An Evening With Cindy Sheehan

"If we thought [the wars in] Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan were wrong when Bush was president, then they’re still wrong."

So began Cindy Sheehan in a speech at the Peace Resource Center in Seaside, Calif. (near Monterey).

I had never seen Ms. Sheehan speak, and I found her performance impressive. I’ve always respected her for her courage and her persistence. Last Thursday, my respect grew.

My respect for many of my fellow Monterey-area antiwar activists also grew. There was a pretty good turnout for a Thursday-night event on a warm Monterey evening: The room held a capacity crowd of about 60, and others were turned away because of a government regulation restricting the number of people in the room. And many of the faces I saw were people I’ve come to regard as friends – left/liberals whom I met during the Bush administration when it was easy to oppose the various wars because, for many of them, Bush was so easy to dislike. After Obama was elected, I wondered whether many of my erstwhile allies against the war really would continue to be my allies. I have not been disappointed; most of them still are. The Peace Coalition of Monterey County, an umbrella group of almost 30 other groups, is still going strong. Thursday night was part of the evidence. Our pending Oct. 2 protest against the war on Afghanistan, with the theme "Out of Afghanistan: Eight Years is Enough!," is further evidence.

But back to Cindy Sheehan. With her lead-off line, she made the exact right point and set the right tone. She could have soft-pedaled her views, knowing that there were probably some Obama partisans in the room, but she didn’t. Nor did she pull her antiwar punches throughout the speech. She stated, "Obama was inaugurated on a Tuesday. On Friday, he bombed with drones in the Swat Valley. Three days in office and he’s a war criminal."

Ms. Sheehan also criticized people who supported Obama’s candidacy while knowing that he had pledged to escalate the war in Afghanistan. Some of those people have now expressed disappointment with Obama over this escalation. Sheehan said, "He’s doing what you knew he was going to do."

She also commented on the some of the silliness that goes on among partisans of both Democratic and Republican presidents, saying, "Every four to eight years, half the country buys into the American empire because it’s their guy." She pointed out that Keith Olbermann of MSNBC, a partisan of Obama, had actually criticized George Will for wanting to cut and run from Afghanistan. She also pointed out something more serious: the way House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rounded up votes to keep funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. She noted that if the Democratic members of the House of Representatives who voted against funding the war in the previous Congress had done so again, the funding would have been cut off. Ms. Sheehan likened this charade to the wrestling she used to watch on TV with her late son, Casey. He would get into it and strongly support one wrestler, even though the person he supported had been a bad guy a few months earlier. She said she had turned to him and asked, "Casey, you realize that this is made up, right?" Casey had answered that he did. Sheehan’s larger point is that much of the debate on Fox News Channel and MSNBC and, more important, much of the debate in Congress, is made up, with almost everyone choosing sides depending on who is in the White House and which party runs Congress.

Ms. Sheehan noted that many of erstwhile antiwar supporters of Obama have said to her, "Give him time, Cindy." Her answer: "The more time we give him, the more people die." People who are that patient, she said, have "Obama hope-nosis."

Which brings me to my big surprise of the evening: Sheehan’s wit. I’ve read a fair amount about Cindy Sheehan over the years, but one thing that I hadn’t known until I saw her speak was what a subtle, smart sense of humor she has. I found myself breaking into loud laughs when she nailed the issues with her great one-liners. Take her discussion of how Nancy Pelosi lines up votes, telling various Democratic congressmen that they can vote against war spending because they need to shore up their antiwar support, while telling others that they need to vote for war spending. Sheehan commented, "That’s when the vote is going to be close. She doesn’t do that when the vote is going to be 400 to only a handful for the ‘Resolution to support Israel in everything they ever want to do.’" I think that besides her courage and persistence, her wit is part of her ability to reach audiences.

The main times I thought she erred were when she strayed from talking about what she knew best – the war – and got into issues of economics. She’s a strong advocate, for example, of buying locally, something that, if followed consistently, would make everyone worse off. And she seems to see all rich people as "the robber class," no matter how they got what they have. I may be wrong here, because her examples of the robber class were not the Bill Gateses of the world but the Goldman Sachses of the world, and these latter could justifiably be called the robber class, given their advocate-in-chief’s – excuse me – Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s role in the 2008 bailout. Even in economics, I think she got something right that even many economists don’t get right – she argued that people should be allowed to print their own scrip to use as money rather than being stuck with the Federal Reserve’s monopoly money. Ms. Sheehan is a smart lady, and, if I had her in my economics class, I predict that she would earn a high grade from me, a notoriously tough grader.

I reported last week on political discussion between the 45-yard lines and how the Panetta Institute regularly sponsors such boring and basically irrelevant discussions. It was nice, Thursday night, to see Cindy Sheehan head for the end zone – and the end of the U.S. government’s wars.

Copyright © 2009 by David R. Henderson. Requests for permission to reprint should be directed to the author or

Author: David R. Henderson

David R. Henderson is a research fellow with the Hoover Institution and an emeritus professor of economics in the Graduate School of Business and Public Policy at the Naval Postgraduate School. He is author of The Joy of Freedom: An Economist’s Odyssey and co-author, with Charles L. Hooper, of Making Great Decisions in Business and Life(Chicago Park Press). His latest book is The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics (Liberty Fund, 2008). He has appeared on The O’Reilly Factor, the Jim Lehrer Newshour, CNN, MSNBC, RT, Fox Business Channel, and C-SPAN. He has had over 100 articles published in Fortune, the Wall Street Journal, Red Herring, Barron’s, National Review, Reason, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, The Hill, and the Christian Science Monitor. He has also testified before the House Ways and Means Committee, the Senate Armed Services Committee, and the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources. He blogs at