- The Washington Times - Monday, August 22, 2005

Some of the celebrities descending on Prairie Chapel Ranch owe Cindy Sheehan a lot. How else would we know they weren’t dead?

Joan Baez, derided in the newspaper comics pages as “Joanie Phony” for her “pacifism” several wars ago, showed up yesterday to sing for the bored folks encamped near George W.’s front gate. Her presence was meant to be a show of solidarity with Cindy Sheehan, but she arrived late for the photo-op. Mrs. Sheehan is currently between engagements in Los Angeles.

Joanie plucked gamely at the strings of her guitar, if not necessarily the heartstrings in the audience, and sang the anthems of the wrinkled unwashed from our most dissolute decade: “Song of Peace” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.” She avoided what was arguably her greatest crowd-pleaser, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” an improbable tribute to the Confederacy. She clearly yearns for a reprise of the ‘60s, when the war in Vietnam gave an exciting social life to the generation drugged on cheap sex and playing at make-believe revolution.

“This is huge,” she told the crowd of 200 or so spectators, wilting in the Texas heat and yearning only for a reprise of the air-conditioned comfort back at the motel. “In the first march I went to [during the war in Vietnam] there were 10 of us.”

Mzz Baez is the biggest celebrity to show up at the ranch so far, not counting a talk-show hostess from Air America who arrived to audition for the role of the Tokyo Rose for the new century. For her part, Joanie hasn’t had a hit in more than a decade, or, as her Internet Web site delicately puts it, she has been “free of any major label associations in the United States.”

Dispatches from the ranch suggest that excitement is slowly subsiding now that Mrs. Sheehan — “Mother Sheehan,” as one of her fans wants us to call her — has decamped to L.A. and there are clues that the reporters and television crews are getting bored with the story. With only little more than a week left to endure the Texas backcountry, the television correspondents are running out of faces to shove their tin-can mikes into, and the techies are beginning to pack up for the Labor Day getaway. Nobody expects Mrs. Sheehan back at the ranch to try to top her rhetorical flourishes of early August, and some of her handlers from MoveOn.org, which George Soros first bankrolled to elect John Kerry, seem relieved. Cooler heads in the groggy anti-war ranks had just as soon not try to keep their heroine primped and primed for the cameras when she revels in baiting Jews and saying such things as “this country is not worth dying for.” They might privately cheer the Sheehan invitation to George W. to send his twin daughters to “die in Iraq,” but they understand that this kind of sentiment is a hard sell to decent folk, even in the blue states.

There were bits of news to cheer certain pundits. Camp Casey, as Mrs. Sheehan named her encampment, honoring her son Casey, is mirrored now by Fort Qualls, set up just down the road to honor the memory of Marine Lance Cpl. Louis Wayne Qualls, slain in Fallujah. His father, Gary Qualls of nearby Temple, Texas, bitterly accuses Mrs. Sheehan of indulging her grief to mock the sacrifice of his son and others killed in Iraq. Fort Qualls, the redoubt of supporters of George W., gets larger every day, many of them drawn to Texas by the widely quoted tender sentiment of columnist Maureen Dowd of the New York Times (“the moral authority of parents who bury children killed in Iraq is absolute”). She might not have had Cpl. Qualls in mind, but her combat boot is a perfect fit.

George W.’s neighbors on the road to the ranch, now cluttered with the trash and debris of the Big Story, are eager for everybody to go home, but no more so than the wise men among the Democrats. The party’s flirtation with the politics of grief, and the exploitation of the tragedies of others, is risky business.

Every one of the 1,864 men and women who have died in Iraq left grieving families and loved ones back home, the president told the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars yesterday in Salt Lake City. “We owe them something. We will finish the task that they gave their lives for.”

Americans have never tolerated mockery of battlefield sacrifice, and only morticians have made a successful industry of mourning. The politics of lamentation is not likely to appeal to Americans with a taste for the sunny side of the street. A promise of “Morning in America” sets off landslides. A lengthening line of Democratic candidates could tell you that “Mourning in America” is for losers.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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