Parks or Lyndon Larouche.


Watermill, N.Y.: Why doesn't Bush just meet with her? It would take less than an hour of her time and defuse the situation down there? This seems pretty simple.

Do you think Bush is calculating that a revived anti-war movement will harden his supporters?

Dana Milbank:

No doubt Bush and his aides now wish he had met with her 12 days ago. But to back down at this point would be impossible for Bush, whose display of resolve is a signature attribute.

This may well inspire some of the conservative base, but at the cost of mobilizing the liberal base -- a tradeoff the White House would not make if given the choice. At the rally last night, a fellow from Free Republic spoke about how this is awakening the 'silent majority' -- but it didn't work too well the last time people talked about the silent majority.


Baltimore, Md.: Do you think its wise for the antiwar movement to rally around someone who has made so many strange comments about the Iraq War being a war for Israel?

Dana Milbank: Certainly it's a risk. And Sheehan has, whatever her current position, taken some highly controversial stands regarding Israel. They key for the antiwar movement is to use Sheehan as a symbol but not to make the movement about her. Last night was an effort to broaden beyond Sheehan to other parents. That's why MoveOn told people to bring pictures of children even if they aren't in the military, and organizers handed out stickers saying 'mom' and 'uncle' and so forth, even if the 'son' or 'nephew' wasn't in Iraq.


Austin, Tex.: Seven time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong is scheduled to join the President Saturday in Crawford for a bicycle ride. Armstrong will pass the vigil on his way to the ranch. Any chance either peddler will cancel? If not, how will this 'play' with the public? Will it help the President or hurt?

Dana Milbank: Maybe they can take Lance in by helicopter.

A big benefit of the ranch to Bush is its vast expanse; he can run or ride for mile after mile and never see anything but bovine.


San Francisco, Calif.: Why so little coverage on the candle-light vigils throughout the U.S. yesterday evening? I could not find an article on The Washington Post Web site, or the NYTimes. Thousands of San Franciscans met in quiet groups of 100 to 1,000 in neighborhoods throughout the city, as I assume other citizens did elsewhere - not only to support Sheehan in her request for a meeting with our vacationing president, but also to encourage an end to the war. But mums the word, at least on the WP Internet edition. The Dana Milbank video I just watched offered no coverage. What's up?

Dana Milbank:

Well, I had 22 column inches of coverage on Page 3, and the story is on this very Web site for you to peruse.


Washington, D.C.: Have Bush foes really turned Cindy Sheehan into the symbol of the antiwar movement? Seems to me like the media has done that. The extent to which the media has gone to promote her has been sickening. The extent of fawning coverage she has gotten (and absence of reporting on her past statements) is out of all proportion. One almost beings to wonder if the media doesn't like the current administration. Moreover, has anyone even bothered to ask her how her proposed solution (pulling out of Iraq now) would impact the U.S., much less Iraq?

Dana Milbank: Maybe you and San Francisco can sort this out. Has the media been "mum" or "sickening" in its excess?


Reading, Mass.: Is Cindy Sheehan just a passing August media enriched phenomenon or the catalyst of a crisis for the Bush Presidency?

Dana Milbank: That's why I posed the question: Rosa Parks or Lyndon LaRouche?

Certainly Sheehan has caught a wave, and the ranch stakeout was very clever. But she has been seeking publicity for more than a year (she even held a protest outside the Post a few weeks ago because she didn't like something I'd written) and for the most part, the media ignored her.

My sense is something of a perfect storm has developed: low polling numbers for Iraq, and Bush on Iraq, a surge in the violence, struggles over the constitution, and the Bush vacation providing a vacuum.

Sheehan's story will fade after the Roberts hearings start. But it's possible she has ignited a movement that will continue. Until now, there's been virtually no mass antiwar movement that puts people in the streets. There's a big antiwar protest here in DC I think on Sept. 24. That may be a gauge of where the antiwar movement is.


Raleigh, N.C.: Who has a right to take a grievance to the president?

Dana Milbank: Laura Bush.


Seabrook, Md.: I think this trend of protesting at a public figures house instead of their place of work is an growing trend. Remember the protesters at Karl Rove's house a while back.

What do you think on that aspect of this?

Dana Milbank: Problem is, the White House has made a big deal of saying how this time on the ranch isn't a vacation, and calling Crawford the Western White House. So in that sense, the ranch is both a home and place of business, just like the White House. Also, it's not as if the Bushes are living in a double-wide directly across the street from "Camp Casey."


Arlington, Va.: If Sheehan were to follow Bush back to D.C. and set up the vigil across from the White House, do you think she'd be viewed as determined or obsessed?

Dana Milbank: At some point she'd wind up like those ban-the-bomb/anti-fluoride etc people in that tent on Pennsylvania Ave, wouldn't she? That's a sure route to Larouche, not Parks.


Arlington, Va.: I'm frustrated by Ms. Sheehan's belief that she deserves a second meeting. She has not provided any good reasons for why she didn't ask her questions in the first meeting. You don't always get a second chance in life and she missed hers. It seems to me that she was disappointed by the quality of attention she was given in the first meeting and would like a do-over.

Dana Milbank:

No doubt the request for a second meeting is contrived. It's not as if Sheehan really believes she would change the president's mind. But that's just a vehicle that allows her to set up this camp in Crawford.

In a broader sense, none of the particulars about Sheehan matters: not her remarks about Israel and neocons, not her lefty politics, not her divorce and not whether she's entitled to a second presidential audience. What matters is her ability is to serve as an icon, a symbolic rallying point for an antiwar movement. And all she needs to achieve that is the moral claim she already has, being the mother of a kid who was killed in Iraq.

This seems to argue for Rosa Parks. Any Larouchies out there?


Boston, Mass.: "Until now, there's been virtually no mass antiwar movement that puts people in the streets"

What about before the war? Wasn't there a time when there were about ten million people protesting on the same day around the world, or am I remembering wrong?

Dana Milbank: Yes, sorry, I mean since the war started.


Birmingham, Ala.: So why not have Laura go out and console this mother?

Dana Milbank: Now there's an idea.

I was down in Crawford last summer when Max Cleland came to deliver a message to Bush about the Swift Boat vets. The Bushies were ready with an ambush of their own: They had a decorated Vietnam vet come out to greet Cleland. Cleland refused to hand the letter over to him, and the two circled for several minutes, then held dueling press conferences. It completely diluted the impact of Cleland.

Perhaps too late, pro-war types have arranged for pro-Iraq vets and families to descend on Crawford this weekend. I'm baffled about the lapse that allowed the Sheehan protest to go unanswered at first.


Re: Who Has a Right To Take a Grievance to the President?:

Any citizen. The 9th Amendment says, "Any citizen may petition the government to address a grievance."

Bush is government.

Dana Milbank: L'Etat cest moi.

But it would get pretty cumbersome if we all took our grievances to him. He'd have to delegate.


Philadelphia, Pa.: Is Sheehan rallying people who were always against the war, or is she just gathering support from people who want a more definitive exit strategy?

Dana Milbank: I got the sense that there were some of each last night. There were the usual suspects with their Nader for President pins, but there were also well-dressed professionals who said they'd never been to a protest before. The case of Elizabeth Edwards is interesting: Her husband supported the war in the Senate, but now she has written an emotional letter linking the loss of Casey Sheehan to the loss of her own son in an accident, eight years to the day earlier.


Saint Paul, Minn.: You underscored the vehemence of the Washington, D.C. poster's opinion regarding media coverage of Cindy Sheehan ("sickening," per the questioner). However, you didn't respond to the point made about the general failure to probe further into what the Sheehan camp's alternative to war would be, and what would be the consequences of that stance. I think that is a fair point. I have not seen much discussion at all about what a pullout would actually mean.

Dana Milbank: There hasn't been much talk of a pullout until recently because few, even in the opposition party, considered such a thing possible. But Russ Feingold's out-in-2006 message yesterday may raise that part of the debate.


Washington, D.C.: I was interested in yesterday's anti-war demonstration. About how many people showed up? I remember the protests at the beginning of Gulf War I and Gulf War II (heck, even when we invaded Afghanistan) were pretty big. I get the sense that this protest was much smaller.

Dana Milbank:

The MoveOn claim last night was that there were some 1,600 sites and some 60,000 people RSVPd. It's impossible to verify how many actually came out across the country. I counted about 500 outside the White House -- a medium sized protest.

The most persuasive sign that the Sheehan movement is potent, I thought, was the acknowledgment from the conservative side that this was the biggest antiwar threat they'd yet seen.


Washington, D.C.: Coverage of a growing movement is critically needed, that being said, we can't necessarily connect the dots to Cindy Sheehan. The groups (both national and local) organizing Sept 24 were here before and will be here after (although certainly enjoying increased exposure to the issue). Are you planning to cover the Sept 24 protest in your column as way to follow up both this discussion and your column today?

Dana Milbank: OK, I'll pencil it in.

But I should warn you: Tom Tancredo is scheduled to appear the next day in New Hampshire as he launches his 2008 presidential bid -- and NOTHING will keep me away from that.


St. Paul, Minn. : My brother is at K2 in Uzbekistan (for now) and we live every day with uncertainty and fear. Is it so hard for the pro-Bush bloggers, et al, to show a little compassion toward Sheehan? They seem to relish villainizing her and I don't understand that. Thoughts?

Dana Milbank: Note who is vilifying her. As you point out, it's the bloggers, not the Bushies, and not elected Republicans. She is, in a sense, immune from that.

And once more, the extent to which this continues to be a story depends on the left's ability to broaden this beyond Sheehan. MoveOn claims there are now about 10 anti-war families who lost kids in Iraq.


Stamford, Conn.: Do Bush's foes (read: the Democrats) even have an interest in Sheehan? With no major Democratic leader (outside of Dean) coming out openly against the war, it appears that few in the Democratic leadership have common cause with Sheehan. If anything, she would further highlight failure of the Democratic leadership to take a coherent stand on the war.

Dana Milbank: Just as the vilifying of Sheehan has been left to surrogates, so has the praise, for the most part. I was struck by a press release sent out by the National Jewish Democratic Coalition pedaling fast to distance Democrats from Sheehan, suggesting it was "laughable" to tie her views to those of Democratic leaders.


Titusville, N.J.: I read in Jim VandeHei's online chat yesterday that you used a stuffed animal puppet show on MSNBC to illustrate the Supreme Court nomination battle. Unfortunately, I missed it. Sounds funny, and D.C. could use a little humor these days. How did you portray the principles?

Dana Milbank: Let's just say they were all having their strings pulled.

Thanks for tuning in. Now, back to the archives...


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