It must be August

Posted: Aug 13, 2005 12:00 AM

It is unseemly to critique how people express their personal grief, especially when it comes to those who've lost children to war.

So if Cindy Sheehan wants to camp outside President George W. Bush's Crawford, Texas, ranch in the name of her son - Army Spc. Casey Sheehan, who was killed last year in a Baghdad ambush - then she deserves only cool drinks and soft shade.

As for those glomming onto her tragedy - whether for political posturing or personal profiling - gloves off. As these grief hounds bask in the kliegs of temporary fame, even the dogs of "dogs days" skulk in shame.

Yes, of course, it is August.

With no shark bites in weeks and Natalee Holloway still missing after more than two months; with the Supreme Court confirmation hearings still weeks away and already stale, and the shuttle crew safely landed, what's a ravenous news horde to do?

Why, stake out the president and the mother who mourns her son.

Speaking as a mother and fellow citizen, my heart goes out to Cindy Sheehan and all other parents of lost sons and daughters. One can only imagine their grief and pain. Thus, my first thought upon hearing her plea for an audience with Bush was that he should run, not walk, and greet her with a warm embrace.

I wanted him to hug her and to say how deeply sorry he is for her loss. I wanted him to face the cameras and, choking back emotion, to tell the world how much he cares for every single son and daughter serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And then I wanted him to be Tony Blair and say all the right things in just the right way so that Cindy Sheehan could return home to Vacaville, Calif., and begin to heal.

But, Bush is not Tony Blair, as intelligent design would have it. And he's not coming out because he can't, though he might have in that first instant, before the crowds arrived. He probably wishes he had. Then again, he did meet with Sheehan on another occasion, in private with other military parents, but Sheehan wasn't satisfied.

She wants more. But what, and how much? What exactly would satisfy her and her entourage? For Cindy Sheehan is no longer just a grieving mother. She's a media extravaganza, a political pawn and a rallying icon - the Rosa Parks of the anti-war movement, as she has been dubbed. There's now a "Camp Casey," the Crawford gathering place for Sheehan supporters, as well as a been there/done that T-shirt: "BUSH . Talk to Cindy! Moms and Vets Will Stop The War!" offered Sheehan media expertise, while Democratic consultant Joe Trippi organized a conference call for bloggers and Sheehan.

At this point, Sheehan's demands have become impossibly problematic for Bush. Just as intended? By declining to see her, he seems cruel and out of touch with others' suffering. But by seeing her, he puts himself - and potentially the security of others - at great risk.

Why can't he come out?

He can't because he's the president of the United States, because we're at war, and because every move he makes causes ripples around the world. Ripples that, depending on other circumstances, can get other sons and daughters killed before Joe Trippi can say, "That's a wrap."

He can't because what Sheehan's anti-war supporters want is neither a hug nor a few words of comfort. They want a confrontation - a wrenching, sobbing, high-noon showdown - soon to be a Democratic political ad and Al Jazeera headline for the foreseeable future.

Sheehan, who opposed the war before her son died, belongs to the movement now. And Bush, regardless of what he personally might wish to do, has responsibilities that far exceed the crowd gathering beyond his Prairie Chapel Ranch.

Once he allows himself to be captured in a video clip or a photograph, recoiling from the agony of a bereaved mother, the world is in greater danger. Democrats might be delighted to freeze that image in political time, but so would insurgents planning their next Baghdad ambush.

Whatever Sheehan hoped for in the beginning of her watch is irrelevant now. She and her cause have been usurped and distorted by the phenomenon of which she is the center. Her healing will have to wait until the next big story breaks and the media circus moves on.

Where is Jaws when you need him?