It's not your party anyway, Cindy

T.A. Barnhart

There is absolutely no sane or defensible reason for you to hand Bloody King George more money to condemn more of our brave, tired, and damaged soldiers and the people of Iraq to more death and carnage. You think giving him more money is politically expedient, but it is a moral abomination and every second the occupation of Iraq endures, you all have more blood on your hands. (Cindy Sheehan's diary, DailyKos)

She couldn't be more wrong.

Cindy Sheehan is "leaving" the Democratic Party. I've never thought of her as part of the party in the first place. I've always considered what she does to be an independent action, a peace effort that was necessarily aligned with but not an integral element of the Democratic Party.

But now she's making it official, and for the obvious reason: She's with those who believed the Dems in Congress caved to Bush. I can't make up mind if she's right on that or not; the simple fact is that there are, at best, 49 votes in the Senate to oppose the president — and no more. At best. And it's never an "at best" day in Congress.

Blaming the Democratic Party, however, is pretty stupid. The three front-runners for the nomination all voted against funding. None of the Dems who voted for funding are going to be president, and a few of them aren't even going to be in Congress. Most House Dems, including Speaker Pelosi, opposed the funding. And across the country, millions of people who proudly consider themselves Democrats oppose the funding, and the war, just as resolutely as does Cindy.

So where does she, or anyone else, get off condemning the "Democratic Party?" She, like too many others, seems incapable of seeing anything outside of the Beltway, and that's pretty amazing considering where she started. By her own admission, before Casey died she was a non-activist; while others were seeking to stop the war in the first — including millions of members of the Democratic Party — she was on the sidelines with the majority of Americans. When her tragedy struck, she got involved; I'm sorry that she even had to. How much better for her and Casey if she could have remained on the sidelines with nothing to push her into action.

Her presence in the anti-war movement has been wonderful and she will continue to be a force behind all who want an immediate end to the war. I think she's been invaluable in turning the tide of public opinion in the country. But she should not mistake herself for a voice of the Democrats, nor should anyone else. She's a free agent, and that's always the best place for people and organizations like her, Greenpeace, Amnesty International, ACLU, etc. They should never be too aligned with any party; that's not their job. They should never have to "leave" any party because they should never be that connected.

I understand her anger at members of Congress; part of me would have liked to have seen one more attempt to force Bush on timetables, but I think it would have backfired. That sort of thing usually does. Remember when Gingrich tried to force Clinton on the budget, and Clinton simply shut down the U.S. government? Because the Democrats in the Senate lack votes, they are in a crappy position to force any issue. Politically, they have to work the numbers carefully on every issue and they have to pursue a strategy that builds towards 2008 and stronger Democratic majorities — and a Democratic president.

After all, there is no way in hell Bush will take a single soldier out of Iraq (except in a body bag, of course). Lack of funds from Congress would do nothing; he'd find the money from somewhere (hell, it's all paid by debt anyway, so what does an actual budget mean?). The numbers in this case are pretty horrible, but the real horror is this: The war has not yet gone badly enough for long enough. By the time the next budget comes to a vote, there is little doubt that Bush will be forced, one way or another, to accept an end to his war. That's probably another 300-400 American dead, tens of thousands of Iraqis, and even more seeds of hate, vengeance and terror sown to take even more lives in the coming years.

But for Cindy Sheehan to make a statement like "You think giving him more money is politically expedient, but it is a moral abomination and every second the occupation of Iraq endures, you all have more blood on your hands" is irresponsible and ill-informed. There was no expediency here; the Democrats are getting precious little for their vote, not nearly as much as they stand to lose. This is not a vote that will win elections or solidify polls. This vote was a hard reality in an institution where the majority rules. If she can explain how 49 Democrats can beat 51 Republicans (we know where Lieberman lives), much less overturn a veto, maybe she should have Harry Reid over for lessons. The only thing the Democrats in the Senate gain is a tiny bit of leverage with enough Republican colleagues to negotiate the next budget — a budget that will be, as Sen Carl Levin, who opposed zero-funding, puts it, "the final war bill."

The Edwards' strategy — send him the same bill, over and over and over — looks great in a MoveOn ad, but it re-creates the animosity in Congress that Gingrich and Delay used to eviscerate the Democrats and give Bush the power to wage his war in the first place. As much as the voters wanted the Democrats to end the war, they also wanted an end to the war within Congress. Fighting this one bill over and over might have been morally pure, but it would have returned us to the levels of divisiveness in Congress that Delay did such a beautiful job of engendering and exploiting.

(I write this, by the way, knowing that the vote means it's more likely than ever that my son will be sent to Iraq later this year. You think I don't wish they could have stopped this madman? It was never going to happen. Bush will get his troops no matter what; he has that power, and the Congress does not. This one vote is not how we'll stop the war.)

But more than saying Congress had no viable option here, what burns me is the ultimate aim of Cindy Sheehan's words, a target she hits through the heedlessness of her anger and the carelessness of her words. I am sick of people attacking the "Democratic Party" when their anger is at a few elected officials. Every single one of my Democrats in Congress voted exactly as Cindy Sheehan demanded. The majority of Democrats in Congress voted to begin ending the war. This was a battle that would never be won, and Harry Reid understands the history of the Democratic Party far better than does Cindy Sheehan: fighting these battles always — always — costs the party in the long-run.

And in the long-run, if Democrats do not build control of the Congress and win the White House, worse is to come. Far worse. The only way to end the current madness is with Democrats in control of the federal government, and for "madness" Iraq is only the beginning. Everything that Bush has ignored or subverted to the cause of this war must be addressed, from civil liberties at home to ending global corporate fascism to dealing with the climate crisis. A Democratic President and a Democratic Congress will deal with these issues; Republicans will exacerbate every one of them and we must do all we can to change our national leadership next year, beginning at the White House.

Playing high noon repeatedly over a funding bill that had only one possible outcome would have been irresponsible political grandstanding. The real need is to end the war and begin work on the future. With this particular "defeat", the Dems can actually do that. I believe that Harry Reid knows his inability to muster sufficient votes will cost lives — a responsibility Cindy Sheehan knows nothing of. She does not have to negotiate with powerful oppositions or forge workable compromises in order to make life better for Americans. That's Harry Reid's burden, and to tell him from the sidelines how he "can" end the war, fix the health crisis, raise the minimum wage, clean the environment, and all the rest — and all in the face of having no real majority in the Senate and the most radical, hard-core president in American history ready to veto every single decent piece of legislation — is hubris of the worst sort. It's one thing to disagree on how to end the war; it's quite another to tell democratically elected Americans committed to ending the war they share Bush's crimes.

In the end, what does Cindy Sheehan know of being a Democrat? How much work has she done for the party? Has she served as a precinct person, organized local get-out-the-vote drives, walked the neighborhoods, phone banked, stuffed envelopes for local candidates, spent a long day drafting a county platform, baked cookies to celebrate a House candidate's victory? This is something I know a hell of a lot more than does she, and so do millions of Americans who might hear her words and wonder why she can't tell the difference between 19 Senators and the grassroots activists who are the heart and soul of the party. Her anger is understandable, but to call Jon Tester a co-equal with George W Bush is repugnant. She can believe that a minority of Democrats might win a vote if she wants, but that's a math I've never learned. And to attack the party that is the only hope for peace and justice in this country is short-sighted, solipsistic and great PR for Bill O'Reilly.

It's not her party to leave. The Democratic Party belongs to those of who us contribute our time, money, energy, passion and belief. Whatever a few elected officials do, this will always be the party of the "base," the activists in the communities and unions and homes. Go work for peace, Cindy, and let us know when you find the perfect politician who can actually deliver what you demand: the impossible.

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