By ELISABETH BUMILLER
Published: August 22, 2005
New York Times
This has been a strange August in Crawford, where President Bush and Cindy Sheehan have become neighbors living in opposite worlds.
Supporters of Ms. Sheehan, the mother of an American soldier killed in Iraq, are feeding hundreds of people each day at an elaborate new antiwar encampment abutting a Secret Service checkpoint less than a mile from the president's ranch. Mr. Bush, who went on a 17-mile bike ride on Saturday with the seven-time Tour de France winner, Lance Armstrong, is in his own presidential vacation encampment, and was largely focused last week on downtime and exercise.
The previous Saturday, after Mr. Bush went on another 17-mile bike ride with a group of male reporters and photographers, he outlined his plans for the rest of his day:
"I'm going to have lunch with Secretary of State Rice, talk a little business; Mrs. Bush, talk a little business; we've got a friend from South Texas here, named Katharine Armstrong; take a little nap. I'm reading an Elmore Leonard book right now, knock off a little Elmore Leonard this afternoon; go fishing with my man, Barney; a light dinner and head to the ballgame. I get to bed about 9:30 p.m., wake up about 5 a.m. So it's a perfect day."
On Saturday, the two worlds could not have been farther apart. While Mr. Bush was cycling with his friend Mr. Armstrong under a brutal Texas sun, hundreds of Ms. Sheehan's supporters gathered a short bike ride away under their gargantuan white party tent to show solidarity with the mother who has demanded to see the president in her summer protest outside his ranch.
Ms. Sheehan was not here (she left Crawford on Thursday for Los Angeles to tend to her ailing mother, and is expected back this week), and the gathering had not drawn the thousands as expected. But it still looked like an upscale picnic for hundreds on the hot prairie.
In fact, the well-financed organizers said the same tent had been used the previous week for a fund-raiser at a neighboring ranch, the Broken Spoke, for Mr. Bush and his biggest contributors. "It never came off the truck," said John Wolf, the owner of a stage and scenery company in Dallas who is also a co-founder of the Crawford Peace House, a gathering spot for antiwar protesters in town.
The site was a big step up from Ms. Sheehan's original scruffy roadside spot two miles from the ranch, named Camp Casey for her son, which had drawn the ire of neighbors because of traffic and the crowds. Ms. Sheehan moved late last week after a local landowner, Fred Mattlage, offered her an acre of pastureland closer to the president's ranch.
With $10 to $15 donations pouring in to Ms. Sheehan's Web site (organizers said at one point they were collecting $25,000 a day) the group was able to afford the tent, vans to shuttle people from Crawford, and the services of Ann Spicer, a friend of Mr. Wolf and the owner of an event-planning company in Dallas who was overseeing a makeshift kitchen, complete with two Viking stoves. Ms. Spicer turned out three meals a day for a potential 1,000 guests.
Manicotti and King Ranch chicken casserole were on the menu for dinner on Saturday night; supporters who wanted to stay the night pitched small tents in the shade around the big tent's perimeter. Last night, the folk singer Joan Baez performed a concert.
Diana Bowen, a supporter of Ms. Sheehan, said, "I just couldn't stay away." A retired bookkeeper who had flown in from Salem, Ore., Ms. Bowen was sitting at a table under the tent with Ruth McKinney, a nurse at a veterans hospital in Dallas.
"I just can't stand all these young men being killed," said Ms. McKinney, who described herself as a contributor to MoveOn.org, the advocacy group working with Ms. Sheehan.
Over at the Bush ranch, the president had just finished having lunch with Mr. Armstrong, by far the most famous of his cycling companions this summer. Mr. Bush made no comments on Saturday about Ms. Sheehan, but the week before, in remarks to the biking reporters that were widely circulated, he noted that while "it's important for me to be thoughtful and sensitive to those who have got something to say," it was also important "for me to go on with my life, to keep a balanced life."
There is no sign that Mr. Bush will meet with Ms. Sheehan (he met with her once in a group in June 2004, two months after her son's death, when she said that he was disrespectful for calling her "Mom"), but he did say shortly after she began her vigil on Aug. 6 that he sympathized with her.
"She feels strongly about her position, and she has every right in the world to say what she believes," Mr. Bush said then. "This is America. I've thought long and hard about her position. I've heard her position from others, which is, get out of Iraq now. And it would be a mistake for the security of this country and the ability to lay the foundations for peace in the long run if we were to do so."
This week, Mr. Bush will leave his ranch for the first time in 10 days and resume the traveling that marked the first part of his vacation. He will give a speech in Salt Lake City today at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, and make remarks about the campaign against terrorism near Boise, Idaho, on Wednesday before members of the Idaho National Guard.
On Tuesday, Mr. Bush will be at the Tamarack Resort in Donnelly, Idaho, for what appears to be fishing and another bike ride.
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