The Real Reason Why Cindy Sheehan Is A Threat To The GOP
Many center-left bloggers have spent a good deal of time lately documenting the right wing smear campaign or “swift-boating” of Cindy Sheehan, as we all should. And we should all be keeping track of those in the right wing media and blogosphere who are attacking Sheehan now, especially those who avoided military service themselves or those who currently have military age kids who find it beneath them to fight George W. Bush’s war but find no problem smearing a mom who is speaking out against that war. When the media spotlight moves away from Sheehan, there will be a time to deal with these people relentlessly.
We may assume that this swift-boating of Sheehan is nothing more than just the latest display of the right wing “to criticize Bush is unpatriotic or un-American” Stepford cult mentality that the GOP has used so successfully against the Beltway Democrats since 2000. But I have been wondering for several days now if there is an alternate reason why the right wing mafia has been coming out of their shoes to attack Sheehan, who certainly would have been less effective if the swift-boating smear masters had just ignored her and made her seem like a marginalized figure alongside that road in Texas. Dr. Jeffrey Feldman over at Frameshop has put his finger on it, and it shows you why the right wing is so scared of Sheehan and what she represents, and why the Beltway Democrats and their calcified consultants should be looking for jobs next year.
Anyone who has read George Lakoff knows that the answer to Thomas Frank’s question as to why red state working class voters routinely get manipulated by the GOP into voting against their economic self interest for Republicans who share little in common with them flows from this: the GOP appeals to voters through identity politics and an appeal to values, while the Democrats assume that policies and facts will convince voters to support them. The GOP preys on voters by making them feel like victims who are under assault from Democrats, liberals, and Hollywood amongst others, and by telling voters they need to vote for candidates who will protect them from these threats to their families.
As such, the GOP assumes the role of a father protector figure, telling voters that they need to vote for the GOP so that their way of life and their families are protected from the gays who might move in next door, or from abortions-on-demand that challenge the father’s authority to control what is going on in his family. Lakoff has postulated that there are actually two major frames upon which the American public views the world, the father protector model that the GOP has cornered, and the nurturing mother model that the Democrats have ignored as a possible response, a model that would on given issues appeal to many of the liberal Catholics and Protestants.
So how does Dr. Feldman speculate that Cindy Sheehan has become a major threat to the GOP father protector frame and stranglehold that Rove and Luntz have on the vast Stepford cult out there? Quite simply, Feldman speculates that Sheehan has moved the discussion and framing about the Iraq war away from how Iraq relates to the war on terrorism and towards how the war and by extension George W. Bush’s foreign policies are a threat to the American family.
If Democrats want to build on Cindy Sheehan's success, we must accept that last week's media storm was less about Cindy's demand to meet or her accusation against the President, than about her image as a 'grieving mother.'
In broad terms, the success of the 'grieving mom' phrase indicates that Americans are now thinking about the War in Iraq through the frame of the family, rather than thinking about Iraq through the frame of 'terrorism' or 'ideology.'
The implications of this shift from 'terrorism' to 'family' in the country's thinking about Iraq are profound. Not only does this shift forewarn a political tidal wave soon to break on the President's foreign policy, but also of a much deeper, tectonic shift in the strategy beneath all the recent gains in the Republican party.
The great success of Cindy Sheehan's protest, therefore, is no less than the moral authority for the Democratic Party to speak for the American family.
At the heart of the Republican claim to speak for the family is a very narrow idea of marriage, and a reactionary nervousness about 'the culture' as a cause for social problems in America. For the Republicans, the key to translating this claim into political gains has been a broad scale effort to use state legislators to strip homosexuals of the full rights and privileges of American citizenship.
At the heart of the Democratic claim to speak for the family is a broad and powerful idea that the war in Iraq is killing America's children for no apparent reason, and a growing anger than unless American soldiers leave Iraq, America's hard-working and honest communities will be destroyed forever.
This point tracks with my belief that Democrats need to reacquaint themselves with the concerns of Main Street over Wall Street, and realize that it is possible to weave a narrative that is sensitive to the concerns of families and communities about values and perceived threats to those relationships without talking down to voters. But as Feldman notes, the Beltway Democrats may be seeing things differently, and as a result, the Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden campaigns are showing signs early on of a “stay the course” approach that ignores what Sheehan may have tapped into here.
At this point, it would seem that the main obstacle to turning Cindy Sheehan's achievements into real political gains would be the circle of overpaid and out-of-touch consultants that suffocate the potential and idealism of the Democrats' high-profile national candidates.
While Cindy Sheehan has lead America's families in an emotional and meaningful discussion, the consultants are still trying to distract voters into thinking that our potential Presidential candidates are the true voice of 'staying the course' in Iraq. We can only hope that somebody with real influence in Washington--and the ability to fire these consultants who leading our candidates astray--has the same courage as Cindy Sheehan.
As a father of a daughter who is heading into military age, I share the concerns of millions of other parents who could be reached by an argument based on Sheehan’s appeal that it is the GOP and George W. Bush who are the biggest threats to my family and my community, not some terrorist threat that we continue to deal with effectively, or a hyperventilated threat centering on ostracizing gays and minorities, or a Hollywood populated with GOP campaign contributors. A great piece on this exact thinking was posted today by Bob Geiger over at the Yellow Dog Blog, whose sentiments I share completely.
The GOP is swift-boating Sheehan so savagely because she is going after Bush for what he has done to her family, and she herself as a mother, a nurturing mother who no longer has her son or her family intact due to George W. Bush and the GOP’s "endless war" foreign policy. There are millions of moms and dads out there, many of them in the red states, who share Sheehan’s thinking, for whom family and community are more resonant frames than false appeals to patriotism from politicians and media types who are only too happy to let other kids die fighting their wars.