THE President could have saved himself a growing public relations problem near his Crawford ranch if he had met with a bereaved mother of a fallen U.S. soldier when she asked. But he didn't and now the one-woman campaign of Cindy Sheehan to speak with Mr. Bush about her son's death in Iraq has attracted widespread national interest, sympathy, and support.
Ms. Sheehan lost her oldest child when 24-year-old Army Spc. Casey Sheehan of Vacaville, Calif., was killed in Sadr City, Iraq, on April 4, 2004. Two months later the 48-year-old mother of the slain Humvee mechanic was part of a group of 15 families who each met privately with the President.
But she says she was too distraught at the time to ask him questions she now wants answered. The California woman told anyone who would listen that the President recently said her son died for a noble cause "and I want to ask him what that noble cause is."
Ms. Sheehan said she began to wonder what her son died for as the administration's reasons for going to war were increasingly disputed. Today she is an angry mother who has traveled a long way to confront the commander in chief about her doubts and vent her anguish at losing a child for an uncertain mission subject to change.
Her solitary vigil, being held several miles down the road from the President's ranch, has been joined by demonstrators echoing her demand to be seen and heard. Top level aides to the President have gone out to meet with Ms. Sheehan.
National Security Adviser Steve Hadley and Deputy White House Chief of Staff Joe Hagin tried to diffuse the emotionally charged protest with assurances that the administration is making progress in Iraq and the President truly cares about a mother's loss.
The response of the dead soldier's mother was "if he does care, why doesn't he come out and talk to me?"
There are those who suggest Ms. Sheehan has a hidden political agenda - she arrived in Crawford in a bus with the words "Impeachment Tour" emblazoned on the side - and is courting publicity to advance the anti-war movement of which she is part.
That may all be true, though her agenda doesn't appear to be hidden at all. Her credentials, as a mom who lost her son in a hail of rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire a world away, supersede any cause other than the most personal one of Ms. Sheehan. Her extreme act may or may not produce a meeting with the President, but any truly compassionate conservative should have no trouble understanding her pain.