Summertime often produces unexpected media figures, and this is Cindy Sheehan’s season. Ms. Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq last year, is camping out near President Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Tex., and says she won’t leave until Mr. Bush agrees to meet with her to discuss the war. There are many reasons for the flood of media attention she is attracting: she has a poignant personal story and she is articulate – and, let’s face it, August is a slow news month. But most of all, she is tapping into a growing popular feeling that the Bush administration is out of touch with the realities, and the costs, of the Iraq war.
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.
Ms. Sheehan has traveled from her California home to Crawford, where Mr. Bush will be spending much of the month, in the hope of having a more substantive discussion. On Saturday, Mr. Bush’s national security adviser and the White House deputy chief of staff met with her beside a road a few miles from the ranch, but she is still insisting on a meeting with the president.
Even many Americans who do not share her views about the president – she arrived in a bus bearing the slogan “Impeachment Tour” – share her concerns about his war leadership. President Bush has refused to ask the nation to sacrifice in any way, so the sacrifice gap has never been greater. A few families, like Ms. Sheehan’s, have paid the ultimate price. Many more, including National Guard families, are bearing enormous burdens, struggling to get by while a parent, a child or a spouse serves in Iraq. But the rest of the nation is spending its tax cuts and guzzling gas as if there were no war.
Mr. Bush obviously failed to comfort Ms. Sheehan when he met with her and her family. More important, he has not helped the nation give fallen soldiers like Casey Sheehan the honor they deserve. The administration seems reluctant to have the president take part in events that would direct widespread attention to soldiers’ funerals or to the thousands who have returned with serious injuries.
Perhaps most troubling, Mr. Bush is not leveling about where things stand with the war. He continues to stay on message, as he did with the platitude he offered last week: “We will stay the course; we will complete the job in Iraq.” The public knows that things in Iraq are not going well on any number of levels, and deserves a fuller, more honest discussion led by the commander in chief.
Just 38 percent of the respondents in a recent Associated Press-Ipsos poll, a new low, approved of Mr. Bush’s handling of Iraq. That does not mean the remaining 62 percent agree with Ms. Sheehan that the troops should come home immediately. But it does mean that many Americans are with her, at least figuratively, at that dusty roadside in Crawford, expecting better answers.