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Another Arrogant Rightwinger Says Bush Should Meet With Cindy
A little advice, Mr. President
BY WILLIAM MCKENZIE
The Dallas Morning News
(KRT) - Dear Mr. President:
As a columnist who has written about you since your first run for governor 11 years ago, I offer this advice: Pay attention to the voice of Cindy Sheehan. It isn't just hers.
She may have left Crawford for the moment, but if her message starts to resonate in the American mainstream, the spirit behind her will light a prairie fire that could engulf your presidency.
Yes, there's a flake element to some of what's going on outside your ranch gate. I spent an afternoon last week interviewing folks at Camp Casey and came across plenty of tattoos and stringy hair. Not exactly Main Street, Texas.
But you'd make a mistake to dismiss this bunch as counter-culture faddism. There's something going on that's more than a hobo reunion or a meeting of the Maureen Dowd fan club.
The folks I spoke to reminded me of the sorts I came across when Ross Perot tried to light his own prairie fire more than a decade ago. Some Perotistas seemed like lost souls in need of a leader, but they also shared a passionate belief in their cause - one that other Americans started embracing. Soon, you had Americans from wildly different backgrounds talking to each other about bringing fiscal sanity to the government.
I never will forget playing golf in California in 1992 with a cop from Miami, when a tweedy-looking Carmel sort came walking up with his dog. The cop and Mr. Tweed instantly bonded because they both wanted Mr. Perot. Talk about the embodiment of a mass movement. A beefy Miami cop and a guy who looked like he was living off his investments, both swearing by the same guy.
The rest of that year obviously is fresh on your mind. Perot crossed over from representing a frustrated fringe to mainstream culture. And he stopped your father from gaining a second term.
You've often said you've learned from your father's presidency. Well, I suggest you learn this lesson, too. Beware of a movement that could leap from the underbelly of American politics right into the heart of its public square.
I don't know if Cindy Sheehan has that voice. And, no, I sure wouldn't meet with her again. You've already given her one personal audience; another would only be a circus.
But I would find ways to speak to her and what she represents. You didn't Monday in Salt Lake City, but you could Wednesday in your speech on terrorism. Yes, pull a Clinton and co-opt her.
President Clinton was great at seizing his opponents' language and leaving them without a message. Think welfare reform and how he made it his issue, although it was something Republicans had championed for years.
I don't know the right language. That's why you have speechwriters. But use your plainspoken side, lean over the podium and level with her - and us. We don't need rah-rah; we need details. Tell us exactly what's being done to rebuild Iraq.
Whatever you do, don't let this issue hang out there.
I ran across one woman who said that when she arrived that morning at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport from Jersey, she had no idea how she was going to get to Crawford. As she was telling her daughter about this on her cellphone, the guy next to her intervened and said, "Don't worry, I'm going to Camp Casey, too. I'll give you a ride."
As bizarre as this sounded, that woman's story symbolizes others. People are doing anything to get your attention. One guy at Camp Casey had just shown up from Ohio, a Vietnam vet who had a son in Iraq. He also gave a halfway plausible scenario for how we could pull back and remain engaged in the region.
I didn't agree with him, but if there are enough folks like him, Mr. President, you're in trouble. You're not there yet, but if Cindy Sheehan can take this movement to the next level the way Ross Perot did his - or hand it off to someone who can.
I don't know if Iraq is a noble cause, but I do know it's one we can't afford to lose. Pay attention to this movement as much as you are the insurgency in Iraq.
ABOUT THE WRITER
William McKenzie is an editorial columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Readers may write to him at the Dallas Morning News, Communications Center, Dallas, Texas 75265; e-mail: email@example.com