CNN AMERICAN MORNING 7:00 AM EST
Tuesday, August 16, 2005
O'BRIEN: In other news, President Bush refuses to meet with Cindy Sheehan this morning. The mother whose son died in Iraq began her 11th day virtually camped out in the president's front yard. Is her well-publicized protest in Crawford, Texas doing any political damage? CNN political analyst and columnist for "The L.A. Times," Ron Browstein, live for us from Washington this morning.
Ron, as always, nice to see you.
Let's get right to it. Do you think the president is making a mistake in declining to meet with Cindy Sheehan?
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POL. ANALYST: Well, I think there are certainly people in both parties who feel that he might have diffused this if he found a way to meet with her early on, perhaps with other military families who support the war, of which, there are, of course, many.
Right now he's in a difficult situation, where if he doesn't meet with her, the story goes on through the vacation and perhaps beyond. If he does, he elevates her notoriety and visibility enormously. So there really isn't a good choice at this point for the president.
O'BRIEN: Sort of the classic caught between a rock and hard place. At the same time, though, many people say, well, it's too late now. I mean, can he really actually have a meeting that won't be seen as some kind of weakness?
BROWNSTEIN: Well, he's the president; he can meet with whoever he wants. If he wants to meet with her, I'm sure she'll find time on her schedule. And the option of trying to offer a meeting with her, as well as with other families that support the war is still on the table, I suppose. The problem is, as you suggest, that he has not met with her, and if he does now agree to do so, she would be the woman who kind of forced this president, who doesn't like to change direction or change his decisions, to do exactly that. And I think the feeling among, certainly among Republicans that I've talked to, is that if he did that, he would elevate her visibility enormously, give her more credibility and it would probably be counterproductive from his point of view.
O'BRIEN: Do you think that she has become, her protest, has become a symbol, a bigger symbol for the president of what's going wrong?
BROWNSTEIN: Well you know, it's an interesting thing. I think in the long run he protest might have more affect on her side of the debate than on the president and his side of debate. Overall public opinion about Iraq, Soledad, is driven by Iraq, by what happens in Iraq, much more than really the tenor of the debate at home. So in that sense I'm not sure this is going to have a big material impact on the way the American public views the war.
On the other hand, we had a very strange year in Washington this year, where despite growing public disillusionment with the war, there really hasn't been corresponding increase in criticism of the war from Democrats or outside groups. No one is really out there presenting an alternative point of view, and I think that Cindy Sheehan's vigil is going to increase pressure on her side of the debate to become more active. I talked to a number of liberal group, who say they've been focusing this year on things like judges and the nuclear option over the filibuster. I think she's going to increase pressure on her side of the debate to begin to turn back to this issue and begin to present more of an alternative view on where we should go.
O'BRIEN: Even her family says they don't agree, many members don't agree with the protest that she's pulling out. Do you think that that's sort of a metaphor for many American families?
BROWNSTEIN: Look, the public is deeply ambivalent and divided about this war. I mean, you look at any poll. Gallup/CNN/"USA Today" has asked eight times this year, was it worth going to war or not? All eight times, the majority has said no. On the other hand, you do not yet see a strong feeling in the American public that it's worth giving up. People say the alternative of allowing Iraq to essentially fall into chaos is unacceptable as well. So the public, as you just said, a rock and a hard place before, the public is there as well, where they are deeply dissatisfied with the way things are going, they are not yet willing to write off the cause and they don't see an alternative approach. In that moment, you can see a lot of ambivalence and division within families and within the country.
O'BRIEN: CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein. Ron, thanks, as always.
Coming up in just a few moments, we're going to talk to two moms who've also lost their sons in Iraq, very different views on Cindy Sheehan's protest.
In Crawford, Texas, Cindy Sheehan is still protesting outside of President Bush's ranch. She's been there since August 6th and vows to stay there until the president meets with her. Her son was killed in Iraq, and she wants to talk to the president about pulling U.S. troops out of the region. But do other military mothers agree with her?
Jan Johnson lost her son Justin in the war. She's at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Good morning to you. Thanks for talking with us this morning.
JAN JOHNSON, LOST SON IN IRAQ WAR: Good morning.
O'BRIEN: Your son Justin served, in fact, with Cindy Sheehan's son Casey. Tell me how you feel when you see the videotape of Cindy Sheehan and the protest that she now has in Crawford, Texas.
JOHNSON: I'm not for the protest. I believe that we should stay the course. We need to be there. To me, in a way, she's disgracing Casey, because Casey was over there trying to serve his country and help the Iraqi people. And by what she's doing, it's kind of taking away from the meaning of his death, I believe.
O'BRIEN: Do you -- she has made, as I'm sure you well know, many requests to meet with President Bush. It's part of the reason she's camped out right near his ranch. Do you think that, in fact, he should meet with her?
JOHNSON: No, I don't. O'BRIEN: Why not?
JOHNSON: I think if he does, he's starting a whole new ball game, as far as setting a precedence. If when she leaves, then other people are going to wanting to be meeting with him, if they have a disagreement about one of his policies. So -- I think he's just, you know, protecting himself as far as that goes, by not meeting with her.
O'BRIEN: I want to bring in Rosemary Palmer. Rosemary lost her son Edward in the war, as well. Rosemary, tell me a little about the circumstances of Edward's death.
ROSEMARY PALMER, LOST SON IN IRAQ WAR: He was in a troop carrier that was blown up by three mines stacked on top of each other, and all in the vehicle were killed.
O'BRIEN: When you see the pictures of Cindy Sheehan and her protests in Crawford, Texas, do you feel the same way that Jan Johnson feels, that it's disrespectful towards her son's memory?
PALMER: Not at all. One of the things our sons died for was the rights for people to have free expression. And Cindy's down there because she firmly believes in what she's doing. And I think the more George Bush stands up and says, no, I'm not going to meet with this woman, the bigger icon he makes of her. And because of the growing dissatisfaction with the way the war is going, the longer he holds out, the more support she's going to have.
O'BRIEN: I know you agree, clearly, with her right to protest. But do you agree with her protest? Would you go out there and join the protesters?
PALMER: Well, actually, I'm going to a vigil tomorrow evening to support her here in Cleveland, in Cleveland Heights, just because I think that she has the right to the say that. And our view has been all along, fight the war right or get out. And since our son was killed two weeks ago, 28 more guys have died, and the American people have gotten to the point of oh, it's another one, it's another two. It just doesn't make the impact it needs to make. You know, we're losing a lot of our guys, and in part, it's because there are not enough people there to do the job.
O'BRIEN: Ms. Johnson, I want to bring you back in. You've been listening to what Ms. Palmer has to say. When she says fight it right or get out, what do you think?
JOHNSON: Well, I think it does need to be fought right, but to do that, we've got to stay there. People say let's bring the guys home. Well, we bring the guys home, and then the terrorists are going to come see us here, is the way I firmly believe. And because of that, my husband leaves next week to go to Iraq, to join the Georgia Guard, where his guys are at right now.
O'BRIEN: Jan Johnson, Rosemary Palmer. Thank you very much for talking with us. And again, I know you're both grieving mothers, and we really appreciate your time.