You can tell in five minutes channel surfing how Cindy Sheehan frightens the pro-war crowd. One bereaved mom from Vacaville, Calif., camped outside Bush's home in Crawford, reproaching the vacationing president for sending her son to a pointless death in Iraq has got the hellhounds of the Right barking in venomous unison.

Bill O'Reilly just howls about Sheehan's low character in her refusal to pay federal taxes that might put more money the Pentagon's way.

Listening to O'Reilly and even mainstream pundits, you'd think tax-resistance was a fresh and terrible arrival on the shores of American protest instead of a form of resistance as old as the Republic.

But the notion that tax resistance somehow marginalizes Sheehan as an "extremist" does highlight an important point. The aim of any serious anti-war protest is to force a government to quit fighting, pull the troops out and come home right now.

But Sheehan is castigated in the press, by mainstream liberals as well as mad-dog rightists, for not leaving any wriggle-room on this central point. She says, "Bring the troops home right now."

How many people echo that straightforward demand? Millions of ordinary Americans -- around 34 percent -- certainly do, if we are to believe the numbers in polls that also give Bush an approval rating of only 34 percent for his conduct of the war.

But to be effective the opinion of ordinary people has to be harnessed into a powerful political movement that offers energetic leadership.

Here the picture is dismayingly cloudy. has used Sheehan's siege of Bush as a springboard to mount supportive anti-war vigils. But what exactly is MoveOn calling for, in terms of ending the war?

Go to the website of the Win Without War coalition, of which MoveOn is a member along with groups ranging from the Sierra Club, to National Organization of Women to the Methodists, Unitarians and Quakers and you'll find a mush-mouth statement about "a gradual, phased decrease in numbers rather than augmenting the size of the force," plus other familiar boilerplate language about how the U.N. Security Council "should authorize and encourage the creation of an international stabilization force to assist the Iraqi authorities with security and training of Iraqi forces."

This leisurely agenda doesn't add up to anti-war leadership. After all, Gen. George Casey, the U.S. commander in Iraq, talks bluntly about "some fairly substantial reductions" to start next spring.

It's no secret why MoveOn and Win Without War are so timid. Square in their field of vision is the Democratic Party, whose high-profile congressional leaders such as Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden are calling for more troops to be shipped out to Iraq. Push comes to shove, most of the Win Without War coalition members won't get more than half a beat out of step with the Democrats.

Serious resistance, of the sort Sheehan calls for, has to throw the threat of popular sanction over both Democrats as well as Republicans. What leadership is available for this task? The obvious candidate is the United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) coalition, which mounted the huge anti-war protests of 2003 and has been conducting peace actions ever since.

But as it organizes its upcoming Sept. 24 rally in Washington, D.C., UFPJ seems to be turning its back on the rich opportunities for mainstream organizing offered by Sheehan and the nerveless platform of Win Without War, preferring to dilute the Out of Iraq message with cumbersome left agendas written by ultras from the casting couch of the Life of Brian.

Anyone can go on a vigil. It only costs the price of a candle. The price of entry into serious antiwar organizing at the crucial moment is steeper. It requires political nerve. A substantial coalition has to lead the way, pointed to by Sheehan, with the slogan Bring Them Home Now.

Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at COPYRIGHT 2005 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.