An army of one
New York Daily News
by Michael Goodwin
George Bush has met his match. He has twice vanquished Democratic opponents, brought down Saddam Hussein and is the straw that stirs the world's drink.
All that was before Cindy Sheehan showed up on his doorstep.
Sheehan lost her son Casey in Iraq and now the President is paying the piper. He is a hostage to Sheehan's little band of protesters camped near his ranch in Crawford, Tex. This is not how the President wanted to spend his vacation. He has only himself to blame. Bush's decision to spend a full month in Texas was stunningly stupid. With Americans turning solidly against the war - a Newsweek poll reported a mere 34% now approve of his handling of Iraq - the President looks callous when the nation needs reassuring. And he could be losing his last bit of leverage over public opinion. Put it this way: no support, no war.
Now he's stuck in Texas with Sheehan. If he meets with her, as she demands, she wins. If he cuts his visit short and scurries back to Washington, she wins. If he stays, she also wins, as she did yesterday.
The phone press conference she held was more proof Sheehan has become the face of the anti-war cause. As I listened, reporters dialed an 800 number to ask about her son, the husband who's divorcing her, Bush, the Iraqi constitution and military recruiters. Some questions were foolish, some betrayed a bias. One woman who said she was from The Kansas City Star gave an anti-war speech.
Sheehan seemed like a pro, concise and clear. She stayed on message as she sprinkled in references to the candelight anti-war vigils scheduled for tonight.
It was a slick operation, with the call moderated by a public relations firm. Moveon.org and other anti-war groups are setting up the vigils. They are only too happy to use her grief.
But that infrastructure has been there all along. What's new is Sheehan. She is the emotional engine, replacing the odious Michael Moore and the nutty Howard Dean. The reasons are simple. First, because she is living every parent's nightmare, Sheehan is ultimately a sympathetic figure, even if you don't agree with her. Second, the woman gives good quotes. Here are a few of the things she said yesterday:
"My son was killed by the policies of George Bush." She called the Iraq war "illegal and immoral" and a "war of imperialism." She said "we're not going to stop until our troops come home."
"I am not going to pay taxes to people who murdered my son."
Bush can't win against a grieving, articulate, angry mother who's willing to spend August in a roadside ditch publicizing her cause. Each new casualty in Iraq adds to her power and subtracts from his.
There is a chance that Sheehan is just the media flavor of the month. But I wouldn't bet on it. This feels like a turning point. It's happened before.
Abraham Lincoln, when he met Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the anti-slavery tract "Uncle Tom's Cabin," said: "So you're the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war!"
Perhaps someday a President will greet Cindy Sheehan this way: "So you're the little woman who stopped the Iraq war."
Originally published on August 16, 2005
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