Cindy Sheehan’s shrill sideshow

Has the state of American antiwar protest really come down to Cindy Sheehan?

Sheehan, whose soldier son was killed in Iraq, was once a figure of
considerable sympathy. Now she comes off as shrill, humorless and
self-promoting, which is hard to do in the nation’s capital, given the
level of competition.

The night of President Bush’s State of the
Union message, she was ousted from the House visitors’ gallery for
wearing a T-shirt _ that personal billboard for beliefs, products and
places _ with an antiwar slogan, “2,245 dead. How many more?”

She feels her right of free speech was infringed and wrote on her Web
site, “I don’t want to live in a country that prohibits any person …
from wearing, saying, writing, or telephoning any negative statements
about the government.”

She apparently does like living in a country that allows frivolous lawsuits, because she plans to file one.

Like many driven people in pursuit of a cause, Sheehan tends to
conflate great issues of principle with her own scrapes with reality.
The fact is, she was in the House by invitation, not right, and she
could have stood up and applauded in approval or sat on her hands and
glowered as the president spoke. But the House sets its own rules and
even the president must abide by them. He can come on the House floor
only by invitation and escort.

Sheehan’s episode was vitiated
when Beverly Young, the wife of a powerful GOP congressman, was thrown
out of the gallery for wearing a pro-war T-shirt, “Support the Troops _
Defending Our Freedom.”

Unlike Sheehan, Young was not handcuffed
or charged with a misdemeanor, but then her husband, Bill Young, is
chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee (Think military
pork.). She even got away with calling a Capitol cop an “idiot,” and
you’ve got to have real juice to do that.

As it happens,
Sheehan’s dustup came with the news that Stew Albert had died, the last
and least-known of a trio of antiwar protesters that included Jerry
Rubin and Abbie Hoffman. They could be every bit as self-righteous as
Sheehan, but they were also inventive, imaginative and very amusing.

By way of protest, they once organized 50,000 people to levitate the
Pentagon _ for which they had an official permit. They brought the New
York Stock Exchange to a halt by showering the trading floor with
dollar bills. In 1968, they nominated a pig for president.

Subpoenaed by the late and unlamented House Un-American Activities
Committee _ probably because the committee’s usual communist suspects
had died or gone senile _ Rubin showed up dressed as a Revolutionary
War soldier and was promptly thrown out. It was a twofold victory: He
avoided testifying and he made committee members look like out-of-touch
old foops.

Sheehan came to prominence last summer when she
camped out near Bush’s Texas ranch. At first, the protest, with crosses
symbolizing the war dead, was rather poignant. But as the month wore
on, Sheehan’s insistence that she, personally, had to meet the
president became disturbing.

Bush had met with her once before.
He knew where she stood. And what did she think would happen? That he
would suddenly see the light, call Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and say,
“Don, I was wrong. Bring everybody home”? As his father might say, “Not
gonna happen.”

At the Capitol, Sheehan was fresh from Caracas,
where she appeared at the side of Venezuelan strongman and U.S.-baiter
Hugo Chavez as he urged, “Down with the U.S. empire.” She also agreed
with the characterization of the American president as the world’s
greatest terrorist “responsible for killing tens of thousands of
innocent people.”

You don’t have to be real skilled in the
persuasive arts to realize this isn’t going to get you very far with an
American audience _ assuming her intent truly is to persuade.

a wonderfully self-defeating gesture, Sheehan is talking about running
against Sen. Dianne Feinstein because the California Democrat, one of
Bush’s most severe critics, opposes immediate and total withdrawal from
Iraq as unworkable.

Then again, maybe Sheehan’s strange quest isn’t really about the war, Iraq or Bush. Maybe it’s all about Cindy Sheehan.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)