Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Vacation's End

I spent my weekend poolside with family and friends. It was the perfect end to a summer which was spent everywhere but poolside. Sunday was my official “Last Day to Relax before I Head Back to College.” Among the party guests was a family friend who works with the CIA. The friend is home for a while and couldn’t resist being entertained by the circus that is my family. He knows I study political science and is quite eager to debate, discuss, and pick my brain. I was lounging back in my chair, looking longingly at the pool I had just left and planning my reentrance into its lukewarm water when he began to comment on Cindy Sheehan.

As it turns out, it would be several hours before I reentered the pool.

“She is a biased, liberal, propagandist who is dismaying the memory of her son. Her husband is even filing divorce over her antics. Disgraceful!”

Before I could respond, he went into a full-out assailment. September 11th: Clinton’s fault. War on Terror: opposed by the liberal left. Iraq: Making the world safer. Cindy Sheehan: unpatriotic.

I didn’t know where to begin, so I started asking questions. We had an interesting discussion of the War on Iraq. Throughout the entire conversation, he kept saying to me, “You’re not involved in the military. You don’t understand.”

Returning to Sheehan, as he so frequently did, he began to dip into his pot of rage. I put my hand forward to stop him and said, “You’re not the mother of a kid who died in this war. You don’t understand.”

Of course, there are mothers of sons who have died in this war who still support the war. And that is their choice. But they are not Cindy Sheehan. They did not raise her son. Her situation is unique. And when she stands in protest to the war that took her son’s life, no one is better-equipped to honor the memory of her son than her. She created the memory of her son, and because of this war, she is left, all-too-young, to find a way to honor it.

I explained all of this to my friend. He sighed, put his arms in the air and proclaimed, “The president already met with her once. FDR didn’t sit down with every mother who lost a son in World War II. Why should this president have to?”

The President, whether it is FDR or George Bush, serves as a single figure with many roles. Perhaps the most compelling is his or her ability to comfort in times of tragedy. As such, maybe it’s time the President took more time from his vacation to comfort those who have been most affected by this war. Sheehan’s voice of protest is loud and unanswered. Polls show that support for the war is waning. Perhaps it would be wise of the President to extend an olive branch and attempt to support, or at least understand Sheehan. But I won't hold my breath.

Until then, what started as the single protest of a mother's broken heart and what has become a microcosm for dissatisfaction with the policy in Iraq, will continue.

With this in mind, I began to wonder two things about Cindy Sheehan: why is she getting so much press and why is she being attacked so viciously? My mind trailed off to a political philosophy class I had taken on feminism the previous semester. Our professor had mentioned that when women choose to be stay-at-home mothers they are rarely taken seriously outside of their role as a mother.

The attacks on Cindy Sheehan have attempted to paint her as a political activist, a partisan hack. If she is seen solely as a mourning mother, her message resonates in our hearts. Those who attack her believe that when she is seen as a political activist, as a biased source, her credibility diminishes. Speaking as a mother she is credible; speaking as a mother attempting to affect change in politics, she is biased. Or so goes the argument.

What perhaps is most fascinating is that Sheehan’s opponents try to treat her as if her political activism with regard to the war and her experiences with the war are mutually exclusive. She is an anti-war Democrat, right? No. This is a half truth. In reality, the fact that her life has been affected so deeply by this war qualifies her to be biased. It took her son’s life. Her love as mother and the pain she feels for losing her son motivate her actions of protest, not vice versa.

Just as the mothers who believe their sons died in a just cause deserve our respect, Cindy Sheehan deserves our respect. This war has affected her deeply, and it is not the place of anyone to judge her grieving. She must live with this grief for the rest of her life.

As my vacation dwindles to its end, I have come to realize something sad: Vacations will never be the same for Cindy Sheehan. I wonder, why can’t the President take time out of his vacation to recognize that?