Friday, August 17, 2007

Dear Cindy: Please Don't Run

The Nation Blog: By Katha Pollitt

On July 25, Cindy Sheehan announced that since Nancy Pelosi failed to move to impeach Bush and Cheney by Sheehan's deadline two days earlier, she will run as an independent for Pelosi's seat in Congress. I have a lot of respect for Sheehan, but I hope she'll reconsider.

First of all, should impeachment really be a litmus test? Sure, it would be emotionally satisfying to haul the president before the Senate--look how much fun the Republicans had with Clinton. I understand why some of my Nation colleagues are so keen on it. But it's not going to happen--the numbers in Congress and Senate aren't there , and I don't care how many people sign petitions and call their congressperson, that is not going to change. ...But to insist that they work themselves into a lather for what is essentially a symbolic gesture with no chance of success? I don't see the point of that.

Second, Sheehan's run is futile. There's a place for outsider candidates, even longshots. ... Nancy Pelosi has been a cautious -- too cautious -- leader, and if a lefter candidate could take her seat, fine. But let me go out on a limb here: Sheehan has no chance of defeating her ... Thus, instead of showing the Democrats how strong is the threat from the left, it will show them how weak it is.

Third, and most important, Sheehan already has a crucial role in our politics: as an activist. More than any other single person, she changed the discourse about the war. She put a middle American face on the antiwar movement at a time when it was widely caricatured as a ragtag collection of hippies , Stalinists, and movie stars. She forced the media--and the country -- to acknowledge that antiwar feeling was widespread and growing and included even red staters, even military families. By her simple demand that Bush meet with her and explain why her son died, she pointed up the president's evasions and befuddlement and arrogance -- the ban on photographs of coffins, his seeming lack of concern for the deaths of soldiers, his basic refusal to engage. No matter that she sometimes seemed to be conducting her political education in public. She was a mother wrenched out of her ordinary life by tragedy -- that is a very powerful and inspiring symbolic role....

Still, the place for symbolic protest is in protest movements. Elections are about something else and are played by different rules. There, symbolic figures are mostly wasting their time, and tend to emerge smaller than they went in.

Herewith my comment, republished from The Nation site:

Katha poses a number of significant points, which I see somewhat differently. I agree that based on what we now know, successful impeachment of Bush and/or Chaney is unlikely (Gonzales may be a different case). But I disagree over what follows from that. It is unlikely that Congress--given the Senate rules and closeness of the partisan split there, as well as Bush's veto--will accomplish much in the way of an affirmative legislative agenda. (How much of Pelosi's vaunted first 100 hours shtick will actually find its way into law?). To the extent this Congress can make a contribution, it will come through checks and balances on the prospective Bush agenda (is there one?), and re-establishment of oversight on executive power. That process has begun, and has made some impact. However, the executive branch is doing all it can to frustrate the oversight process and run out the clock. It is yet to be determined how aggressive Congress will be in pursuing its subpoenas and other demands for documents and testimony, and asserting its contempt power. Litigation in the courts will be a slow process at best, and will require complex balancing judgments that may be difficult to predict. In contrast, by launching impeachment inquiries, Congress maximizes its core Constitutional interest in and ability to compel production of documents and witnesses, to investigate the manifest abuses of power in this Administration, and to dramatize, for press and public, this Administration's record of shame.

What higher purpose, or set of accomplishments, is realistically available to this Congress? What else should it be doing in preference to this? Will an impeachment inquiry set back those efforts, or more likely improve their prospects? If the objective is to end the war, or at least force Bush to move more quickly in that direction, is there a better way than this?

That is my most important difference with Katha's analysis. On Cindy Sheehan, I'm inclined to agree with Katha that she is more impressive as an activist/public symbol than as a prospective legislator or policymaker (and that it is worth underlining this distinction), and is more likely to leave the electoral arena diminished than enhanced (if, indeed, her time in the spotlight has not already passed). While I am not a special fan of how Nancy Pelosi has conducted her speakership thus far, it seems to me that a nasty dustup primary contest is unlikely to be terribly productive in either electoral or symbolic terms.

I would like to see the Dems consolidate their position as a governing party before commencing their traditional inclination to eat their own.

Posted by THE WISE BARD 08/17/2007 @ 3:16pm

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