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A president hiding from parents' wrath
By Maureen Dowd
August 13, 2005
Parents of those who have died in Iraq have total moral authority.
There's an angry mother of a dead soldier camping outside his Crawford ranch, demanding to see a President who prefers his sympathy to be carefully choreographed.
A new CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll shows that a majority of Americans now think that going to war was a mistake and that the war has made the United States more vulnerable to terrorism. So fighting them there means it's more likely we'll have to fight them here?
Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged this week that sophisticated bombs were streaming over the border from Iran to Iraq.
And the Rolling Stones have taken a rare break from sex odes to record an anti-war song called Sweet Neo Con, chiding Condi Rice and Bush. "You call yourself a Christian; I call you a hypocrite," Mick Jagger sings.
The flag-waving National Football League put out a news release on Monday announcing that it's teaming up with the Stones and American ABC to promote Monday Night Football. The mood has shifted since Madonna chickened out of showing an anti-war music video needling Bush in 2003. The White House used to be able to tamp down criticism by saying it hurt our troops, but more people are asking the White House to explain how it plans to stop our troops from getting hurt.
Cindy Sheehan, a 48-year-old Californian with a knack for public relations, says she will camp out in the dusty heat near the ranch until she gets to tell Bush face to face that he must pull all American troops out of Iraq. Her son, Casey, a 24-year-old army specialist, was killed in an ambush last year.
The President met her family two months after Casey's death. Capturing W's awkwardness in traversing the line between sombre and joking, and his love of generic labels, Sheehan said that W had referred to her as "Mom" throughout the meeting, and given her the sense that he did not know who her son was.
The Bush team tried to discredit "Mom" by pointing reporters to an old article in which she sounded kinder to W If only her husband were an undercover CIA operative, the Bushies could out him. But even if they send out a squad of Swift Boat Moms for Truth, there will be a countering Fallujah Moms for Truth.
It's amazing that the White House does not have the elementary shrewdness to have Bush simply walk down the driveway and hear the woman out, or invite her in for a cup of tea. But W, who has spent nearly 20 per cent of his presidency at his ranch, is burrowed into his five-week vacation and two-hour daily work-outs. He may be in great shape, but Iraq sure isn't.
It's hard to think of another president who lived in such meta-insulation. His rigidly controlled environment allows no chance encounters with anyone who disagrees. He never has to defend himself to anyone, and that is cognitively injurious. He's a populist who never meets people - an ordinary guy who clears brush, and brush is the only thing he talks to. Bush hails Texas as a place where he can return to his roots.
W's idea of consolation was to dispatch Stephen Hadley, the National Security Adviser, to talk to Sheehan, emphasising the inhumane humanitarianism of his foreign policy. Hadley is just a suit, one of the hardline Unsweet Neo Cons who helped hype America into this war.
It's getting harder for the President to hide from the human consequences of his actions and to control human sentiment about the war by pulling a curtain over the 1835 troops killed in Iraq; the more than 13,000 wounded, many shorn of limbs; and the number of slain Iraqi civilians - perhaps 25,000, or perhaps double or triple that.
More people with impeccable credentials are coming forward to serve as a countervailing moral authority to challenge Bush.
Paul Hackett, a marine major who served in Iraq and criticised the President on his conduct of the war, narrowly lost last week when he ran for Congress as a Democrat in a Republican stronghold in Cincinnati. Newt Gingrich warned that the race should "serve as a wake-up call to Republicans" about 2006.
Selectively humane, Bush justified his Iraq war by stressing the September 11 losses. He emphasised the humanity of the Iraqis who desire freedom when his WMD rationale vaporised.
But his humanitarianism will remain inhumane as long as he fails to understand that the moral authority of parents who bury children killed in Iraq is absolute.
Maureen Dowd is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist with The New York Times.