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Guest Opinion

Monday, August 29, 2005

Have courage, Mr. President

If Casey Sheehan was brave enough to fight and die for his country in Iraq, surely George W. Bush has enough guts to listen to his mother grieve in Texas.

As parents, George and Laura Bush should feel Cindy Sheehan's pain and invite her into their Crawford home for tea and sympathy. She should be welcomed with the respect due a woman who makes the greatest of sacrifices for her country.

The Bushes should give Ms. Sheehan all the face time she needs to voice her feelings about the death of her soldier son in Fallujah during some of the fiercest fighting of a war that has so far claimed nearly 2,000 American lives. So what if it takes an hour, or even two, out of their vacation; isn't a human life worth it?

A meeting between these three people who love their children and their nation should not be photographed, taped or involve political aides, the media or demonstrators. What happens in that room should stay in that room.

But since Aug. 6, there has been a standoff between Ms. Sheehan, who remains camped out next to the Bush ranch waiting to speak with him, and the president, whose inept aides are keeping him far away from the unpredictable emotions of a devastated woman.

This public relations debacle spun even further out of control this week when a good 'ole boy neighbor fired a shotgun blast to protest the presence of portable toilets in his pasture, the smelly result of more campers arriving in Crawford to support Ms. Sheehan's cause.

Rancher Larry Mattlage claimed it was OK to fire his weapon because "I ain't threatening nobody and this is Texas." He also assured the Secret Service, who took no action against him, that he was merely getting ready for dove-hunting season, when it's OK to kill the universal symbol of peace for sport.

It's hard to accept that Casey Sheehan died to protect Americans like Mattlage, the reactionary talk show hosts who are heaping scorn on his mother, and other pseudo patriots whose idea of sacrifice is to remove their baseball caps during the playing of "The Star Spangled Banner."

No matter how uncomfortable her anger and grief make us, Ms. Sheehan should be respected and accommodated, not ignored and disdained. The longer Bush puts off this meeting, the more cowardly he appears. Surely Mrs. Bush, an empathetic woman of common sense and good instincts, knows that her husband ought to take control of a situation that makes them both look callously detached and inhumane.

Ms. Sheehan and the rest of us are not interested in Mrs. Bush's deliberations over the hiring of a new White House chef or the President's brush-cutting skills. We're waiting for the first couple to reassure us that they are genuinely affected by the continuing loss of our children in a war without any apparent end.

How can he ask Casey Sheehan or anyone else to die defending his rhetoric if he isn't brave enough to face the mothers and fathers who give their children up to duty, honor and country?

* Tadd Bartimus is a former Associated Press Bureau chief who writes an occasional guest opinion for Pilot-Tribune readers.