Tragically, Ms. Sheehans son is one of almost 2,000 American lives that have been lost in the Iraq conflict since 2003. Though Bush met with her immediately after her sons death, she says she decided to demand another meeting when hearing President Bush say that our troops have died for a noble cause. What is that noble cause my son was sacrificed for? she reportedly has asked.
Sheehan had to know she would be subjected to personal attacks when she parked herself next to the Presidents ranch until he agreed to meet with her. She had to know it is unlikely Bush would arrange a meeting since his administration is notorious for being ultra-insulated. What she couldnt have bargained for was her resulting international celebrity status, the beginning of an emotional debate on the war in Iraq that had been relatively muted, and supportive anti-war groups popping up all over the U.S.
However you feel about Cindy Sheehan and George W. Bush, the President has no obligation to meet with her, again. Obviously, he cant meet with everyone who makes such requests - even the first time around. The real issue, though, is what is the BEST response by our leader under these circumstances - a divided America in a war that seems subject to escalating violence by the day.
By contrast, Bill Clinton was never afraid of being trapped in a room with his adversaries. For example, you may remember that the former president had a meeting with hostile family members of Somalia War soldiers killed in the 1990s. Some of that criticism of Clinton to his face was severe but he dealt with it like a man.
Can anyone imagine Ronald Reagan avoiding a mother who lost a son in battle, critic or not - especially if the war was initially waged on his watch. These presidents did not automatically run from their detractors, but often attempted to win them over with the convictions of their beliefs. A meeting between Bush and Sheehan might even go a long way toward healing the division in our country that the Iraqi conflict has inflamed.
Even though Ms. Sheehan left Crawford today (8/19/05) for an illness in her family, the damage has been done. As a result of refusing to meet with Sheehan, Bush has turned his five-week retreat in Crawford, Texas into a political nightmare for Republicans and the war effort. Before Sheehans camp-out, the mounting statistics of deaths in Iraq were just that for most of us: statistics. Sheehans vigil has put some human faces on the numbers - a grieving, angry mother and her deceased son, Casey.
Reports of our vacationing President clearing brush on the ranch, setting up cycling outings with celebrities and friends, all between high-speed fund-raising trips past the commemorative grave markers placed by protestors are a public relations disaster for the administration and our countrys image as a whole. And these problems might be small compared to the potential backlash our war effort would suffer if military families begin to take exception to relentless attacks against the character of a grieving military mother.
That is why the President should meet with Cindy Sheehan. If Mr. Bush made good on his promise to be a uniter, not a divider, Cindy Sheehan and others might stay home in support of their mourning families where they belong.