All Cindy Sheehan was saying was "Give peace a chance."
At least that's about all Jonathan Chait appears to have heard her saying.
LGM's Scott Lemieux and Henry at Crooked Timber have added their assessments of Chait's What's wrong with the netroots essay. Both of them, on their way to taking the essay apart, say they think Chait makes some good points, but frankly, after reading their posts, I'm even less able than I was to see what those good points may be.
Amanda cuts right to the thick of it. Chait doesn't see that it matters that one side is lying and one side is telling the truth and that pretty much sinks his whole argument.
As I said Saturday, I can't take Chait's essay seriously because of the way he equates Sheehan's protest with the Swift Boat Liars' lying. This seems to me an egregious failure of brain power, memory, or intellectual honesty on Chait's part, but whichever it is, since he makes the result of that failure a key example of what he means by the netroots' propagandistic nature, his whole argument is built on sand.
If Chait was only being dumb or forgetful (and lazy---whatever he couldn't remember about either Sheehan or the Swift Boat Liars he should have looked up), he completely missed the point. He appears to think that all Sheehan was about was her grief and that those who rallied around her and made her a heroine and a symbol had nothing else to say but, "The War in Iraq is bad because the sons and daughters of women like Cindy die."
We're back to the 60s again, where the media like to drag us every time they confront liberals and progressives, because it lets them dismiss us as a bunch of dirty hippies, nostalgic for our sit-ins and our love-ins and our be-ins, refighting Vietnam all over again because it lets us relive the glory days of our youth, and desperately looking for the chance to re-nominate George McGovern. Outside the ranch at Crawford, Cindy Sheehan was just leading us all in the sentimental whine, "War is not healthy for children and other living things."
But Sheehan was not merely lamenting her dead child, she was demanding to know why her son had to die.
She was asking George Bush to explain his war to her and he refused to do it and his refusal became the point of her protest and the source of its strength as what Chait calls propaganda.
President Bush could have forced Sheehan to fold up her tents simply by inviting her over to the ranch to talk. Chait ignores the reason he didn't do the obvious and easy thing---at the time the Bush Administration was energetically trying to hide the cost of the war in blood from the American people. This is why Bush never mentioned any dead soldiers or went to any services. This is why photographs of returning coffins were verboten. This is why they began sneaking the bodies home at night disguised as "freight."
So, yes, it was true, Cindy Sheehan was what Chait implicitly dismisses her as, just another mother of another dead soldier, but her importance as a symbol and a protester was not due to any sentimentality behind that fact but from another fact, that President Bush was busy trying to make all the mothers and fathers of all the dead soliders invisible by making their children's deaths invisible.
Beyond this, Cindy Sheehan was asking the President do something he could not do, give her an honest reason why her son had to die.
At the time, Bush's main justifications for the war---Saddam's connections to al Qaida and his WMD arsenal's threat to our security---had been shown up as lies. His fallback justification, bringing freedom and democracy to the people of Iraq, has turned out to be a lie of a different sort. It's just not something the Bush Administration knew how to do or, apparently, even cared enough about to try to figure out how to do.
So Sheehan's protest was not only honest but it was effective because it was honest.
She helped to drive home two central truths: The war was bloodier and more costly than the President wanted anybody to know and he could not justify his war without lying.
As Amanda says, Chait makes no attempt to keep what's true sorted out from what's a lie. Anything and everything that involves emotion and a political agenda is all the same to him, the true as well as the false; it's all propaganda and propaganda isn't just intellectually suspect, it is by definition discredited. In fact, it's not even worth discrediting.
It's from this premise that Chait is able to make the leap that the Right and the Left are merely two sides of the same coin and, as Henry shows, conclude that the Progressive Netroots not only wants exactly what the Right wants, power to enforce their beliefs on everybody else, but Progressives are willing to use exactly the same means as the Right Wing has used grabbing for their power.
Last point on the Swift Boat Liars: Chait is another Washington journalist who writes about politics as if Washington journalists don't exist. The Media picked up the Swift Boat story immediately and ran with it, not bothering to debunk the lies and excusing themselves on the grounds that it was John Kerry's job to do, with the implicit accusation that the Swift Boat Liars were somehow his fault to begin with. They did this because the story fit with their own pre-existing narrative about Kerry, the same one they use to tell the story of Hillary Clinton and the one they will use about whichever candidate the Democrats run in 2008, and that is that Kerry/Clinton/Any Democrat is inauthentic, opportunistic, and therefore somehow deserving of whatever smears the Republicans think up to use against them.
The Swift Boat Liars story isn't simply an example of effective Right Wing propaganda; it's another bill in the indictment of the National Press Corps for their smug self-corruption and co-option.
End of Part One.