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LEONARD PITTS JR.: Sheehan quest still thriving

LEONARD PITTS JR.: Sheehan quest still thriving
August 26, 2005


Cindy Sheehan has a question: "I want to ask George Bush: Why did my son die?"

Sheehan will get her wish to meet with the president the day winged donkeys perform an air show in the skies above the South Lawn. In other words, never.

In part, this is because the president is famously intolerant of criticism and notoriously fumble-tongued when working without a script. It is also because no president can afford to be seen as having been bullied into doing something. So Sheehan's vigil near the president's Crawford, Texas, ranch is likely to continue without resolution until the end of Bush's extended vacation.

Casting doubt
This is largely because Sheehan has one quality most protesters lack: moral authority. Her 24-year-old son, Casey, was killed in Baghdad last year. So it's hard for the attack dogs of the Republican right to go after her with the smear-the-messenger vitriol.

Not that they haven't given it the old-school try. Bill O'Reilly of Fox News derides her as a political operative, Rush Limbaugh says her story is not "real." Others note that she's already met with Bush. He spoke with her and members of other grieving families in June of last year, after which she described his demeanor as respectful. She now says he acted as if he were at a party.

Sheehan has explained the discrepancy by saying that when she met the president, she was still in "shock" over her son's death and that her anger has grown over the intervening year as evidence mounts that there never were any weapons of mass destruction and that Bush was fixated on attacking Iraq almost from the moment he took office.

Causing a reaction
In the meantime, the president has mounted a belated counteroffensive, insisting in recent speeches that while he respects Sheehan's grief and her right to protest, she is wrong to oppose his war.

It would all be the same old song, except for the way Sheehan's protest has galvanized opponents of the war, given face and voice to their anger over a costly conflict whose resemblance to Vietnam is becoming inescapable. What began as a mother's lonely protest has become a well-funded encampment to which celebrities, publicists, ordinary citizens and, yes, representatives of the extreme left, have eagerly gathered.

It's a lot of sound and fury, but to find the significance, you have to go back to the question Sheehan wants to put to the president. And to recent polls indicating that more and more of us are beginning to ask the same thing.

Not just why did her son die, but why have more than 1,860 American sons and daughters died? Why have 14,000 more been injured? Why have an untold number of Iraqis also been killed and wounded? To find weapons of mass destruction? To liberate an oppressed people? To fight the war on terror?

Or, was it not all simply for the stubborn hubris of a man unable to admit when he has erred and the blinkered morality of a frightened nation unwilling to call him on it?

It's good that Cindy Sheehan is asking questions. But what's it tell you that until now, so many of us did not?

LEONARD PITTS JR. appears most Wednesdays and Fridays in the Free Press. Reach him at the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL 33132; 888-251-4407 or here



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