With President Bush hunkered down in Crawford, Congress still on break, and the sudden onset of silence among the Plame-related leakers, journalists (and bloggers like me) are mostly left to navel-gaze this August. But just when we were beginning to get some really cool meditation vibes going, Cindy Sheehan joins (begins?) the fray with a well-timed and well-executed P.R. campaign against Bush. That’s all well and good for her, and she may even have a legitimate point (although I don’t think that withdrawing from Iraq immediately is the solution to our current problems, or past injustices). Unfortunately for most, though, Sheehan’s protests arrive amid the backdrop of today’s failure to ratify an Iraqi constitution – the latest in a string of signs that Iraqis aren’t ready to make it on their own, and that our troops will be sticking around. After a short bit of thinking, though, I realized that there isn’t too much to contemplate on Iraq. Sure, we can (and should) dig into how we got to where we are today. But as far as how to deal with Iraq, almost every politician is in agreement: it’s a crappy situation, American troops need to stay in Iraq insignificant numbers to keep the country from becoming crappier, and Iraq shows no encouraging signs of becoming less crappy anytime soon.
So while Sheehan has a compelling story, really only one of her demands could legitimately be met. She could meet with President Bush, if he permitted, to vent her feelings (her wish to pull troops immediately out of Iraq won’t happen). So why doesn’t Bush meet with Sheehan? Placating her would take the wind out of her sails, and frankly make it a much less interesting story. I suppose that the Bush Administration is concerned that it might send a signal that it can be influenced by the protesting public (“if we give in now, then the voters have won!”). I’m more of the opinion, though, that Bush is just too plain lazy to change his recreational habits to be bothered meeting with a nobody like Sheehan. After all, Bush has no public appearances this week, and all reports indicate that he will be dedicating significant amounts of time to riding his bike and clearing brush. Is there time to meet with an angry war mother? Nope. "I think it's important for me to be thoughtful and sensitive to those who have got something to say," says President Bush. "But I think it's also important for me to go on with my life, to keep a balanced life."
There you go. There’s his problem. Presidents aren't supposed to lead balanced lives – that’s why getting the job requires spending millions of dollars, an army of operatives, and months of campaigning (and Freemason membership).This is exactly why Bush doesn’t understand America’s predicament, and exactly why his efforts against terrorism are flagging. He just doesn’t understand sacrifice. When United States (and the world) was moved by September 11, every American was ready to sacrifice, to do his part to defeat Al-Qaeda. Instead, we were assaulted with bizarre entreaties to be “extra-vigilant” while trying to be normal, and of course to go shopping. When the invasion and occupation of Iraq took place, everyday America barely even changed, except for military families. Even the funding for Iraq was removed from scrutiny, through emergency appropriations instead of the regular budget. In short, the Bush administration wanted as few Americans to feel any sacrifice as possible. What a huge mistake. Now Americans don’t feel like they have any stake in Iraq, even though now our security is tied somewhat to Iraq’s future (though it may not have been in 2003).
I, for one, think that this astounding lack of shared sacrifice in America stems back to Bush’s own attitudes. Clearly, even as President, Mr. Bush does not feel that his responsibilities should infringe upon having considerable recreational opportunities. It shouldn’t surprise anyone. The man has never sacrificed for the common good before, defeating candidates like John Kerry (three purple hearts) and John McCain (over five years as a POW in Hanoi). Now I’m not advocating the position that we should try to elect only war heroes to high office. After all, most war heroes have really proven that they’re adept at killing fellow humans. But these heroes have also demonstrated an understanding of personal sacrifice, and an understanding of the need to work towards the common good, even at personal expense. Besides, these soldiers were asked to use force on behalf of their nation, which presumably is using said power for good. Now this brings us full circle, back to Iraq, and back to Sheehan’s son.
It would be awfully sad to imagine that a family member died, not for the common good, but for what you perceive as against the world’s interest. If this is Sheehan’s view, and it seems like it is, she has every right to be angry. Moreover, Ms. Sheehan probably has a thing or two to teach President Bush about sacrifice, and every American would benefit if the president was more dedicated to his county. Perhaps in the end, Mr. Bush will take some time away from biking with Lance to talk to Cindy Sheehan. She certainly won’t change US policy, but perhaps she could change one man’s outlook.