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Thursday, August 18, 2005

The War on Dissent

Cindy Sheehan has single-handedly reopened the debate on the war in Iraq that has been dormant since last year's election. Her son, a highly acclaimed and respected Marine, was killed in Iraq. Cindy is holding a vigil one mile away from George W. Bush's Texas farm. (I don't call it a "ranch" like the corporate media does because that phrasing is factually inaccurate. A ranch must have animals; Bush's farm does not have any. Focus groups probably told them that "ranch" sounded more masculine. Still, a lie is a lie.) Sheehan wants an audience with the President to ask questions about why her son died. Her first meeting with Bush involved him arriving in the room and coldly saying "So, who are we honoring here?". How sympathetic of our Christian President.

Part of the success of her vigil is that George Bush is in the midst of a 5 week Texan vacation, the longest Presidential vacation in 36 years. Bush has spent a full 20% of his Presidency kicking back in Texas and this week he will break Ronald Reagan's record for most vacation days ever taken during a Presidency. Keep in mind that Bush has 3 more years in which to pad his record breaking total. Also, let's not forget that Bush spent a lengthy Crawford vacation the month before 9/11. Apparently the phrase "burning the midnight oil" is not in Bush's vocabulary.

At first, Sheehan's story didn't affect me much. I feel great sympathy for Cindy Sheehan and agree with her stance on the war. Yet to me, it seemed like there was no chance Bush would meet with her and that this story didn't really have much beyond that. Another mother who must pay the costs of war that the Republicans have passed on to ordinary Americans. A tragedy, but not one any worse than countless other harms that the Corporatist Republicans have brought upon the world.

Suddenly, Cindy's story spread like wildfire. It struck a chord with the pent up concerns of Americans everywhere. The corporate media even picked it up since it provided easy fodder for them. They didn't have to do any investigating or out of the box thinking, all the corporate media had to do was show up at Bush's farm (which they were going to do anyways) and turn on their equipment. Sadly, the corporate media will only cover stories that cost them little to discover.

Soon the front page of every major website and newspaper was plastered with a fierce debate about the war. Cindy Sheehan, in a way, represents the ordinary, average American. Body counts and suffering abroad seem too foreign and distant to really affect the common man at home. Yet many of us have sons and daughters that we love and cherish. The thought of losing them to fight an unjust cause makes everyone uneasy.

Why did we go to war with Iraq? Why are we still there? Is staying the course really the best option at this point? Aren't we kidding ourselves to think that Bush, constantly wrong on Iraq -- they will greet us as liberators, they have WMD, the war will only last weeks -- can fix anything? All these questions began to finally get asked this week in the media and it put the Corporatist Republicans on the defensive.

That's when they revealed their true colors. Sometimes you don't really find out about a person until the proverbial shit hits the fan. The Republicans had the difficult task of arguing against a grieving mom who lost her son defending our country. All she's asking for is a chance to ask Bush the same questions that we are all have been asking ourselves.

The appropriate thing for the Republicans to do is to acknowledge the woman's suffering and then tie in the inevitable human costs to the more noble goals in Iraq. President Bush attempted this line of debate. He says he feels the pain of every grieving parent, and that Sheehan has the right to her opinions, but he stands by his policy. I consider that a fair, gentlemanly response. Of course, Bush then went on to make perhaps the most insensitive remark ever uttered :"I think it's also important for me to go on with my life."

Yet you can't look to Bush as the sole voice of the Republican Party. His underlings are doing his dirty work and it's pretty ugly indeed. The Republicans have launched a massive campaign of character assassination against Cindy Sheehan by attacking her motives, probing her personal life and outright slandering her. This too, isn't really about Cindy Sheehan: it's about squelching dissent and framing the storyline in the news. If news starts to waiver from the Republican party line, the vast right wing conspiracy suddenly emerges to mold the news back into what the Corporatists desire.

David Horowitz, a far right activist, called Sheehan "hateful". Conservative newspaper Human Events calls Sheehan a "professional griever." Rush Limbaugh has a message for Cindy Sheehan" "'Oh, she lost her son!' Yes, yes, yes, but (sigh) we all lose things." Ann Coulter has called her vigil a "Stalinist agitprop." The Right points to Cindy's divorce as a sign that her message is somehow undermined, but that is just a baseless character attack that says nothing about her message. . Meanwhile, the vast right wing conspiracy has launched a "You Don't Speak for Me, Cindy" campaign to attack the views of this grieving mother.

We have become a monstrous society when the human costs of war cannot be discussed. Even if one supports the war in Iraq, one must be ready to accept and acknowledge the fact that the lives of many Americans will be lost and many more lives will be drastically altered. Republicans believe that discussing the human costs of war somehow undermines the war effort and emboldens the enemy. That's nonsense. The "enemy" consists of people fighting an occupying force in their homeland. They don't know or care about what the American people think. All the enemy forces in Iraq care about is fighting us until we leave. I know personally that I would fight to my death if the United States were invaded by a foreign force. I wouldn't care what the reasons were for that country invading us and I wouldn't care if they hated us because of George Bush's misdeeds. In fact, I would likely join many other liberals in rallying around George Bush if we were invaded just as many people who otherwise opposed Sadaam rallied around him when he launched the war in Iraq.

My point is this: the beliefs of the American people have no effect on whether or not our enemy will keep fighting us. That is an old rightwing tactic used to squelch dissent. We must be able to discuss the costs of war so that we as a people can constantly evaluate whether we want to continue on the current course. The only real argument in favor of staying in Iraq, at this point, is that we've messed things up so bad that we can't leave. That argument, however, requires one to believe that the presence of the Bush Administration in Iraq is better than what would happen if we left. No evidence supports that widely assumed theory. It also requires you to believe that Bush will affirmatively work to make things better in Iraq. How he will accomplish that after blundering every step of the way is beyond me. The time has come to bid the Iraqis "adieu" and bring our troops home. Our presence isn't preventing a civil war; it's causing one to develop.

We need dissenters like Cindy Sheehan to force America to reconsider our goals and objectives. Without dissent, we become a totalitarian state doomed to collapse. Those of us outside the Republican Party need to speak loud and clear for the good of America. The Right would rather attack people personally instead of attacking the arguments themselves because they know can't win on the merits of the war. These disturbing trends of squelching dissent must be reversed. Censorship needs to become, in and of itself, a major issue of those on the left. Painting the Bush Administration as hateful towards the First Amendment needs to be a big part of our message. A war on dissent, and more widely on free speech, is raging whether we like it or not. The Corporatists need this war and are fighting it aggressively. We can't sit this one out.

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