“Why has Cindy Sheehan — the bereaved mother camped outside President Bush’s Crawford ranch — transfixed the nation?” New Republic editor Peter Beinart asks in today’s Washington Post.

Gee, Pete, could it have anything to do with Fenton Communications, which is advising the bereaved mother, the smarmy embrace of the media, the Michael Moore Democrats and other more outré elements of the anti-war movement?

Beinart continues:

“Partly because she captures something profound about the war in Iraq. Vietnam was a mass-participation war: Nearly 3 million Americans fought; more than 58,000 died. And it provoked a mass antiwar movement: Year after year in the late 1960s, hundreds of thousands of Americans traveled to Washington to protest. The assumption was that everyone would serve. It was that assumption, and the fear it created, that drew so many demonstrators into the streets. And it was the betrayal of that assumption — as children of the elite evaded service — that ripped America apart.

“In Iraq, by contrast, the government never assumed mass participation. In this era of the professional military, the war has affected many fewer people. And it is exposing cultural fissures not because Americans were asked to serve and refused, but because this time few Americans were even asked.

“So a surrogate war has produced a surrogate antiwar movement. This time, mass protests would only cloud the issue. As the parent of a dead soldier, Sheehan has so much moral authority precisely because so few Americans (including so few of us who supported the war) risk sharing her plight.”

Translation: Until we can bring back the draft and make it almost impossible for the U.S. to take military action, Cindy’s brand of boutique anti-war protest must suffice. She’s all we’ve got.

Beinart gets to the heart of the matter:

“Politically, Sheehan wants another meeting because she wants Bush to bring the troops home. (A request he is right to refuse, since it would be a disaster for national security and a betrayal of our responsibility to Iraq.) But emotionally, she is seeking something more primal: to rattle him. She wants to shake the president’s famed self-assurance, a self-assurance that comes from rarely having to confront the consequences of his actions.”

What Beinart means:

Look, it would be a disaster if we withdrew from Iraq–it would betray the Iraqi people and be detrimental to our national security.

But that’s not what this is really about–we just want to make George Bush feel bad. In this, Mrs. Sheehan speaks for us–the media. And what about those parents who’ve lost a son or daughter and who say Cindy doesn’t speak for them? Shhhh.