Last August - 3 days into her Crawford, Texas, vigil - Cindy Sheehan was joined by - among others
- my wife, Lietta. Theirs was a public vigil from which they had demanded of a certain public persona, justification, explanation
and accountability for the loss of American sons and daughters to a bogus war.
Lietta reported first hand of ear-phone wearing, unsmiling, all-business secret service agents
attempting intimidation by driving repeatedly on the narrow road by the site at excessive speeds in air-conditioned power
cars with tinted windows rolled up tight. A nation watched, fascinated at the transparency of the national villain getting
his come-uppance and too cowardly to step out into the street to outdraw a dangerous grandmother who was calling him out.
Bush sent two lesser hacks out to talk "earnestly" with Sheehan and thereby demonstrate the
President's "compassionate" response without lowering the supposed dignity of the Commander-in-Chief by personally responding
to every indignant citizen with a yen to ask "Why?"
The grandma was having none of that. She wanted THE MAN.
Anyone who followed that vigil is aware that the President of the United States, in an act of
humiliating cowardice, hid from and avoided any meeting with Sheehan and her supporters. The commonly held view is that Bush
could have avoided the subsequent PR disaster by merely driving up in a pickup truck, his brush-cutting chain saw cooling
off in the truck's bed, setting his cowboy hat a-tilt in a boyishly handsome way and taken Cindy on a 20 minute drive around
his ranch, letting her have her say and mouthing pithy platitudes in response.
In failing to do so, GW left the country and primarily his opposition armed to the teeth with
summations, estimates and descriptions of his dishonesty, lack of integrity and cowardice based literally on word-of-mouth
stories and speculations over which he still has absolutely no power.
Crawford, Texas, was an ample demonstration of how a politician and his spinmeisters absolutely
should not have handled dissent and disagreement that had reached a point of public confrontation.
Yesterday's interview with Senator Cantwell was no Camp Casey and Maria Cantwell is no George
Bush - as I in fact saw more than once in irate flashes of anger at the suggestion that her Iraq policy is no different from
The meeting yesterday was a mutually-agreed upon face-to-face interview between the senator
and those who conducted an earlier sit-in at her Seattle office to protest Maria's Iraq policies and public statements.
My being invited to attend the meeting was a consequence of having added my signature to those
of the group who originally requested a meeting late last year and who felt that Maria's refusal to meet was an attempt to
ignore the group, avoid a public discussion and hope that opposition would somehow fade away.
Whether or not that was Cantwell's thinking, the issue did not go away nor did those who wanted
answers. In fact, as is evident on this blog and others - as well as the Times, P.I. and other publications, the issue has
only gotten larger and garnered more attention.
For example, Military Families Speak Out national headquarters included our meeting in its national
news release out of Boston yesterday morning. On the road to Seattle from Bay Center, before we had even gotten to Olympia
I received a phone call from the Seattle Times asking about our meeting. As I was driving, Lietta spoke with the reporter
who acknowledged that the paper had been alerted by the national news wire service that publishes MFSO's news releases.
The public is aware of this challenge to a sitting Senator up for re-election. Those who've
read my blogging about this issue should by now understand that I have taken a personal opposition to Maria's viewpoint and
actions and made no bones about it. One of the things about written expressions of opinions is that - since they are opinions
with the right of expression protected by the Constitution - what you write (short of slander and libel) is not "news" to
which the public is entitled, but an opinion. Therefore one has little need to check facts and a lot of opportunity to speculate.
Particularly if your opinion is based on "it looks to me like ......"
Habitually, I think that most of us who have grinded the anti-Bush, anti-Republican ax have
become somewhat skilled at recognizing spin, disingenuity, downright manipulation and political avoidance because such seem
to be the tools of the trade for the party in national power. It is not difficult to editorialize villains based on behavior
and speculation because that crowd - as does the state republican party as well - gives us so much usable material.
Rhetoric then is based on actions of the objects of that rhetoric and related actual circumstances
(such as Republicans and hurricane Katrina), but also significantly on assumptions writers make about the people involved.
I have written as someone with a bias based on opposition to what specific politicians primarily of a specific party have
done in totally messing up a functioning democracy and its previously positive global impact and reputation; not-to-mention
popping the jingoistic mythological bubble that this nation only goes to war for the most justifiably moral of reasons.
I've met my share of politicians up close and was therefore not surprised to find Maria Cantwell
merely large as life and not larger. Very quickly yesterday I began to suspect that I might find myself in doubt about some
of my speculations upon which I based my dissenting rhetoric. I would see the focus of my anger in close-quarter give and
Maria did not disappoint nor did she appear to practice much of an avoidance of issues, discussions
of which were relentless highly emotionally charged and quite valid - something she repeatedly recognized and acknowledged.
We sat around a table with Maria and two aids as well as two policy ?wonks? in D.C. who were
listening on speaker phone but were only called upon perhaps twice over the course of a meeting that extended from the agreed
upon hour to two hours.
We sat around a table and listened as those with skin in the game spoke of the loss of loved
ones, the reality of life as the family of a military members serving in harm's way in Iraq and the reality of life after
soldiering in Iraq including concerns over issues that our state and the VA are woefully under funded and under-prepared to
We sat around a table and listened as Maria responded to each individual with questions as well
as to group questions on a list that somehow became meaningless in and of itself as we were led by questions and answers to
new questions and answers.
There was the sense - knowing the meeting was scheduled only for an hour and fully expecting
a busy and indifferent politician to take advantage of the time and end the proceedings precisely at hour's end - that you
had to respect those with the greatest pain and allow them their time to speak;
that those with the greatest need had the greatest right to ask "Why did you do things this
way, Maria?" and "Why do you feel that we should ....?"
that those whose need for understanding for outweighs your own political indignation and desire
to "ask the questions that really should be asked."
But we didn't stop at the hour. There was no sense that we were about to stop when the hour
We just kept going and Maria just kept responding.
I finally got my chance to ask the questions that I thought would justify some of the projecting
I have been doing as to her motivations, priorities and reasons for why she supports the war effort and the military action
that was launched as a result of how she and the rest of the Senate voted in 2002.
She has her reasons and has her justifications. I might not agree with her but I did not perceive
them as shallow nor false reasoning motivated by what I consider questionable political planning and tactics.
When I took the opportunity to speak I made many of the statements I've previously written here
directly to Maria and asked the principal questions that I've asked editorially on this blog and that have driven my doubts
and originally launched me into this topic. (In fact most of my questions were previously asked in the first hour before my
turn to speak presented itself.).
I don't know that our group and I asked the specific questions that each and every reader and
writer in this community would have wanted asked, but if we didn't I'd be interested to know what such a question might be.
I do know that in its intensity and heat of emotion, the group itself ran questions by the Senator
that she is either not qualified to know or could not possibly affect immediate and direct impact all by herself. From what
is going on in Fallujah, Talafar and Kirkuk militarily to the impact of cluster bombs on Iraqi children to actions taken ultimately
on the orders of the U.S. President, Maria did not attempt to hide behind the justifiable reason that she cannot impact
day-to-day decisions and is not an American military general.
In reality, she took the only position she could when confronted with the reality and horror
of what this nation has done in Iraq - she asked about verification of facts offered, promised to look into the things she
can legitimately look into and adamantly refused to say anything that looked like "There is nothing I can do."
What she seemed to want us to know was that those things she can do she is doing or will try
to do. All of this without backing off her essential and original reasons for voting the way she did and maintaining her on-going
sense of the Powell notion that we broke it so we own it. I did not sense any shift in her disagreement with the idea that
we don't need to own it even if we broke it - that those who do own it desperately want us to quit trying to fix it, give
up ownership by force and get the hell out.
And I want to add this: We have heard that the adminstration is planning or has already launched
a "retake Baghdad" attack justified by a need to give the Iraqi government breathing room in which to operate.
We have even heard that such is to be perhaps a political surprise intended to shore up conservative
and evangelical voters as a means of insuring mid-term election success.
Maria appeared genuinely surprised by this question and did promise to look into it and advise
Maria feels that her position is one of responsibility and accountability. She expressed a pride
in the fact that her reason - unlike many Demos who have subsequently repudiated their vote to authorize action in Iraq -
was based on a precedent going back to the Clinton years after the first Gulf War and the idea that a Democratic President
said in effect that Saddam needed to be removed before a Republican President actually did so.
I know ... I know ... we're in the cowardly new world where that reasoning smacks of straw-grasping
in the face of an overwhelming rebuttal of present circumstances and Republican/Neocon/Corporate rape and pillage of a country
whose dictator needed removal but whose populace remains to this day innocent of the terrible swift sword that God's Christian
in the White House has wielded.
My point here is that although Maria and I seem to be diametrically opposed to each other vis-à-vis
what to do about Iraq, her thinking is not as shallow nor opportunistic as I had previously speculated in the absence of clarification
from the senator herself.
More to the conclusion with which I left the meeting.
In essence, without intending it, our little group conducted a "pile-on" of Maria Cantwell,
who has now done this little confronting exercise three times - not once, not twice, but three times. She did not hide in
the ranch house or pretend to be more busy cutting brush and did not send minions out to quell the nonsense. Three times now
she's met with some of us and allowed her feet to be dragged to the fire.
She did not make this point, rather Lietta and Howard did.
Maria has not "Crawforded" those who want her to explain. Whether or not I liked her answers
Furthermore, I did not see an imperial senator full of poise, polish and indifference whose
focus was on "yeah yeah yeah-ing" her way through an endurance contest she could not avoid. At one point, Lietta literally
expressed her sense of wanting to speak to Cantwell "woman to woman" and declared that if she (Maria) truly was not "impersonal"
, the impersonal manner in which she has been coming across has been destructive to her image. The reaction was visible.
But ... and now I want to speak to all those who have taken me and those who agree with me to
the political wood shed over our challenge to an incumbent for whose re-election they harbor terrible fears.
Maria wants you to shut the hell up.
I repeated my statement to Senator Cantwell - as I blogged two days ago - that my vote for her
has never been on the chopping block and about being willing to campaign for her in rural red counties. Her response was immediate
and direct and I regretted having taken that tack. She doesn't consider herself needing me to campaign for her as her campaign
is perfectly fine thank you.
I draw out of that her sense of a greater disservice to her on the part of those who squawk
about her supposed vulnerability and need to be treated like damaged goods - which must be shepherded or escorted through
a difficult primary and general election. You do her no public service by sanctimonious blather about party loyalty, vulnerabilities
and any political tactic that suppresses the basis for why primaries and general elections are held.
I think if I'd pushed her, she would have given me a lecture in civics.
Until you go into the lair of your personal dragons and see them up close, you may never realize
that the dragon does not exist; that someone as human as you and bearing the same essential education and life experience
is who you are trying to St. George in your righteous rage. By pretending that you are virtuous and good and that those who
disagree with your are not as virtuous, not as good and not as worthy as you in their role in life, you become the dragon
If you don't believe me, look again at that Christian in the White House who has become exactly
that upon which he wages war.
I came out of the meeting convinced that Maria is wrong and I am right about Iraq.
But I also came out of the meeting convinced that where she is wrong has never made her more
culpable than any other Democrat AND Republican who voted foolishly when even the dumbest old Veteran in Bay Center, Washington
knew that Bush as a viable and effective president was lying through his teeth and had nothing but foolish, unjustifiable
and unworthy reasons for taking this country down a road of military shame that would make this nation guilty of the ultimate
I also came out of the meeting convinced that Maria is in the right place at the right time.
There are no other candidates out there of equal caliber. Those who have presented themselves have not demonstrated any knowledge
of how to run, let alone how to lead, how to inspire and how to engender confidence that someone more competent should be
at the wheel.
Our competent someone may have not chosen the best route regarding Iraq but she's headed in
the right direction and - "it looks to me like ..... " she has the tools to help us get there and may surprise those of us
who think she won't.
Nothing is as helpful as turning over the damn cover and reading the book.
© Arthur Ruger 2006