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Truth and Dares 

Crank Call

Published August 31, 2005 at 4:00 p.m.

I was all set to write this week that I'm getting tired of Cindy Sheehan. Not Cindy Sheehan the person -- and certainly not Cindy Sheehan the activist, whose dramatic protest outside the gates of George W. Bush's "ranch" in Crawford, Texas, has our commander-in-chief squirming on a hot seat. I'm getting tired of "Cindy Sheehan" the news item, the "grieving mom," "crackpot," "traitor," "antiwar extremist" and celebrity du jour.

"It's not that Bush doesn't have time [to meet with Sheehan]," writes Ahmed Amr, on "One can only speculate as to the number of hours he has already wasted plotting a plan of attack against the lady from Vacaville." Adds Ian Bell in the Glasgow Sunday Herald, "After Abu Ghraib, after Guantánamo, after the leveling of Fallujah, above all in the continuing bloody aftermath of the invented war itself, there is no point in asking how low this White House can sink."

But the campaign against Sheehan isn't really designed to discredit her. It has a deeper purpose, as Amr points out -- "to draw fire away from Bush. Instead of focusing on the argument between Sheehan and the president, we now have a contest between Sheehan's supporters and her detractors. What started out as a search for the truth is being reduced to an ideological spat between the left and the right."

Bingo. In case you haven't noticed, this is how all opposition is dealt with by the Bush regime. First, smear. Then, divert. Always, lie. Define your opponent as an isolated case. Make her famous, if you have to -- in fact, it's better if you do, the easier to impugn her motives. Count on the press to look at every issue as having only two sides -- "for" or "against" -- each carrying the same weight, no matter what the circumstances or facts. Keep the braying "liberal media" yapping until everyone tunes out in self-defense. Because, I assure you, they will -- everyone has personal problems to deal with. Sheehan's defiant stand, I began to fear last week, was about to be lost in the way all such causes are lost nowadays: through overexposure.

Then I had a letter from a friend who has actually been to Crawford. Her name is Joyce Leuchten, but originally she was Joyce McKenzie, of the Vermont McKenzies. While she now lives out of state, she was born and raised in Hinesburg, instilled with the values we like to claim as Vermonters: justice, tolerance and fair-mindedness.

"It was my daughter, Beth, who convinced me that we should go to Crawford," Joyce writes. "She wanted her three sons, ages 5, 9 and 13, to learn firsthand the power that each of us has to make a difference in the world." It seems that this mission has succeeded.

"We drove to Crawford, pop. 705, on the George W. Bush Highway," Joyce continues. "At the entrance was a large billboard with a picture of Laura and W., as the locals call him. And Bush country it is! His presence is everywhere. On the main corner in Crawford, there is a store selling Bush memorabilia. To enter the front door, you pass through two 7-foot-high granite slabs on which are written the Ten Commandments ...

"We spent our days listening to the stories of those who had come here. We heard a mother describe the day she heard the dreaded knock on her door. Since fear of this day never left her heart, she knew at the sound of the knock who was there ... A woman told about her daughter who was shot down in a helicopter. The daughter survived but had lost the use of her legs. The mother said, 'I'm very thankful that my daughter came home -- but she's not the same daughter who went to Iraq' ...

"People came from all around our country ... Some said they were the only one in their family who opposed the war, and needed to be with others who felt as they did. Almost everyone said, 'I needed to come here' ...

"About Cindy: I had read accounts of her being a nut case -- a crazy, publicity-seeking Bush-hater ... I reached out my hand to her. Noting my name tag, she said, 'Joyce -- you came from New Jersey for me -- I prefer to hug you, not shake your hand.' She's a warm, very pleasant woman. She speaks softly; she's 'refined,' as my Vermont-born mother would say. Cindy told me that she never pretended to speak for other mothers -- 'Though we share the same pain if we've lost a child, we do not always feel the same about the war in which our child has died.' She said she respects them and realizes that we work out our grief in different ways.

"When Cindy started her vigil in Crawford, I had admired her for her courage. She chose to take a stand where neither she nor her cause would be popular. But now that I've spent time with her, one-on-one, woman-to-woman, mother-to-mother, I can say that I like and respect her very much ... I saw virtues in her that I tried to instill in my own three daughters. She's real."

Oh, dear -- just what we don't want right now. Somebody, something, anything real. Why, it might be enough to get us believing again in democracy and free speech.

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Peter Kurth

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