WASHINGTON – Even though she won't be running for Senate, Cindy Sheehan isn't disappointing anyone when it comes to being either a vocal leader or outlandish character in the anti-war movement.
"I think we need to duplicate her 10,000-fold. We need more people who have the courage to stand up for what's right and not be intimidated by bullies," said Rev. Deborah Lake, a Chicago resident who was in Washington a week and a half ago to protest President Bush's State of the Union address.
"The more she talks, the more problems she seems to create for herself — either aligning herself with dictators, or more out-of-bounds comments. ... Her presence just grates the more she's out there," said Bill Whalen, political consultant and research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.
In her efforts to bring attention to opposition for the war and President Bush, Sheehan has rubbed elbows with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez; seconded singer-turned-activist Harry Belafonte's comparisons between the Bush administration and Hitler's regime; and threatened a Senate run against Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California's most popular Democrat, whom Sheehan has accused of not doing enough to stop the war in Iraq.
Sheehan also caught the nation's attention just over two weeks ago when she was yanked out of the House gallery — where she had been invited by Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif. to attend President Bush's State of the Union address — for wearing a T-shirt that listed the death toll of U.S. soldiers in Iraq. U.S. Capitol Police apologized the next day for improperly arresting her for protesting within the Capitol.
On Thursday, Sheehan announced that she won't run against Feinstein, but she does plan to file suit next week against the federal government for what she said was a false arrest at the Jan. 31 presidential address to Congress.
While political analysts agreed Sheehan wasn't any kind of serious challenge to Feinstein, her status as the face of the anti-war movement appears to be solid among her staunchest supporters even as she continues to give her critics more ammunition.
"She once represented a very simple concept" — the tragedy over the death of her son, Whalen said. "As this goes over the months, over the years, it becomes more complicated," and she runs the risk of being seen as self-promoting rather than a political activist.
Fast, Polarizing Rise to Prominence
Sheehan's sad eyes, furrowed brow and gleeful arrest photos have come to symbolize the nation's anti-war movement. She gained national media attention last summer when she camped out near President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, and called for a meeting with the president after her son, Casey, died in combat in Iraq.
Her cause drew thousands of anti-war protesters to the rural setting, dubbed Camp Casey, despite the fact that Sheehan had already met once with the president in 2004 along with a group of families who also had lost family members in the Iraq war.
Months later, Sheehan continues to draw support, even as opinion polls show contrasting public sentiment over the war.
According to a Jan. 10 ABC/Washington Post poll of 1,001 adults, 55 percent said the war with Iraq was not worth fighting, compared to 43 percent who did. A Jan. 26 CBS/New York Times poll of 1,221 adults showed 59 percent disapproved of the way Bush was handling the war in Iraq while 37 percent approved.
In contrast, a Dec. 13-15 Associated Press/Ipsos poll of 1,006 adults showed that 49 percent said that she believed the decision to go to war in Iraq was a mistake, a drop from August, when 53 percent said they believed the war was a mistake.
The day before the president's State of the Union address, hours after returning from a visit with Chavez, Sheehan joined a panel discussion on impeaching the president. Applause erupted in the trendy Washington, D.C., restaurant's crowded event room when the moderator mentioned that Sheehan may make a Senate run in California.
Afterward, Clara Martinez, an Arlington, Va., resident said she shared Sheehan's view.
"I believe it's right on. I believe that my president has lied. ... and his lies are impeachable," Martinez said.
"I've been very grateful for Cindy Sheehan since she's emerged as a visible leader in the anti-war movement. We've had more visibility, more tenacity," added Paul Magano, a Washington, D.C., resident attending the same event.
The following day, Sheehan appeared at an event with Woolsey and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., both members of the House Progressive Caucus. Conyers called for censure of the president and repeated his demand for a congressional commission to investigate the administration's actions before the Iraq war, a precursor to impeachment. He has introduced a resolution to create the commission.
Woolsey called Sheehan "my friend" and said the activist had "awakened a nation."
But despite vocal backing by protest groups, lefty-turned-righty culture scholar David Horowitz said Sheehan is more likely to split the anti-war movement than unite it.
"Cindy Sheehan is a raving communist and America hater, and that tarnished her reputation a long time ago. She appeals to the 'Michael Moore left.' Most other people are embarrassed by her," said Horowitz, president of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture.
"Her cozying up to dictators will erode ... any support she may have had from the patriotic anti-war camp," added Horowitz, who said Sheehan is only disrespecting her son's memory.
Jane Hall, an American University communications professor and regular guest on "FOX News Watch," said that while Sheehan might be giving her critics plenty of material to work with, it's unlikely her recent forays into domestic and international politics will sway any opinions.
"People who are critical of her and probably wouldn't support her anyway have begun to say, 'Well, she's diffusing her message and she's supporting this and she's supporting that,' " Hall said. But, "my guess is that people who agree with her probably will continue to agree with her unless she does something egregious. ... [Her] supporters and detractors so far are not changing their minds about her."
A Political Run?
In her D.C. events, Sheehan laid out her platform of ending war, saving lives, bringing home the troops and removing the president and his aides from office. Afterward, Sheehan told FOXNews.com that she had yet to decide if she would run against Feinstein, but any challenge would be from within the Democrat Party. She said she would not run as an independent.
Sheehan said her decision to run would be based on whether she believed more lives would be saved in Iraq with her in office or out of office. She said she also will weigh the decision with her family.
"If I believed that running for Senator Feinstein's seat" would end the war, "I wouldn't even hesitate" to run.
"What I'm trying to do is end more deaths. ... I can't bring [Casey] back, but what I'm trying to do is save more lives."
Sheehan likely could have earned some votes, but probably not enough to sway the electorate.
Gael Murphy, a co-founder of CodePink, an anti-war group that sponsored Sheehan's appearance at the Conyers-Woolsey event, said Democratic lawmakers in the Senate are not doing enough to bring a quick end to the war in Iraq. Murphy said her group, one of a coalition of anti-war groups, counts 90,000 donors and members.
"We have grassroots groups [that are] organizing visits, protests, campaigns. ... We must be in 200 districts," Murphy said. "The majority of people are not for this war ... and I think it's going to be a key issue in this election coming up, and we are working very hard to make it a key issue."
Murphy said the anti-war vote is gaining strength and could demonstrate its impact if candidates like Sheehan ran. She insisted, however, that her organization — a 501(c)3 nonprofit — cannot support Sheehan or any specific candidate because of tax regulations.
Steve Robertson, legislative director for The American Legion, which also does not support candidates for tax reasons, said Sheehan couldn't be an effective candidate, because her protest efforts aren't achieving the goals she wants.
"We think that the activities that she is doing probably does more harm [than good] for morale and welfare of the soldiers, sailors and airmen. ... Her activities aren't in the best interest of the nation," Robertson said. He said it's unreasonable for someone to say he or she supports troops without supporting the war, as Sheehan does.
Running against Feinstein would have been running against the most popular Democrat in the state, said Bruce Cain, who is director of the University of California-Berkeley's Institute of Governmental Studies.
"I don't give Cindy Sheehan any chance of defeating Dianne Feinstein in the primary. ... There is nobody who comes close second [to Feinstein]," Cain said before Thursday's announcement.
Cain, however, said Sheehan and other vocal activists can do a lot to shape lawmakers' agendas.
For instance, Sheehan told the Associated Press that if Feinstein voted to end debate over Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, thereby helping prevent a filibuster, she would definitely run against Feinstein. Feinstein, who just a week earlier said she didn't think a filibuster was the best option, promptly turned around and supported the failed filibuster attempt.
"There's no question that Democratic activists in California want a firm opposition to George Bush from their representatives. Now that doesn't mean they want impeachment. ... They definitely want the representatives to have some spine," Cain said.
In Feinstein's case, Cain said, "she's going to make sure that she's not out of sync with the party activists"