Cindy Sheehan, as probably everyone in the world knows, is a Vacaville, California woman who lost her son Casey in the Iraq War 16 months ago. The grief she continues to endure is understood only by those other 1,800 families across the country who have faced similar losses in the Iraqi conflict, and I make no claim to understanding the depth of that grief.
Mrs. Sheehan has turned her grief into a cause, which has become the latest cause célèbre: sitting outside the president's Texas ranch until he meets with her and, apparently, gives her the answers she wants (not the answers he's already given) about the Iraq war. Like everything political these days, it has launched plenty of venom
(scroll down to read the vile letters Michelle Malkin has received, if you can stomach the language) from left
to right, and back
To get a feel for the media coverage, take yesterday's editorial
in the New York Times:
Ms. Sheehan's 24-year-old son, Casey, was killed in Baghdad. She says she and her family met privately with Mr. Bush two months later, and she is sharply critical of how the president acted. He did not know her son's name, she says, acted as if the meeting was a party and called her "Mom" throughout, which she considered disrespectful.
Or take today's story
in the Los Angeles Times. It says Mrs. Sheehan came away from that meeting "dissatisfied and angry":
"We wanted [the president] to look at pictures of Casey, we wanted him to hear stories about Casey, and he wouldn't. He changed the subject every time we tried," Sheehan said. "He wouldn't say Casey's name, called him: 'your loved one.' "
If these things are true, that certainly sounds like a man, as the editorial calls the president, "out of touch with the realities, and the costs, of the Iraq war." It certainly bears out the editorial's comment that the president "obviously failed to comfort Ms. Sheehan when he met with her and her family."
Or does it? Read this article
from the Vacaville (Calif.) Reporter, which was originally written in June 2004. Considering their opposition to the war and the recent loss of their child in that war, the article conveys the family's dilemma of what to say to the president when they met him at a Seattle-area military base:
"We haven't been happy with the way the war has been handled," Cindy said. "The president has changed his reasons for being over there every time a reason is proven false or an objective reached."
The 10 minutes of face time with the president could have given the family a chance to vent their frustrations or ask Bush some of the difficult questions they have been asking themselves, such as whether Casey's sacrifice would make the world a safer place.
But in the end, the family decided against such talk, deferring to how they believed Casey would have wanted them to act. In addition, Pat [Casey's dad] noted that Bush wasn't stumping for votes or trying to gain a political edge for the upcoming election.
"We have a lot of respect for the office of the president, and I have a new respect for him because he was sincere and he didn't have to take the time to meet with us," Pat said.
Sincerity was something Cindy had hoped to find in the meeting. Shortly after Casey died, Bush sent the family a form letter expressing his condolences, and Cindy said she felt it was an impersonal gesture.
"I now know he's sincere about wanting freedom for the Iraqis," Cindy said after their meeting. "I know he's sorry and feels some pain for our loss. And I know he's a man of faith."
The meeting didn't last long, but in their time with Bush, Cindy spoke about Casey and asked the president to make her son's sacrifice count for something. They also spoke of their faith.
In all that, did the family say anything about the president being disrespectful? About not knowing Casey's name? About acting like it was a party? If so, I must have missed it. I saw words like "sincere" and "respect." I heard Mrs. Sheehan say she knew the president was "sorry" for their loss and was a man of faith, something that was important to their Catholic family. Later in the story, it quotes her as saying the trip to Seattle was a good tonic for the grieving family: "That was the gift the president gave us, the gift of happiness, of being together."
So what gives? Could the Vacaville writer have left out critical comments about the president? Unlikely, since he quotes Mrs. Sheehan as unhappy with the war and the president's rationale, as well as the impersonal form letter. It's clear
she was never a war supporter, so claims that she's suddenly switched allegiances are a stretch at best. In fact, several
left-wing websites are jumping on the Drudge Report (where the Vacaville story first came to light) and other right-wing sites for allegedly distorting the story to fit their pro-Bush pro-war perspectives.
Maybe she bit her tongue in Seattle, but can't do so anymore. Again, I can't relate to the grief of losing a child, especially if you think that decisions beyond your control caused that death. Here's her explanation
(ellipsis in original):
I met with Bush two and a half months after Casey was killed and I was still in shock at that time. We had decided not to criticize the president then because during that meeting, he assured us 'this is not political.' And I believed him. Then, during the Republican National Convention, he exploited those meetings to justify what he was doing. It's now clear to me that what I had feared is true: Bush lied us into war, and Casey, more than 1,800 other Americans and thousands and thousands of Iraqis are dead because of what he did. ... While Bush is comfortable in his ranch, we are here in a ditch in the heat because we want answers. But the troops and the Iraqi people are suffering way more than we are and we want that to end.
I certainly can buy the idea that, even two months after a child's death, the parent is still in shock, especially when the person you hold responsible for that death is sitting in front of you. However, that nifty quote, provided by a self-described "progressive" organization, doesn't say what was so exploitive in President Bush's convention speech, so I looked up the speech
. Here's his only reference to those meetings:
I've met with the wives and husbands who have received a folded flag, and said a final goodbye to a soldier they loved. I am awed that so many have used those meetings to say that I'm in their prayers and to offer encouragement to me. Where does strength like that come from? How can people so burdened with sorrow also feel such pride? It is because they know their loved one was last seen doing good. Because they know that liberty was precious to the one they lost. And in those military families, I have seen the character of a great nation: decent, idealistic, and strong.
Show me where he's "exploiting" the Sheehans? Because he talks about the families that support him? (I'll bet they really exist!) Because he doesn't talk about the people who criticize him? What else would Mrs. Sheehan expect? If he wanted to exploit their meeting, Bush could have just quoted from that Vacaville story.
Another family who was present at the same meeting as the Sheehans wrote this
...let me tell you his guard was down. He was real. He was genuine. He was sincere. His eyes teared while we told of our loss. He said he was sorry. During that time we all could have blasted out our anger, criticism and contept. He would have stood there and taken it.
The real problem with this situation is that Mrs. Sheehan's cause has been adopted by the country's anti-war contingent
. They saw an opportunity to press their message, and jumped on the bandwagon, with the mainstream press a willing participant in highlighting any "problem" for the president.
As the New York Sun said about Sheehan's supporters in an editorial
Code Pink, Veterans for Peace, and Military Families Speak Out all have representatives on the steering committee of United for Peace and Justice, an anti-war umbrella group. They share that distinction with the Communist Party USA. UPJ organized the march during the 2004 Republican Convention in New York, at which a New York Sun poll of 253 of the protesters found that fully 67% of those surveyed said they agreed with the statement "Iraqi attacks on American troops occupying Iraq are legitimate resistance." In other words, Ms. Sheehan's "coalition" includes a lot of people who think the persons who killed her son were justified.
But let's assume for a minute that the president decides to meet with Mrs. Sheehan. There are a few other questions that must be asked: What does she hope to accomplish? Does she think she will change his mind? Would she go into it with the idea that she'd be amenable to his side of the discussion? Or does she plan to use her meeting to further the anti-war cause, regardless of the substance to the discussion? (The answers, if you're keeping track at home, are: 1. Embarrass the president; 2. She could possibly be deluded enough to think so, but I doubt it. 3. No. 4. Yes.)
Despite what Michael Moore might say, George W. Bush is no dummy; he knows that any meeting with Mrs. Sheehan will be turned into the next MoveOn.org ad, with distortions aplenty. Besides, if there's nothing else that has driven the left nuts over Bush, it's this: he sticks by his guns. Do Mrs. Sheehan and her Kool-Aid Drinking coterie think that sufficient protests will change his mind?
The whole situation is tough, because anyone who isn't on either end of the Kool-Aid Community wants to honor this woman for the sacrifice of her son, and recognizes her right to do what she's doing, to dissent from war supporters, and to ask for a chance to express herself to the man who decided on the war that took the life of her son.
However, it would be much easier to honor her if she didn't say things like, "your ignorant and arrogant lack of planning for the peace murdered my oldest child" or "your dishonest campaign stole another election"
or "I want him to tell me why my son died. If he gave the real answer, people in this country would be outraged — if he told people it was to make his buddies rich, that it was about oil."
Is that the voice of a grief-stricken mom? Or is that Kool-Aid talk?
And another question for Mrs. Sheehan: if, out of respect for Casey, the family restrained itself in the first meeting with the president, what would Casey think about this? After all, he voluntarily re-enlisted in the Army eight months before his death, and his father said he planned to pursue a military career.
Columnist Debra Saunders summarizes
the whole thing nicely:
If Bush did what Cindy Sheehan wants him to do, not only would some 1,800 soldiers have died in Iraq for no reason -- worse, their deaths will have served the unhappy function of signaling to terrorists that if they kill enough U.S. troops, the White House will cut and run.
And that would be the saddest legacy that Casey Sheehan could leave.