Monday, May 28, 2007

The lesson I will never learn

is that people are not rational actors, even in politics. Cindy Sheehan withdrew from the anti-war movement, attacking it as ego-driven and slavishly beholden to the democratic party. She cited health and financial problems as part of her retreat from public life.
Sheehan was at times a brilliant activist -- she recognized the strength of her moral position and used it to achieve a political result in which she believed. She expertly dragged herself as a public figure through several news cycles, building momentum for herself and her cause without allowing the criticism of her to overshadow the story.
The withdrawal from the anti-war movement, or public life generally, is certainly not irrational, but the parting shot seems incredibly poorly designed to advance the anti-war movement. The statement is simply one of despair -- it does not seek to drive the anti-war movement away from the democrats, it simply encourages others to withdrawal from activism. But as she has clearly not renounced her personal opposition to the war, the statement seems blind to the fact that it is itself a component of her position in public life and in the anti-war movement.
It is, in other words, not designed to achieve a goal. It has, then, one virtue missing in public life -- an honesty about the extent to which political involvement, even by the highest, most professional actors, is a confluence of personality and axe-grindings, rather than a game of chess. They may dress themselves as detached, but, more likely, they are, like Sheehan, expressing a public passion.
Well wishes.

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