I hate to say it, but Cindy Sheehan was right.
I’m not a big fan of the anti-war activist, whose past rants have reeked of anti-Semitism, and whose tactics sometimes turn off more people than they persuade. My heart goes out to her for the loss of her son, but as leaders of the anti-war movement go, she wouldn’t be at the top of my list.
But where was the rest of the list this week?
On Tuesday, Sheehan interrupted one of the many preening press conferences of the week to demand that Democrats focus on the issue that got them the power they were busy celebrating: Iraq. At the time, Reps. Rahm Emmanuel and Steny Hoyer simply cancelled the press conference, understandably unwilling to engage in a shouting match with Sheehan. But her challenge remained unanswered.
This was the week that America was watching the Democrats making history. Knowing that the president is planning to escalate the war, they had the opportunity to use the spotlight to take on the president’s war mongering. And, in a word, they didn’t.
Instead, they celebrated themselves.
Don’t get me wrong. Seeing a woman standing there with the gavel in her hands, surrounded by children, claiming historic power, is significant in its own right, and excellent training for what the future may hold. Shattering the political glass ceiling, or at least one piece of it, merits a celebration. Compared to the party the Republicans threw themselves back in 1994, when they took control, the Pelosi Inauguration could hardly be termed excessive.
But we weren’t at war in 1994. We weren’t facing an imminent troop escalation, a president who thinks nothing of eviscerating privacy in a signing statement to a postal bill, an administration on the verge of reorganizing itself so that the gang that got us into the mess in Iraq can dig the hole even deeper. We are now.
In her big speech, Pelosi said: “It is the responsibility of the president to articulate a new plan for Iraq that makes it clear to the Iraqis that they must defend their own streets and their own security, a plan that promotes stability in the region and a plan that allows us to responsibly redeploy our troops.”
We know what the president’s “plan” is. His plan is to send more troops to try to provide security at our expense for their civil war. His plan is, whatever the words he chooses, not simply to stay the course, but to reinforce it. His plan is going to cost more lives. His plan has been a disaster from the start, and he is only going to build on that. His plan is the reason Democrats have taken control of Congress.
The answer to his plan should be clear to Democrats:
Do not come to us with a plan that builds on failure. Do not come to us with a plan that commits us to quicksand. Do not come to us with a plan that calls for more troops. We will vote down that plan, refuse to fund that escalation, stand up to the stubborn refusal of this administration to admit that it has been wrong about Iraq from the get-go.
Why is that so difficult?
Why wasn’t it the “message” of the week?
Politics is not a subtle business. The way you communicate is by agreeing on a “message” and then saying it over and over again, at every opportunity. There are windows of opportunity when the audience is paying attention, and you have to use them to drive your message home. For the Democrats, this week was that kind of opportunity.
As the week was ending, Arianna Huffington reported that “the great news of the day — indeed, the best news we've heard all week— is that tomorrow Democratic Congressional leaders will come out with a strong statement on troop escalation.”
Tomorrow? What about yesterday?
Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She writes the "Portia" column for American Lawyer Media and is a contributing editor of The Los Angeles Times. She was appointed by the president to serve on the National Holocaust Council and by the mayor of the City of Los Angeles to serve on that city's Ethics Commission.
Estrich's books include the just published "Soulless," "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System," "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders," "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women" and "Sex & Power," currently a Los Angeles Times bestseller.
She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel.