Back when she made national news railing against the war and protesting outside the president's Texas ranch, I slammed Cindy Sheehan.
I called her misguided and said she was no Rosa Parks. I wrote about "the disingenuous way" the grieving mom had politicized the death of her son, Casey, a soldier killed in Iraq four years ago.
"Saint Sheehan," I quipped in 2005.
On Saturday, Sheehan fired back, face-to-face.
"Who misguided me?" she said with a penetrating gaze as we sat at a dining room table of her host in North Seattle. "Who said I was 'a Rosa Parks'? I never made any comparison of myself to anybody."
The temperature in the room started to rise.
"To say I'm a grieving mother is absolutely true," she said. "I will be a grieving mother until I die. But to think that a grieving mother is not intelligent, is not articulate, cannot form her own opinions is ... misguided."
She added: "That somebody like you would think that somebody has to be pulling my strings or guiding me or telling me what to say is insulting. Whatever I say, whatever I do is coming from the best possible place inside me."
It's clear to me now more than ever that Sheehan, 50, follows her own path, which is why she was in Seattle.
After fading as the face of the anti-war cause, she's on a comeback trail, running for Congress in California's 8th District, which covers most of San Francisco.
She's gunning for the seat held by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. To some, Pelosi symbolizes the failure of Democrats to make the most of their hard-won congressional majority.
Sheehan became disillusioned after Pelosi failed to introduce articles of impeachment against President Bush for the war and crimes against humanity. And then, she said, the Democrats gave Bush a no-strings-attached funding bill for the war.
"That was it," she said. "I left the Democratic Party."
That was last spring, and the Democrats -- a party that prides itself on civility and inclusiveness -- ripped her. "I can take it from Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh," she said, referring to the conservative pundits.
But looking back, she feels gut-punched, even used: "If anybody used, not just me, but the energy of the movement, it was the Democratic Party. They rebuffed the country and (the anti-war movement) that got them elected. They betrayed us."
Sheehan calls herself "nonpartisan." Her platform calls for single-payer, universal health care, overturning the Patriot Act, ending the war and bringing home the troops. She'd like to see a viable third political party emerge to buck the two-party system.
So far she has pooled about $170,000 for her campaign. Her goal: $600,000. She's raising it through grass-roots meetings such as the one Friday in Seattle.
What fuels her most now is the same: her son's death.
Army Spc. Casey Sheehan, 24, entered the military with hopes of becoming a chaplain's assistant, but he ended up a Humvee mechanic.
Sheehan said one of her son's military buddies recently e-mailed her. The soldier said Casey had been reluctant to go on what would be his final mission, but a sergeant was looking for troops. Casey refused, saying he was a mechanic. But he ended up going after being chewed out.
According to previous accounts, Casey was killed after volunteering for a mission. But the conflicting account from the soldier offers Sheehan solace: "Casey had told us before he left for the war that he wouldn't be able to kill anybody. I was so proud of him to find out that he was a conscientious objector at the end of his life."
Military officials posthumously praised Casey for being a fine mechanic.
The soldier who e-mailed Sheehan described Casey as "a great guy but a horrible mechanic."
"He was speaking the truth," Sheehan said with a chuckle. "Casey could not even change the oil in his own car."
She isn't surprised the brass would put the spin on her son given how Bush & Co. spun the run-up to the Iraq war.
"Our next president needs to know," Sheehan said, "that they can't get away with imperial presidential powers like George Bush."
After I pilloried her in columns, hundreds of readers said I owed Sheehan a chance to respond. She got it Saturday.
She came across as earnest, soft-spoken and sincere, not the ranting lunatic I figured she was after watching her on television news snippets. She sure has moxie challenging the government, our military and even the Democratic Party.
Maybe I did get her wrong. Sheehan isn't misguided. She's someone who follows the map of her own heart, for better or worse.
Robert L. Jamieson Jr.is a P-I columnist.
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