Cindy Sheehan, whose son Casey was killed in Iraq, has ended her anti-war campaign that galvanised America on a bitter note – but not before striking a telling blow against the Democratic Party. The Democrats, who took control of Congress six months ago largely because of growing hostility to the war, last week abandoned moves to impose a timetable for withdrawal and voted Bush the funds to continue his regime’s murderous occupation of Iraq. It was the final straw for Sheehan, who announced her withdrawal from the public eye in a blog yesterday on Memorial Day, when America remembers its war dead. She attacked the “so-called left” for slandering her – “attention whore” was one epithet hurled at Sheehan – because she held the Democratic Party to account, never letting people forget that the party wholeheartedly backed the 2003 invasion. She struck back, saying: “I am deemed a radical because I believe that partisan politics should be left to the wayside when hundreds of thousands of people are dying for a war based on lies that is supported by Democrats and Republican alike. It amazes me that people who are sharp on the issues and can zero in like a laser beam on lies, misrepresentations, and political expediency when it comes to one party refuse to recognise it in their own party. Blind party loyalty is dangerous whatever side it occurs on. People of the world look on us Americans as jokes because we allow our political leaders so much murderous latitude and if we don’t find alternatives to this corrupt ‘two’ party system our Representative Republic will die and be replaced with what we are rapidly descending into with nary a check or balance: a fascist corporate wasteland.”
Sheehan sacrificed her marriage and her health – she nearly died last year – and had her life threatened many times. She built a camp in Crawford, Texas, from where she hounded the nation’s leaders. She finally reached the conclusion that her son died for nothing, killed by his own country in the grip of a war machine. Sheehan’s bitter riposte is as savage an indictment of the cosy, “partisan” politics that lies like a weight on the shoulders of the American electorate as you are likely to read: “Our brave young men and women in Iraq have been abandoned there indefinitely by their cowardly leaders who move them around like pawns on a chessboard of destruction and the people of Iraq have been doomed to death and fates worse than death by people worried more about elections than people.” In the United States, the two major parties have practised a division of labour to rule the country, with the Democrats and Republicans representing different sections of the ruling class. Some “lefts” have argued that they had to stay in the Democratic Party because there was nowhere else to go and it was a party where they could have some influence. The claim was that the Democrats were the “lesser of two evils”. The same, lame argument is used about lending support to New Labour in Britain. But, in the end, as the environmental campaigner Ralph Nader famously once said about America’s two major parties, they are both “evil”. The challenge on both sides of the Atlantic is to build alternatives that challenge the traditional parties and the corporate power structures they rest on. In that way, Sheehan’s struggle will not have been in vain.
Paul Feldman, communications editor