The thing that struck me first about Milbank was how he made hash of the story. The Sheehan story, clearly, comes in at least three parts: the protest of a lone mother of a soldier KIA in Iraq and Bush's refusal to meet with her; the attendant political uproar on both sides; and, as always, the media's story of the media's coverage of the first two. Milbank diced the pieces fine and fried 'em in a goodly measure of lard. The results, as my Poor Wife would say, would have tasted better if it had had some flavor.
For Milbank the Big Question was whether Cindy Sheehan would become a symbol for a burgeoning anti-war protest movement, an idea which can only be described as a stealth Republican talking point. Sheehan's protest is a single, bright-blue flame: she caught George W. Bush on another vacation at Crawford, redolent of the one in August four years ago, the George W. Bush who doesn't have the courage to face any of his fellow citizens who aren't hand-picked and checked for forbidden t-shirt messages beforehand, and she called him on it. Stuck in right in his craw, in fact, with the Traveling Photo-Op Circus right there to record it. In twenty-four hours that protest replaced his psychosomatic facial boil with her permanent brand.
It's nothing new, and it's not open to debate anymore. We've watched Bush fiddle while the Army burned for three years now; only the mass media outlets and their hired help seem unaware of this. Saying the Question is whether this leads to massive street protests is just an attempt to change the rules of the game after it's clear you've gotten your ass kicked. And that ass kicking occurred two years ago, in Iraq, and it's been sinking in among the general populace ever since the last election as its unqualified support finally succumbs to a harsh reality that isn't amenable to lies and slogans and red white and blue bunting. What's happened in Crawford is just an acknowledgement.
Milbank gave the game away with Question One, which asked whether he thought Bush was calculating a right wing backlash:
No doubt Bush and his aides now wish he had met with her 12 days ago. But to back down at this point would be impossible for Bush, whose display of resolve is a signature attribute.
Display of resolve. He doesn't doubt Bush regrets the decision, but not changing his mind now demonstrates resolve. Do you define resolve that way in your daily life? Do you suppose Dana Milbank does, when, say, the SUV comes back from the shop still making that clunking noise, and the mechanic says, "I said it was fixed when you picked it up, and I'm sticking to it?"
Sunday and Monday Mike Allen picked up the ball and ran around in circles with it, perhaps waiting for Milbank to declare that a touchdown:
The way that choice was made, and the reasons for it, provide a vivid illustration of several hallmarks of Bush's style, including his insistence on protocol, his concern with precedent, his resistance to intrusions and his aversion to hand-wringing.
Yeah, and, Mike, it provides a vivid illustration of several other hallmarks of Bush's style, ones which may be hard to view if one is on his hands and knees with his mouth full of platitudes. Sheehan's protest really put the contrast between the president's style and his substance in sharp relief, or couldn't you see from where you were?
And after a brief detour to let unnamed White House officials (in the papers, are there any other kind?) accuse Sheehan of being objectively pro-Palestinian, it's time to remind our readers that we've come up with a new way to keep score:
But if Sheehan winds up providing the catalyst for a muscular antiwar movement, Bush's handling of the matter will turn out to be not only characteristic but also consequential.
Well, looking at the president's personal history, I think we can all agree that facing actual consequences is not one of his characteristics.
But, y'know, this is 2005, and insisting that it's 1965 doesn't really add much to the argument. Street protests had their place in the Vietnam era, and they have their place today. But what ended the war back then was the slow dawning on that part of the public willing to face reality that it was a colossal mistake fueled by lies and paid for in American blood, and it's the same thing today, except there's no long line of mistakes and deceptions tracing back four administrations. This one belongs to Bush and the Right, and the game is no longer about staying the course or the rightness of their decisions. We don't need any demonstrations to convince people this was a total fiasco. There was never any belief that actually meeting with Cindy Sheehan was going to change anything. The whole world knows that cowboy suit is a stage prop, even if the WaPo don't, and it no longer matters whether he keeps wearing it or takes it off and burns in on national teevee, except to the brave Americans who are yet to die for him.
Allen followed this up with a cutesy feature Monday on the hippies and hybrid-fueled car driving liberals who now share a bank of Port-a-Potties, but no showers, at Camp Casey. And no, those aren't my dismissive characterizations of what he wrote. Hippies and liberal with their hybrid-fueled cars. All of them smelly, and many of them entertained by Joan Baez.
"For a crowd of peace activists," Allen writes, "many seemed angry." Drop by Indianapolis on your way home, Mike. I'll be freshly showered. I drive a regular ol' compact. And I'll show you angry.