President Bush and Cindy Sheehan agree on one thing: her right to protest his policies and the war in Iraq. "She feels strongly about her position, and she has every right in the world to say what she believes. This is America," Bush said Thursday
For the sake of his presidency and their country, they should also agree on something else: To talk. Personally. Privately.
Her soldier son, Spc. Casey Sheehan, was killed last year in an ambush five days after he arrived in Iraq. In recent days she has become the public face of angry, grieving parents and other anti-war protesters gathered near Bush's Texas ranch. She is demanding a personal meeting with the president.
The growing publicity, as well as the inevitable backlash against Sheehan, may distract from one essential point: Her quest is legitimate.
As a politician, Bush took time Friday to attend a fund-raiser for donors who already had contributed at least $25,000 to Republican causes. As the commander-in-chief, he surely can spare an hour or two for a personal conversation with a mother who lost her son in Iraq. Standing on opposite sides of the war debate, they need to hear from each other.
The White House says Bush has met with 900 relatives of the war dead, including talking with Sheehan at Ft. Lewis last year.
But most of his gatherings with Americans are scripted to include only faithful supporters, and he abstains from attending funerals for the war dead. How can a president -- how can any politician -- be so removed from the lives and sacrifices of the people he leads and serves?
Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski attends every funeral, if he's invited, for an Oregon service member killed in the Iraq war.
No government meeting, no planned vacation, keeps the ex-Marine from that solemn duty.
Often he speaks at the services; always he talks with family members, calling them when he first learns of their child's sacrifice.
Kulongoski has participated in dozens of services and has made scores of phone calls. It's too much to expect the president to attend nearly 2,000 services. But why not one, or two, or 20?
And why not one more conversation with a grieving mother whose son faithfully followed the commander-in-chief's orders?
© 2005 Statesman Journal, Salem, Oregon