Bush’s failure and Cindy Sheehan’s pain

Those following the news in the US know that one of the biggest stories of the past couple of weeks is about Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq last year, who has set up camp near President Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas (where he is on a five-week break from Washington). She has asked to meet with him to express her opposition to the war and call on him to bring the troops home immediately. Sheehan met with Bush shortly after he son’s death, and– while he has expressed his sympathy– he is unlikely to meet with her again.

The story has attracted a surprising amount of attention from the media– in part, perhaps, because of the throngs of journalists in Crawford with nothing else to report except how the President once again rode his bicycle or cleared brush.

Sheehan and her cause have been latched onto by various elements of the antiwar movement– some rather unsavory:

Sheehan acknowledges that some of her views are becoming a distraction. Also, she said, some groups that have aided her protest have agendas — including conspiracy theories about the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and some vaguely anti-Semitic theories about the cause of the war — that she says she does not share.

Sheehan denies a report (picked up by Christopher Hitchens, among others) that she claimed the United States is fighting in Iraq to protect Israel.


Conservative commentators and Web sites are taking aim at Sheehan with the same ferocity she has aimed at President Bush. In part, they are using her own words against her — reciting such controversial comments as her vow to refuse to pay taxes to a government waging an “illegal” war and her desire to see Bush impeached.

Some conservatives have also jumped on the news that her husband has filed for divorce from her as an indication of her supposedly extreme views.

I find myself more sympathetic to Sheehan than I am to the supporters and opponents of the war who are using her as a symbol for their various agendas– even if she is a willing symbol. I can’t begin to imagine the pain that the loss of her son has caused her. While I disagree with her on the war, I can’t imagine her lining up with the pro-“resistance” faction of the antiwar movement. And I can understand why she– and others who have lost loved ones in Iraq– are still asking why. Bush has done a miserable job of persuading the American people that this war is important enough to ask for such terrible sacrifices.

Cindy Sheehan is, to a great extent, a symbol of George Bush’s failure.

Part of the reason for that failure is Bush’s unwillingness to ask for even minimal sacrifices (such as higher taxes for the very wealthy) from anyone other than soldiers and their families. But I think the main reason is his unwillingness (or inability) to talk straight to the American people. Instead, as Senator Joe Biden said in June, we get from his administration “a long litany of rosy assessments, misleading statements, premature declarations of victory…”

Since then, following an unsuccessful effort to rally public opinion with a lackluster nationally-broadcast speech, Bush continues to flounder.

In an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last Sunday, Biden voiced more alarm:

[M]y greatest concern is this gigantic rift between the rhetoric we hear from the administration and the reality on the ground and it’s causing the American people to abandon what is an essential fight we have. We must succeed in Iraq leaving a stable country behind that’s not a haven for terror and we need more time to do that. And when the president continues to talk about this success, the American people just turn on your channel, they turn on your television. They understand that they are not being leveled with here.

Is it really so hard for Bush to explain to the American people what’s at stake and what will be required to achieve it; to admit mistakes, to fire Donald Rumsfeld and hold accountable others who have failed to perform effectively; and to ask for sacrifices from those who can most afford them, including himself?

Perhaps he could start by cutting short his stay at the ranch.